Demand for UK independent management consultants on the rise

18 May 2017

Growing economic pressures are fuelling demand for UK-based independent consultants, stoking already strong growth across the top end of management consulting’s gig economy.

According to a new study by Odgers Connect – an arm of executive search firm Odgers Berndtson that helps organisations source independent consultancy support – the market for independent consultants in the UK is heating. The firm polled over 400 freelancers active in the field of strategy, management and digital consulting, asking them to assess the importance of external factors in their work for clients, both overall and in relation to current economic pressures.

The findings show that external pressures feature prominently in organisations’ decisions to hire an independent consultant (88%), with the challenges posed by Brexit, economic slowdown, the need to find new markets and digital transformation cited by over 80% as important, increasingly or extremely important. Digital transformation is, in the wake of the rapidly evolving technology landscape, regarded as the most important driver, followed by growth opportunities, highlighting the improving economic sentiment among executives.

Importance of external factors in driving client work

“Economic challenges looming over both the private and public sector are boosting already rapid growth at the top of the professional gig economy,” said Chris Preston, Managing Partner of Odgers Connect. He added, “We’re seeing rising demand for more flexible, cost-effective independent professional support from all organisations as they struggle to grow in the face of economic uncertainty and squeezed public spending.”

Providing objective and dedicated resourcing is cited as the key driver for hiring external support, while 16% of the consultants say that they have been tapped to add capability without raising a firm’s headcount.

Clients of independent consultants

According to Odgers Berndtson’s data, big, publicly-quoted companies account for a third of the work conducted by independent consultants. Private companies – including those with private equity backing – account for a slightly larger share of total enquiries, at 36%. The government, not-for-profit and the public sector represents a further 30%.

Why do clients hire consultants

In their projects, the consultants surveyed – Odgers Connect focuses mainly on the top tier segment of UK’s 120,000+ strong base of freelance consultants (they represent >80% of all entities in UK’s consulting industry) – mostly engage with business leaders. Over 80% of the respondents work directly with a member of the top management team, with four out of ten reporting directly to the chief executive.

Looking ahead, the outlook for independent consultants is bright, said Preston. Almost all consultants polled (96%) expect demand from organisations to work with independents to grow. Notably organic growth and M&A (exploring new opportunities to grow) were cited by 29% of consultants as an area most likely to provide greatest scope for more work by independent consultants. Well over half (63%) gave more traditional areas of organisational change and strategic reviews continuing to be the areas of work with greatest scope to grow for independents.

According to a recent study by Eden McCallum, in collaboration with The Financial Times, London Business School and INSEAD, independent management consultants tend to be happier than their counterparts at consulting firms.


Accenture's push into the creative sector is an identity crisis

18 April 2019

In its latest push into the creative sector, Accenture Interactive acquired New York and London-based ad agency Droga5 earlier this month, adding illustrious clients such as HBO, Amazon and The New York Times to its roster of clients. With the latest in a long line of similar purchases, Accenture Interactive further demonstrated its ambition of becoming the globe’s leading trusted advisor to chief marketing officers. Yet according to Ben Langdon, Chairman of Class35, Accenture’s strategy may be heading in the wrong direction.

A press release on Accenture’s website announcing the acquisition sits next to a quote stating that “brands aren’t built through advertising” – a huge contradiction from a consultancy firm hell-bent on becoming the ‘CMO agency of choice’. It’s not alone of course. The entire consulting industry wants a piece of the creative pie right now. In addition to Accenture Interactive, recent acquisitions by PwC Digital, IBM iX, and Deloitte Digital meant that in 2017, for the first time ever, four of the world’s ten largest creative agencies were consultancies.

So just what it is that Accenture wants to achieve from this? For one thing, it’s clearly trying to be a digital transformation business. A one-stop creative shop rivalling more traditional models, it wants to lure CMOs in with the promise of lower ad spend and a “more impactful customer experience”. At the same time, though, it’s still in thrall to those same slinky, shiny branding and advertising agencies it’s attempting to disrupt. The Droga5 acquisition and that of Karmarama a few years before are both testament to this.

There’s a fundamental problem with this, though. Digital transformation businesses don’t sell to CMOs. These people have enough on their plates trying to transform their own marketing skills in order to keep up with an ever-changing market – they just don’t have the time or the energy to concern themselves with digitally transforming a whole business. If Accenture’s purpose is digital transformation, then going after creative agencies is barking up the wrong tree.Is Accenture's push into the creative sector an identity crisis?

Worlds apart

Perhaps more importantly, these two industries are worlds apart in terms of the way they think. Creative agencies are all about ideas, campaigns and consumers. Digital businesses, on the other hand, are customer-driven – they think in terms such as lifetime value, measurement, and efficiency. Customer-led thinking is an entirely different beast to consumer-led thinking.

The reality is that the arrival of digital and an all-encompassing obsession with technology, measurement and social has led to the death of agencies in a reductive, zero-sum, efficiency-focused battle with brands. Indeed, agencies have become so obsessed with the latest tech fads, they’re beginning to forget how brands work. Worse still, they’re beginning to forget how brands are built. And, by forgetting, they’re destroying their own values.

Killing creativity

All things considered, it really feels to me as though Accenture is a chip leader in a game it doesn’t understand. Expensive acquisitions like these show that they’ve got the big money, but they don’t appear to have any idea what they’re doing with it. Take talent, for example. The best talent in the creative industry right now is out in the market; it’s not tied to any one agency. Both agencies might well be at the top of their game, but why would a consulting firm waste so much money on buying them when they could hire high-quality creative talent on a contingent basis instead?

As their presence in the top 10 creative agencies shows, there is a growing trend in which Accenture, like many of the other big players, are buying up agencies as if they were nothing more than keywords. What they’re really buying, though, is a collection of credentials, clients and IP. Unfortunately, the talent that created those credentials aren’t going to stay at the business, the clients that hired the agency in the first place won’t be interested in buying what is basically just another part of Accenture, and the IP never really existed to begin with.

Droga5, for example, was one of the few agencies that did great brand work the old-fashioned way – undoubtedly something that made it attractive to Accenture in the first place. The irony, though, is that by leading it further away from the way of working that made it so special, the consulting giant will kill its creativity.

“Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record…. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.”

If pressed, the recently acquired agency staff at Accenture will tell you just how dysfunctional the new arrangement is. They’re largely unfulfilled. Rarely do they feel their work has any sort of meaning or purpose. What’s more, the different disciplines have found little or no common ground, and find it hard to work together as a cohesive whole. It’s not surprising, then, to see talented people leaving in droves.

Beyond the window dressing 

It’s clear, then, that consulting firms and creative agencies are no easy bedfellows. But in his company’s defence, Accenture Interactive’s Senior Managing Director for North America, Glen Hartman, described its culture as being “far, far away from what a stereotypical consulting firm would look like. Our office and studios look a lot like Droga5’s.”

In demonstrating a belief that office design equates to workplace culture, this statement serves as an illustration of how confused Accenture is right now. It wants to justify its new strategy so badly, it’s started dressing like a creative agency. But if you look beyond the window dressing and see that you and your partners are speaking a different language with a different purpose, selling to different people in a different market, there’s no getting away from the fact that you’re different.

Accenture Interactive has been dazzled by its ambitions to become the CMO agency of record, and it wants to dazzle others with its new direction. But, in flashing its cash, it is spending millions on acquiring nothing of any value.

Related: Space between consulting firms and creative agencies is converging.