(scroll down to watch the video interview)
“It’s important to have creative people in charge; that’s the opportunity for the agency world. To have more creatives be more in leadership positions, as opposed to operations and finance [people].”
Nick Law, Global Lead for Design and Creative Tech at Accenture Song, is articulating the fundamental leadership challenge facing modern agency brands today. He explains: “You need that partnership, but a lot of the partnership has been lost in a lot of the agencies which were actually created and founded by creatives.”
He continues: “It’s ironic that Accenture, which most people wouldn't consider creative, has someone like David [Droga] as CEO of Song.”
Law, who was talking as part of the Game Changers interview series in partnership with global talent consultancy for the creative industries, The Blueprint, shared his view on the future of the industry with founder, Gareth Moss.
In February this year when most of us were grappling with the challenge of how to dress for real life, rather than the four walls of a zoom screen, Nick Law was facing a different shaped challenge altogether. The fresh start presented by closing a chapter as VP of Marcom Integration at Apple to join Accenture Song.
Having spent much of his career at R/GA where he rose to Vice Chairman and Global Chief Creative Officer, as well as Chief Creative Officer at Publicis Groupe and President of Publicis Communications, Law has had the opportunity to absorb the differing business models of an industry in flux.
With that span of creative agency, network, tech giant and consultancy in mind, Law pointed to the fact that working client side is different, as you are a service within the business rather than the business itself.
Yet refreshingly, rather than making a sweeping generalisation on the future of in-house marketing models, law instead points to the nuances and complexities of different businesses. He explained: “It is very difficult to talk about client side positions without being specific to the sort of business it is and the relationship that business has with creativity and design.”
In essence a business like Apple or Lego with product at its core might have a more natural affinity to an in-house model alongside external agencies, while a business that does not have that core product focus may need a different solution. So while there are no shortage of black and white headlines on in-house creative models (who can forget Sir John Hegarty’s declaration they were for ‘boring’ creatives) the reality sits in the shades of grey which come hand in hand with the complexity of modern marketing.
In April this year, Accenture rebranded Accenture Interactive, its advertising and services arm, as Accenture Song, merging all of its agency brands under the umbrella with the exception of Droga5. The move was not without its critics. Marketers drowning in a sea of ‘customer centricity’ (Accenture Song has since embraced ‘Life Centricity’) are waking up to the fact that marketing jargon is a sign of insecurity rather than expertise.
At a time when that shift in agency communications is in full swing Accenture Song is a somewhat easy target (Reimagined). A malaise reflected by the headline on one marketing website: ‘Accenture Song is not a great rebrand, but it could be worse.’ The kind of headline that you can’t imagine David Droga, who built one of the most successful agencies in the world and is now CEO and Creative Chairman of Accenture Song, is losing any sleep over.
Notably for Law when it comes to nurturing game changing leadership, for him the focus should be all about leadership teams as opposed to one individual genius. “I think the day of the fearless creative leader that claims to have mastery over all the things an agency makes, those days are over.”
He points instead to the need to have a balance between storytellers and designers; a breadth of literacy which he believes creates more flexible solutions.
He explains: “The structure that does not work is having an ECD, a bunch of art directors and copywriter teams and then a bunch of departments.” An approach he describes as akin to hammering a square peg into a round hole.
“The holding companies need to be reinvented a lot more than they did 10 years ago,” explains Law as he grapples with the future of the industry. He continues: “There will always be agencies, the big question is what they are going to look like.”
He points to the way in which agencies are transcending a traditional production relationship with clients. “What holding companies are trying to do is connect a bunch of different agencies in ways that are integrated and useful for clients,” he explains.
Sounds simple. That is until you think of the heritage of all those individual agency brands. Then there are the egos involved, the complex matrix structures of holding companies, which retain competing P&Ls and KPIs. Then layer on the standalone agency brands created to service global brands. Mix in the impact of a global pandemic with those gruelling global pitches which have marked the start of new cross functional agency teams and the end of many advertising careers. Add in the drive to realign around ‘ecommerce’ and it’s easy to see how the multi-layered challenge of driving a progressive holding company model forward starts to build.
Law articulates this challenge with restraint, as he explains: “It's a difficult thing to do. A lot of these agencies have strong individual cultures, they have overlapping capabilities, there is definitely a cultural gap between the art and science of our business right now.”
Describing Accenture as a mix of the agency, big tech and consultancy model, with Song, the creative business being the customer facing part of Accenture. He explains: “I’m obviously bullish on that model because it solves a lot of problems upstream.”
“You can't avoid complexity, nothing is getting simpler,” adds Law, who believes that ‘deep simplicity’ is key to navigating the myriad challenges of modern marketing. He explains: “That is why you need deep systematic minds to understand the shape of the problem then you need storytellers and great designers who are subtractive thinkers to make choices to make something simple that the customer sees.”
A process of assembling and reassembling that perhaps the superficial simplicity of looking for a one-size fits all outcome with no reference to people’s lives. In essence, the ‘why would anyone want to do that?’ question all too often missing from that 1,000-page keynote presentation on customer-centricity.
Mercifully Law brings with him no binary descriptions of what in the industry is ‘dead’. He explains: “We are talking about the Metaverse being a huge opportunity, or the collection of different web technologies that are being built right now, but that doesn't mean that existing technology is going to disappear.”
He continues: “Formats tend to live on and find their place in the ecosystem.” Yet as that ecosystem becomes increasingly complex, meeting those problems where they are, through relationships with not just CMOs but CTOs and CEOs is key to Accenture’s proposition. Through its three S’s ‘See, Solve and Simplify’ Accenture Song is seeking to carve out its own place in an agency ecosystem where creativity remains the industry’s most misunderstood competitive advantage.