Independent consultants form opportunity for wider consulting industry

31 May 2017

The number of independent consultants continues to surge – nearly a third of the 175,000 management and digital consultants in the UK are now freelancers, according to official statistics. Daniel Callaghan, founder and CEO of Talmix, a platform that helps organisations source independent business talent, reflects on how the traditional consultancy space can take advantage of the rise in independents.

As we often advise our clients, the world of work is changing. People are seeking greater flexibility, more autonomy and greater levels of satisfaction. More and more people are rejecting traditional career paths, in favour of portfolio careers, and jumping from project to project to experience constant challenge. Technology is only enhancing this, and online platforms active in the UK like Talmix (formerly MBA & Company), Movemeon and blur, as well as players such as Odgers Connect (an initiative from search firm Odgers Berndtson), are facilitating freelance consultants, finding the right projects for them.

Technology is disrupting every industry, and consultancy is no different. But is the sector truly taking advantage of the opportunities tapping into this mindset represents? Flexibility is now a necessity and not a bonus. More and more workers around the world are buying into this new model. In the UK, almost five million people are employed as independent workers, and new research from EY has revealed that two-fifths of companies expect to employ more such workers within the next five years. Flexible ways of working are here to stay. 

Nearly a third of the 17500 management and digital consultants in the UK are now freelancers

Independent working is a sphere of incredible opportunity, especially for consultants. It is rapidly rising in popularity – nearly a third of the base of management consultants and business analysts in the UK, a 175,000 strong group, are now freelance. 

For these 55,000 independent consultants in the UK, freelancing stimulates productivity and leads to widespread job satisfaction. There is a growing rejection of a corporate lifestyle, and as shown by a survey of our 27,000 consultants, 89% are happier working freelance than they were as a full time employee. This happiness is driven in part by the improved work/life balance, with 83% citing that as a key reason alongside increased earnings. 

Workers are keen to choose flexible working hours and the freedom to more closely manage their projects. Birgitte Herren, an independent consultant, decided to move freelance when she wanted to start a family:  “Becoming independent and deciding to take control of your own career gives you maximum freedom.” 

The appeal of this freedom and flexibility should not be underestimated. Independent working is gaining traction with experienced consultants and analysts, who could be working mothers or semi-retired. Control of what projects you work on, for whom, at what cost and at what time are driving many established professional services employees to become independent. Consultants can offer their insights and experience in the most flexible manner possible. 

Opportunity for consulting firms

It’s my belief that this represents a huge opportunity for the consultancy sector itself. For the traditional consulting firms, freelancers are still a resource that can be tapped into on a project-by-project basis. Instead of losing talent to a competitor, consultancies themselves can access freelance talent for specific projects that are best suited to particular consultants.

Daniel Callaghan, CEO of Talmix

Forward thinking consultancies are already taking full advantage of this new way of working. They are currently maintaining their own IP and methods whilst tapping into our global bench of substitutes that can be drawn on at any time, in any part of the world. Specialist reinforcements for engagement teams can be accessed easily and at short notice, to supplement the generalists on the team. 

The rise in independent consultants means that businesses in need have the choice to access the best of both worlds. They can tap into the growing pools of talent, highly trained and capable, to carry out a specific project, all on a flexible, short notice basis, and at a fraction of the cost.

The opportunities in this market are vast and expanding. In the USA, 50% of the workforce is set to be freelance by 2020. The trends are clear, and the opportunity is there for consultants and the consultancy sector to harness. Independent business talent is an opportunity for both consultants and the wider industry that must not be missed. Now is the time to harness flexibility, adapt practices, and embrace the future of work. 

Related: Demand for UK independent management consultants on the rise.


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.