The Disruptors: Consulting Firms And Agencies In The Emerging Digital Landscape

Michael Brenner

Disruption has become the new norm in many industries, as new paradigms and technologies buck the status quo. For media agencies that provide both talent and resource-based solutions, disruption has unseated formerly untouchable big-name organizations that offer cookie-cutter solutions. Now, the tide is turning to smaller media consulting firms with the agility necessary to take on outcome-based engagements. Results can be delivered digitally and remotely without the need for long-term onsite consultants and project teams.

Looking back: The agency model once thought untouchable

For many decades, the agency model delivered results in the media industry by offering boots-on-the-ground consulting solutions leveraging the finite skills already available on staff. WPP, a British media conglomerate, has long been a leading firm with clients spanning several continents. This firm and its contemporaries embedded professional consultants within its clients’ workforces, continuing to deliver results based on effort-based models long held as the standard for media-centric organizations. Recent financial results paint the picture of internal instability and a failure of the firm to adapt to newer outcome-based paradigms. Now the company is rapidly shedding subsidiaries that previously served in verticals parallel to their clients as it figures out how to right a sinking ship.

The rise of outcome-based solutions with industry-disrupting consulting firms

Smaller, more targeted consulting agencies such as Accenture and Deloitte have already made the shift to outcome-based engagements supporting media clients as well as many other verticals. Accenture describes this as the move from solutions to outcomes. In the former, clients were offered non-unique solutions with success sometimes equating to pounding a square block into a circular hole. Now, relying on digital capabilities, media companies can realize truly unique results that directly address defined needs. An added benefit to this shift in perspective and solutions is improved costs and financials for client organizations.

Designing outcome-based engagements

Outcome-based engagements rely on a variety of components to fully satisfy the needs of media companies. This model can take shape in a variety of areas, from outsourcing departments that do not specifically address media needs to using external vendors or technology like AI that enable workforces to better focus on core functions rather than peripheral roles. Four areas are key to designing outcome-based engagements: the digitization of expertise, talent, service execution, and customer engagement.

Digital disruption success stories

Years into the digital disruption shift, leaders in different industries have experienced quantifiable positive results from outcome-based solutions. Two particular success stories include Deloitte and IBM. Deloitte has cut the time necessary for accounting document review through machine learning algorithms. IBM’s acquisition of The Weather Company resulted in weather data mining to better meet customer expectations. In the media industry, specifically, four factors are driving the digital disruption and reformation:

  • Demographics, including the rising impact of millennials while also accommodating the increased digital demands of older generations;
  • Changing customer demands, like increasing expectations for instant gratification through rapid access to global content;
  • Ecosystem changes that recognize the capabilities of amateur content creation, crowdfunding media solutions, and digitally disrupted workplaces; and
  • Cutting-edge technology readily available to all through open source software, the Internet of Things, and ready consumption of content through mobile and social media outlets.

Media industry giants and startups alike acknowledge the important role of those factors to enable outcome-based engagements, which also result in nonlinear growth when combined with knowledge-as-a-service, talent networks, and re-engineered business processes.

Necessary components of outcome-based media engagements

In the shift from contracts based on time and materials, outcome-based engagements achieve success through several stages and components necessary to deliver on client expectations. The process begins with firms that engage in a rigorous bidding process designed to produce proposals that are both more accurate and relevant to customer demands while limiting risk and ensuring outcomes are consistently repeatable.

Media firms must be ready to deeply engage with customer businesses before building solutions. Talent and intelligence resources can be directed toward strategic execution and ongoing data gathering to fuel impactful media outcomes as well as allow for course corrections and accountability. Overarching outcome-based results rely deeply on strategic collaboration between firms and their customers throughout the entire engagement.

Understanding the impact of outcome-based solutions

Industry disruption based on digital media solutions and intelligent service offerings crack open a once-tight marketplace of external media firms. These firms have historically relied on in-house people-delivered resources with specific verticals. As business models shift, outcome-based solutions enable smaller organizations and boot-strapped startups to offer better results through a reliance on talent networks to produce on-target media solutions. Talent networks offer a vast roster of professionals in media and related verticals, often allowing organizations access to on-demand, new, and evolving media skillsets. The rise of the gig economy in concert with intelligent and digital solutions removes geography from the equation through the conglomeration of global talent.

Harnessing talent and media capabilities

Older business models employed by media agencies relied heavily on a plodding and lock-step project process where effort was rewarded more than outcomes. That process tended to focus on firms supplying premade solutions that clients could then mold to meet expectations. In addition, that process was often slowed due to limited resources and human-centric project plans.

Digital disruption revealed the possibility of flipping to an opposing opportunity: talent and technology combining to create one-of-a-kind media solutions rather than the one-size-fits-all offerings relied on before the advent of digital disruption. With digitization and the rise of the intelligent enterprise, global has become local, removing barriers to creating solutions monetized with strong outcomes that require less effort. Enormous gains in capacity through world-wide talent networks result in scalability never before possible, particularly as companies join in the rush toward digitalization as the entire media industry undergoes massive transformation. Additional benefits from access to global capabilities are the enhanced ability to deliver results rapidly, bolster engagement, and create successful outcomes with carefully mitigated risks.

Outcome-based engagements and media firms

The media vertical has experienced enormous disruption over the past several decades. Prior to the current phase of digital revolution, media firms relied on outcome measurements based on engagement: clicks, shares, views, impressions, and link following. This aligns with measurements across other verticals that focused on the process, not the outcome. Now, media organizations can better enable client success by embracing new design and measurement methodologies.

This begins with a shift in understanding from campaigns designed to reach potential consumers to those better designed based on intelligent data collection to lead to a higher conversion rate. Video plays a large role in media evolution, particularly as online video is estimated to become 82% of Internet traffic within the next five years. In-depth customer engagement, data collection fueled by intelligent enterprises and the symbiotic combination of tech tools and limitless access to talent are the building blocks used by established and startup media organizations to ride the wave of digitalization.

The explosion of the digital landscape and its continuous evolution over the past decade is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to disruption of once unassailable media organizations. As machine learning, artificial intelligence, and automation continue to grow and provide value-added resources throughout the shrinking global marketplace, media agencies must choose to embrace these new paradigms as a part of their quest to remain relevant and effective, or move aside as hungrier startups begin to take their place.

For more insight on marketing innovation, follow our “Marketing Innovation For The Intelligent Enterprise” series of conversations with Jeff Janiszewski and Ginger Shimp from SAP North America Marketing. 


About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is a globally-recognized keynote speaker, author of  The Content Formula and the CEO of Marketing Insider GroupHe has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael shares his passion on leadership and marketing strategies that deliver customer value and business impact. He is recognized by the Huffington Post as a Top Business Keynote Speaker and   a top  CMO influencer by Forbes.