Grey launches consulting arm to battle the management consultants

16 August 2018 5 min. read
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One of the world’s largest design agencies has launched a consulting outfit, as the two industries continue on their trajectory towards a historic synthesis. Grey Consulting is not billed as a direct competitor of established consultancies, however the firm behind the new entity hope that its creative experience will help give it a competitive edge when winning consulting business from its existing clients.

The consulting industry has been engaged in a pitched battle with the advertising and design space for the past few years, as the former increasingly encroaches on the territory of the latter via a protracted campaign of mergers and acquisitions. This has seen several leading consulting firms, most notably Accenture thanks to its $1 billion war-chest spent in 2017, build design agency wings that are some of the largest on the market.

The process is far from being a one-way street however, and the advertising world has similar fired back at the consulting industry, with firms launching consulting wings to offer holistic end-to-end strategy and implementation design services for clients. Kantar Consulting, born of a merger of four of advertising giant WPP’s subsidiaries in early 2018, has made a concentrated effort to take the fight to the consulting sector, even purchasing smaller firms to bolster its consulting offering, as the likes of Deloitte and Accenture did to gain a footing in the opposite direction.

Now, another of the world’s largest advertising and marketing agencies has made a similar leap into the consulting market. The Grey Group is a global advertising and marketing agency with headquarters in New York City, and 432 offices in 96 countries, operating in 154 cities, has launched Grey Consulting, with a view to aiding clients with solving business problems, particularly within the areas of business and brand design, innovation and digital transformations.

Grey launches consulting arm to battle the management consultants

At launch, the practice will have full time staff working in the network’s key hubs London, New York, Singapore, Dusseldorf and LA, while the practice will be headquartered in London and will launch with 150 staff across the world. These initial employees have been primarily drawn from the agency’s existing strategic planning resources, including technologists, but there are plans to bring in associates when required to work on projects. Grey Consulting will feature a different fee structure to the ad agency to keep it in tune with the expectations of consulting clients, and while the specifics will depend on the project, the firm will borrow a page from management consulting firms, with a more project and outcome based approach, as opposed to charging for man hours.

Leo Rayman, who has been UK Chief Executive of the Grey Group since July 2016, and Chief Strategy Officer before that, will take charge of the new arm as Chief Executive. The move means that Grey will have to commence a search for a new UK Chief Executive to replace Rayman in its traditional business by the end of the year.

While the new entity will take some cues from the sector it enters, Rayman is keen to point out how it may disrupt the industry too. He said, “Our practice will go beyond traditional consulting. We will combine analytical rigour with lateral creative thinking and an understanding of how to make things happen to accelerate growth for clients."

Competitive edge

On the other hand, rather than being a direct competitor to the management consultancies who have been increasingly moving into advertisers territory, Grey Group worldwide Chief Executive Michael Houston was keen to stress that the move is more of an attempt to formalise existing conversations with clients such as GlaxoSmithKline, Procter & Gamble and JM Smuckers.

Houston confirmed, "This is really being launched based on a client demand. Our clients are asking for this type of [upstream] thinking, we simply haven’t codified the offering."

However, he did add that the group will hold an advantage over a traditional consultancy, thanks to its creative culture. "One of the big differences will be regardless of the entry point into an initiative all of the outputs and solutions will be seen through a brand lens. It’s really about the creativity that we bring to the thinking."

Elsewhere in the business, Suresh Nair, who has been the strategic leader of Grey Global, has been appointed Chief Creative Intelligence officer. In the new global role, he will be responsible for growing and operating Grey’s data and analytics capabilities.

The occurrence is in line with the recent predictions of IBM ix’s global leader Matt Candy. Addressing the Worshipful Company of Management Consultants at an event earlier in 2018, Candy suggested the advertising and consulting worlds were due to merge together, stating, “Standalone strategy is no longer sufficient – it now needs to be accompanied by creating and making, such that clients can touch and feel solutions, not just hear about what they could have. In consulting, we didn’t possess the storytellers, the artists, the creators and the makers.”