There's quite a rumpus at media agencies this week with the news that Accenture Interactive will provide programmatic media buying services to advertisers on an FTE commercial model (i.e.: hours worked by one employee on a full-time equivalent basis, presumably by timesheets).
Agencies are alarmed. Firstly, I assume because Accenture is universally successful at anything it turns its hand to, so agencies will see a chunk of their revenue disappear to Accenture. Secondly, agencies might be worried by Accenture championing the transparency platform. And thirdly, given that Accenture has a Media Management business auditing the buying performance of agencies on behalf of advertisers, is there a potential conflict of interest or a danger of sharing confidential information? I very much doubt that this latter point is true given the professionalism of an organisation like Accenture, although I can see how agencies might want to shout about this. But in this article, let's explore the implications for Advertisers. It’s especially timely given Cannes Lions approaching in a couple of weeks.
Accenture is a $40bn revenue business and employs close to half a million people. It's roughly the same population and GDP of the nation Luxembourg.
I doubt if Accenture Interactive and the Media Management folks even know what floor of the building each other are on. And I certainly trust their Chinese walls and professionalism to treat data in different parts of their business separate. Don't forget they work for arch rivals all the time.
Accenture Media Management's business will likely represent circa 0.1% of Accenture's revenue. So not that huge.
I'd perhaps say there's more of a significant conflict of interest with all the with they do for media owners!
I should declare an interest. I was part of the launch team of the first global media agency, MindShare, 20 years ago and later was President, International for Accenture Marketing Sciences when we acquired Media Audits (and I later ran the integrated Accenture Media Management business when we rolled in other acquisitions and digital assets). And I'm still an Accenture and WPP shareholder. I've certainly known both sides of the fence, I now work with major advertisers on marketing effectiveness questions, and so I feel sufficiently informed to have an opinion about what this means for advertisers.
Accenture's announcement probably has 5 implications for advertisers.
1. More choice. There's a grenade been thrown in the pond, and different players with different business models are emerging. Advertisers can likely be looking at different commercial models with different suppliers, and Accenture has fired the starting gun. Why wouldn't you want to talk to Accenture, Deloitte etc. as well as your existing media agencies? They'll bring different perspectives if nothing else.
2. In-source or out-source? Likely this move means Accenture has been hearing the opinions of the clients with whom they've been building tech stacks and internal media buying capabilities (which Accenture Interactive has been quietly supporting big advertisers with for the last couple of years). Likely in the pursuit of control and transparency, more with be in-sourced by major advertisers, with mixed models of media buying across different types of supplier. Deutsche Telekom took media strategy and planning in-house and divided the rest of their advertising media buying model into four contracts: E.g.: media analytics, campaign planning and buying, programmatic buying, and search advertising and affiliate marketing. Each with a different consultancy or agency, but with strategy in-house.
3. Split contracts. Accenture's not buying TV spots just yet. But in the way that its bought up quite a few significant creative agencies, you have to assume the acquisition of a media buying network is next. Accenture can renovate an older network with new technology, better workflow, a different commercial model, and a promise of transparency. Once this happens, I can see advertisers splitting contracts more between Accenture's new model and incumbent agencies.
4. Cannes Lions actually makes sense this year! You should attend. The Accenture tent will be busy as heck. Cannes Lions this year will be a watershed moment between old and new. La Croisette has been lined with AdTech booths for years, but this is a defining moment for agencies. Major advertisers have the chance to shape the agenda, and you should be there. Thinking of Unilever’s Foundry looking to collaborate with start-ups across media, marketing, digital, tech etc. They also shout that they’re also on the search for industry-disrupting business models!
5. Accenture will likely divest its media management business. With all the controversy (whether justified or not), they'll see a bigger opportunity with Accenture Interactive. PwC is doing great media audits work already, and could be a candidate to buy Accenture's business? But the problem is PwC's geographic federated model of a patchwork of separate legal partnerships, whereas Accenture will want to sell a 20+ country business (with global contracts with big advertisers) all in one go. For advertisers, it makes sense to stay with Accenture for media auditing and pitch managing for now, and see what unfolds. They have incredible resources across Accenture to support you. But remember, you're in the driving seat.
James Walker is a Partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants, and Global Head of Analytics