‘Digital not just a marketing problem’: Kin + Carta's plan to out-consult consultancies

Kin + Carta's new branding

Print marketing specialists St Ives last week rebranded as Kin + Carta to reflect a new focus on digital transformation. In doing so, it delivered the sort of stark business reboot it hopes to offer clients too.

Speaking to The Drum, J Schwan spoke about how the new entity is building upon the framework of the 54-year-old St Ives while also creating a proposition that can fit into the notch both agency networks and the consultancies are failing to fill.

Schwan said: “Over the last eight years, we have been transforming, slowly selling off the print assets and using the proceeds to buy new digital agencies and consultancies.”

Now it claims to be not an agency or a group – but a connective filled with specialist “tribes” across strategy, innovation, comms and ventures. The holding brands including Incite, Solstice, AmazeRealise, Relish, Hive, Tab and Edit. In March three agency groups were consolidated into Edit, showing how it is trying to build a more comprehensible offering.

Kin + Carta’s 1,500 staff are steadily repositioning into talent “circles”, threaded through each brand. Much like the agency networks, Schwan is trying to break down the silos and better unlock the talent at hand amid client demand.

“It is very early days but this is very real," he said. "We're 1,500 people, if we were much bigger than that, honestly I don't think we would be able to pull it off. It is the magical size, big enough to matter but not too big.”

The benefit of inter-brand speciality circles is that “they set the agenda for how they evolve their craft”.

Both the networks and the consultancies have their struggles going forward.

"In the last five to 10 years, the agency networks have dominated as digital experts. They have a really consumer-focused vision and a great set of capabilities but the proposition is still very marketing focused on them. Despite a lot of the rhetoric to the contrary, their legacy and size retains that.”

This is where the opportunity opened for the big consultancies to intrude into the marcoms space (albeit at a slower pace than they once exhibited).

“Digital has become more of a business transformation tool, consultancies saw this and wedged themselves in. They are going to the c-suite with a holistic proposition and they are winning.”

He believes they may lose momentum in the coming years, and it all tracks back to culture and talent. “They are struggling to deliver, the best talent does not like to live in these industrial age, hierarchical structures, they like to live with specialists and boutiques, and surrounded with people with the same craft so they can evolve it and move the discipline forward.”

In his view, boutiques, tribes, circles, whatever name they carry, must exist within these larger models.

“You've got consultants who have nailed the proposition, agencies that are too big to change and these specialists that are producing the best work but can only do one little piece.”

He believes somewhere in the middle Kin + Carta will find its feet as it pushes into a new era of digital innovation built on the framework developed in the 80s and 90s in print – integrated capabilities and propositions to deliver through a single brand, as per client demand.

Currently, it has three relatively new wins running through its connective tribe model. Schwan again noted that these collaborations are in their early days, but did note that data, comms and creative are flowing more freely through the funnel. “We still have to prove ourselves, we are optimistic that we are on the right track."

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