Booming independent consultants buck gig-economy trends

05 June 2017

New research from independent professional services network Odgers Connect has found that the majority of freelance consultants have no intent to return to full-time employment. The study comes after the Office for National Statistics cited the growing gig-economy as the primary driver for falling unemployment, which hit a 42-year low in May 2017, unlike other freelancer fields however, consulting professionals remain well-paid.

Odgers Connect (OC) – a division of global executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, sources independent consultants for private and public sector organisations – polled over 400 professional service freelancers. Researchers at the firm then analysed the feedback, along with anecdotal input from clients across the wider firm from the preceding 18 months, to build a cohesive picture of demand in the industry that also linked to current pressures, ranging from finding new markets to dealing with Brexit.

According to the document, rising economic and political pressures are fuelling demand from both private and public sector organisations for independent professionals, as companies seek lower cost out-sourced expertise to help their companies strategise in a continuously turbulent financial epoch.

The need to find new opportunities for growth was named as a key factor driving companies demands for seeking consultants, with 91% of those surveyed stating it brought them clients, followed by the need to address digital transformation (88%), anxiety over Brexit (80%) and economic slowdown (82%) are also major concerns.

Importance of external factors in driving client work

According to the freelancers polled, the key driver for demand was the need to exploit new digital opportunities – with 29% of those questioned believing helping businesses best utilise and plan for new technology was extremely important for the future – compared to a lower 10% regarding Brexit, the effects of which while uncertain, seem to be considered less of an upheaval than the forecast realignment in employment relations caused by automisation.

Going Solo

When probing the sample of over 400 professional freelancers to think about their reasons for leaving traditional employment meanwhile, the paper shows that the vast majority of consultants had chosen to work independently primarily to gain greater control of their professional lives, with 74% of respondents stating it as their motivation for working independently.

Reasons to work as an independent consultant

Surprisingly, financial reasons were not among them most important motivations behind the career choice, with around a third of those interviewed saying it was partly behind their decision to go freelance – in spite of this segment of professional consultancy workers being typically well paid.

The report also notes a striking number of consultants for whom independent careers occurred seemingly by accident. 32% said their independent careers had “just happened” – however, having experienced the benefits of working independently the vast majority would prefer to continue rather than return to full employment.

Five Year Plan

Furthering this, researchers found that 61% of the independents intended to continue such work in the coming five to ten years. 16% of those polled stated plans to be run their own businesses within the same time-frame, while a minority planned to move back into full employment or scale back – suggesting continued contentment with the decision to opt for a gig-economy role over traditional employment.

Commenting on the release of the report, Managing Partner of Odgers Connect Chris Preston said, “Economic challenges looming over both the private and public sector are boosting already rapid growth at the top of the professional gig economy, where independent consultants are in the frontline of a quiet revolution in the workplace.”

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years time

The move toward independent work over permanent positions within the consulting industry is consistent with a trend across UK employment as a whole. The national unemployment rate in the period between January and March was reported as having fallen unexpectedly to a 42-year low of 4.6%, according to the Office for National Statistics – in a shift that correlates with a huge boom in freelance employment.

Analysis by the Resolution Foundation meanwhile showed that wages were still £16 a week below their 2008 peak – and with inflation running at 2.3% in the same period, that meant real-terms pay lagged by 0.2% in the first three months of the year, the first fall since the third quarter of 2014.

However, along with Odgers Connect’s findings, a joint study in 2016 from Eden McCallum, The Financial Times, London Business School and INSEAD further suggested professional services workers buck this trend. That particular paper also found that over half of new freelancers actually earned more money as an independent, with consultants under the age of 40 leading the pack.

The study, which involved 251 independent management professionals active in Europe, also confirmed that 91% of freelancers were satisfied with working as an independent consultants, while more than half (53%) were highly satisfied. Just 5% indicated they were dissatisfied.

Related: Independent consultants form opportunity for wider consulting industry.


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.