Gartner’s Magic Quadrant: Digital Agencies Wake Up To Consultancy Threat

Digital agencies aren’t shrugging off management consultancies as competition anymore. Some are even promoting their consulting chops as they compete in an increasingly crowded market.

“Until this year, traditional agencies had their heads in the sand about the threat management consultancies were bringing to the market,” said Jay Wilson, director at Gartner and author of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Digital Agencies. “A lot of the more traditional agencies led their stories with consulting capabilities and how they’re looking to build those out.”

“Business transformation” was a key selling point this year for those named in the report, which recognizes digital agencies for their work in strategy, development, execution and measurement of digital experiences across the customer journey.

That transformation is beginning to give management consultancies with digital services a leg up against more traditional digital shops. For example, IBM iX, IBM’s in-house agency, made it into “Leaders” quadrant, which is dominated by traditional digital agencies, for the second year in a row.

Publicis Groupe’s SapientRazorfish and DigitasLBi were named leaders, along with WPP’s VML, AKQA and OgilvyOne Worldwide, IPG’s MRM//McCann and R/GA, and Dentsu Aegis Network’s Isobar. Hearst-owned iCrossing was also a leader, which is defined as having deep capabilities in business strategy and transformation, with notable investments in creative and marketing technology.

But to make the “Leaders” cut, digital agencies pushed their consulting capabilities far harder than last year, Wilson said.

“More traditional digital shops like OgilvyOne and DigitasLBi are trying to gain foothold in the consulting space, or at least offer consulting-like capabilities,” he said. “There’s finally a recognition that because marketers are responsible for things well beyond traditional marketing, they need much more well-rounded advisors at their beck and call.”

Nipping at their heels were Accenture Interactive and PwC Digital Services, which were listed for the second year in a row as “Challengers,” which Gartner defines as having “a proven ability to execute their current offering, but haven’t yet executed a digital marketing vision on the scale of the Leaders.”

The challenge for consultancies is integrating creative talent into corporate culture. But they’ll have an easier time than agencies, which are tasked with mirroring consultancies’ longstanding vertical expertise, Wilson said. Consultants also have an advantage in that they’re often brought on before agencies receive an RFP.

But while agencies and consultancies duke it out to be the CMO’s most trusted advisor, marketers are dreaming of the day they can take their marketing responsibilities in-house.

“We have found that marketers, in an ideal world, would love to do more building internal capabilities, less outsourcing to agencies,” Wilson said.

Shops like PwC Digital Service and Accenture Interactive could benefit from this sentiment, as they often help marketers bring programmatic in-house. But for most marketers, in-housing isn’t quite yet a reality.

Only 10% of marketers said they plan to reduce their work with agencies over the next three to five years. The lions’ share still spend roughly 22% of their marketing budget with agencies because they believe agencies are simply better at what they do, Wilson said.

“The primary reason marketers [told us they] continue to rely on agencies is they bring a superior level of quality to creative, content, media planning and buying,” he said.

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