Historically, professional services firms have been divided into two categories: strategic and tactical. But lately, in both the campaign industry and the broader consulting industry, firms seem to be in a rush to gobble each other up in a mad dash to compete for client dollars by creating full-service, one-stop shops.
In the campaign world, this looks like GC’s bringing TV, mail, and digital production capabilities under their umbrellas as said creative firms hustle to either merge with one another or strategically hire until they can assure clients that there’s no need to look elsewhere to achieve all of their desired outcomes.
In the broader consulting industry, well-established strategic leaders like Deloitte, McKinsey & Company, and Accenture are racing to create internal innovation and production centers, lest their clients abandon them for the flashy advertising agencies that might seem better positioned to help their clients net new business and grow.
The impetus is understandable. After all, in theory, it’s highly satisfying to see a client through the entire lifecycle of their need — and keeping all of the budget in-house is mighty nice, too. Plus, when you have a strategic consultancy and often subcontract work to more tactically-focused firms, all the while getting more familiar with their business models.
In fact, it starts to feel inefficient to utilize vendors to execute on creative work when you could either acquire them or hire the right folks to bring the necessary functions in-house.
But problems can arise in these situations when you have wildly different business models and value systems coming into play. For the strategic consultancy, the scope of work for a given client is usually dictated by the client’s desired outcome (dollars raised, votes gotten, activists recruited). For the creative shop, these outcomes are often viewed as the result of stellar work product.
While a subtle difference, one firm’s emphasis on the chicken while the other is focused on the egg can lead to internal fights about whether tactics should follow strategy or the other way around. Moreover, most creative and tactical outfits operate on an hourly business model – an administrative headache that strategic firms, who tend to structure their contracts as retainers, are usually woefully unprepared to handle.
My own management consulting firm currently remains stubbornly planted in the strategy realm for these reasons (and not only because my team and I have no burning desire to teach people step-by-step how to set up Facebook ads or set up QuickBooks). While I wouldn’t rule out a move to include more done-for-you service lines in the future, such a move requires careful consideration and forethought.
Campaign consultancies, born of hectic campaign environments where the short-term wins determine ultimate success or failure, aren’t exactly known to deploy either of these virtues in spades.
Campaign people, carrying years of PTSD from surprise opponent attacks, get super spooked in business when it feels like any competitor might be on their heels. But just like in politics, competition is an inevitable part of doing business. It would behoove us all to take a few deep breaths before upending our proven business models and, in the resulting chaos, providing less than stellar outcomes for the clients who depend on our expertise.
Michelle Coyle is the founder of BGSD Strategies.