Why working at a boutique consultancy can be exciting

11 February 2019 Consultancy.uk

Having previously worked as a management consultant with a focus on transformation & change, Richard Longstreet has decided to apply his industry experience to the recruitment field for his latest venture. Consultancy.uk sat with the head of strategy, transformation and change recruitment at 3Search to discuss the latest developments in the management consulting recruitment scene.

In the professional services world, it is rarely the case that a professional will stay put for long. Just as a consultant has settled into a role with one firm, they will feel a calling to a new challenge or chapter in their career, and uproot to begin the process once again. Richard Longstreet is no exception to this endless cycle.

Having graduated from the University of Durham, Longstreet started his career as an Associate Consultant with staffing and recruitment specialist Michael Page. It was less than a year after he arrived at the multinational executive search and recruitment firm that he was on the move again, however.

“I enjoyed the pace of it, but wasn’t sure it offered the variety I was looking for in a career,” Longstreet reflects. “I went into consulting to get a stronger understanding of how businesses are run, and although I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, I wasn’t sure that consulting was where I wanted to develop my career.”

Why working at a boutique consultancy can be exciting

Another, longer engagement followed, with Longstreet joining Capgemini Consulting. He spent more than two years with the firm, and was promoted from a graduate position to the rank of Consultant at the half-way point of his stay at the French-origin IT giant. During his time in the role, he was aligned to the programme leadership and change capability team, gaining experience in roles in financial services, utilities, and the public sector, as well as at one of the world's leading airports. 

While the second step of his career was more fulfilling in terms of developing his understanding of how a variety of businesses function, however, Longstreet remained unconvinced that the industry was where he wanted to be long-term. In August 2016, this led him to leave the firm in pursuit of a new challenge with 3Search. The move saw him establish a new practice for the boutique recruitment consultancy from London geared towards recruitment in the strategy and transformation space, primarily working with small and mid-size management consultancies.

Boutique life

According to Longstreet, he was well-equipped for the move, stating, “I have a good understanding of the work and skills required (both hard and soft skills), and I speak the lingo! I believe this allows for both clients and candidates to see me as a more trusted recruitment partner because I ‘get it’ – and hopefully my results speak for themselves a bit too.”

At the same time, however, the position suited his longing for consistent development and new challenges. He explained that he was by no means “naïve enough” to think he knew absolutely everything, and that even now the sector is constantly evolving, so for him “it will always remain a learning platform for me to grow alongside the industry.”

While Longstreet’s desire for learning has been sated, having moved to the world of boutique consulting, he also found a way of working which was much more comfortable to commit to in the long-run. According to him, there is a marked difference between life with the likes of 3Search and consulting behemoths such as the Big Four. Among those variations, he cited a greater focus on what candidates can do, as opposed to the focus of large firms on what they have done – and a desire to foster talent with a broad consulting toolkit, as key factors. He also praised the enthusiasm of boutiques to promote learning new skills and experience new sectors, part of a “more entrepreneurial culture” geared towards growing the business.

He explained, “Regarding entrepreneurism, it’s at the heart of being part of a smaller business. Particularly looking at the likes of Elixirr, it’s a core value of who they are. Another point to raise is around progression and career development in smaller consultancies. There are loads of examples of consultants who have flown through the ranks in smaller firms, as they’re not hamstrung by the bureaucracy and process of larger businesses.”

“The ‘land and expand’ model of consulting is slowly disappearing, and partnerships are now the way forward. From my point of view, this way of working is something that smaller firms excel at!”
– Richard Longstreet, Head of Strategy & Transformation, 3Search

Recruitment process

At 3Search, Longstreet now leads the firm’s strategy and transformation recruitment desk, and so has seen what candidates look for in a new employer, first hand. A higher level of flexibility in boutiques also helps such firms bring in a more diverse range of talent. Longstreet suggested that candidates are being drawn to boutiques because they can offer an improved work/life balance. Smaller firms often seem quicker to adopt technologies that enable flexible working and have the mentality and culture to encourage this.

This is one of the major assets that boutiques have at their disposal when it comes to addressing their lack of brand permeation. Longstreet still sees this as an area of difficulty however, and he elaborated that often with junior candidates, the brand is more important. This is partially as “it looks great on their CV” but also because it is generally an indicator that they can access structured training programmes, which help to “really kick-start their career.”

Longstreet asserted that branding is not the be-all and end-all of bringing in young talent, however. He stressed, “Let’s not forget the ability of smaller firms to provide greater exposure and responsibility earlier in their career to juniors, something that larger firms normally struggle with… At the same time, I often work with candidates from the likes of the Big Four. From my experience, they’re less interested in engaging with the other larger brands… and they often look for a move to a smaller firm, or sometimes to industry. They can be offered the same perks, a better work/life balance and more ownership in what they do, less of the ‘cog in a machine’ feeling.”

In terms of which skills are in highest demand in boutique consulting‘specialist generalists’ are becoming more in demand. Individuals that can contribute to developing a strategy, help shape a solution, and own it through to implementation, are highly sought after.

According to Longstreet, this is because it seems “the ‘land and expand’ model of consulting is slowly disappearing, and partnerships are now the way forward. From my point of view, this way of working is something that smaller firms excel at!”

Related: Firms concerned about growing competition from boutiques and independents.

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

18 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

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.