In defence of our industry; why Nikki Mendonca's view of the agency model is surprisingly one-sided

Grey’s Rob Sellars

Never before has the holding company and agency model been under such scrutiny. Undoubtedly, some of the criticism leveled at our industry is justified. But it’s becoming hard to countenance some of the mud slinging from competitors such as consultancies.

The latest of these is from Accenture’s Nikki Mendonca who in a recent interview with The Drum implied holding companies and agencies are monoliths, staffed by incompetent people who are disconnected from business metrics. In the same breath, she held up tech platforms, such as Facebook, as beacons of transparency and trustworthiness that clients should peg their global marketing efforts to. Her assessment of our industry and the marketing services landscape was so one-sided, I’m compelled to write in its defense.

The marketing services industry, contrary to Mendonca’s vision of it, is packed with creative, innovative, smart businesses operated by exceptionally talented people who’ve been transforming brands and businesses for decades (surely Mendonca who worked at OMD for 16 years doesn’t need me to tell her this?). In our industry,people understand how to grow businesses and brands and have a long and illustrious track record of doing so.. We have the people who defined the language Nikki Mendonca is using and crafted the ecosystems and tools she perceives to be the only source of value to clients in future. Grey, my home, celebrated 100 years of existence last year. World wars, depressions, social, cultural and techical revolutions have been navigated by those before us. An era of AI, platforms and competition from consultancies only fuels excitment about the next era of our business and the work we will do with our clients.

Holding companies are not monoliths, quite the opposite. At Grey, we operate entirely differently structurally, culturally and commercially to our sister agencies within the group. As well as offering individual autonomous agencies, WPP can also structure itself and create new models around the needs of clients. This crucially gives clients a breath of choice, and many more options than, say, an homogenous consultancy.

Mendonca also suggests that the marketing services industry doesn’t solve business problems. But the best agencies have been dedicated getting to the heart of clients and solving their business problems for decades. The vast swathes of effectiveness research from the IPA - which Mendonca has chosen to disregard – categorically proves how integral this industry is to client business success.

Transparency is also foremost for us. We are audited, as well as honest and open with our clients. If anything the trust and transparency deficit lies with the tech platforms, like Facebook and Amazon, that Mendoca is urging clients to entwine their marketing efforts into. In the case of Facebook, we’ve not only seen the validity of its marketing data called into question, but the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed a company at crisis point when it comes to transparency and trust.

But perhaps most pointedly, agencies provide an environment for talent that the platforms, our clients, and certainly the consultancies, simply can’t attract. People who solve problems with different perspectives, that have ideas that comes from using data in new and exciting ways, that are deeply plugged into innovation and culture, and create the trends that brands are so desperate to follow. Agencies have both technology AND creativity in their cores, and the working practises that encourages exploration and risk-taking.

So maybe that’s why Mendonca’s article reads like an advertorial to generate up some job applicants. Accenture can promise a new Eden to clients, but the real talent belongs in a different community.

Rob Sellers is an MD of Grey Shopper London

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.

Come on in, it’s free.

This isn’t a paywall. It’s a freewall. We don’t want to get in the way of what you came here for, so this will only take a few seconds.