“If you compare us with the traditional competition, we balance well the right and left parts of the brain.”
DAVID FREGONAS, head of Accenture Interactive, on data, technology and creativity.
In May 2016, Advertising Age named Accenture Interactive as the world’s largest and fastest-growing digital ad agency network. But it does not fall under any of the big holding groups. Rather, it is part of Accenture Digital, itself founded in 2013 as a subsidiary of professional services firm Accenture.
David Fregonas, head of Accenture Interactive MENA, says the organisation’s key goal is “to be really laser-focused on helping our clients create the best customer experience on the planet”. And although he is keen to show off augmented reality work Accenture Interactive has recently carried out for BMW and Nestle’s Dolce Gusto coffee brand, he emphasises that the company’s capabilities go beyond any specific technology.
He says: “A lot of companies are asking me directly: ‘So, you are into augmented reality, right?’ And I say yes, to the extent that it helps our clients to bring the right customer experience to the market. ‘Ah, so you are also into artificial intelligence?’ Yes, we are; we work on self-care to the extent that it brings the best customer experience to our clients.”
But he adds: “We don’t want to be seen as someone who is specialised in one specific technology, because it will evolve over time. We want to make sure we are famous for experience; that is our real mission.”
Accenture Interactive can see projects through from end to end. From vision to operation. “When you are in a C-suite meeting [with other agencies] and you ask a question around who can design a marketing campaign, then you have lots of hands going up,” says Fregonas. “And then you ask who can do that with the technologies [the client has found], and a few hands drop. And then you ask: can you run this in 20 languages, in several countries with different regulations? Then you have one or two. And then ultimately you can engage on results.”
Not all clients necessarily want that, though, so the firm can simply develop a straight tech solution such as a chat bot or an augmented reality experience. Or it can begin further upstream, helping a client develop a strategy to lift customer engagement.
If traditional media and marketing holding groups offer a whole spectrum of services, Accenture Interactive brings ultraviolet and infrared to its rainbow. It is part of Accenture, the management consulting firm now headquartered in Ireland. Accenture itself was founded as a technology consulting business of US accounting firm Arthur Andersen in the 1950s, and is now a fully fledged professional services firm with a turnover of $33bn.
This means consultancy is in its blood, and solid financial backing means that scalability has not been an issue for Accenture Interactive.
“Are we growing a lot?” asks Fregonas. “Absolutely. Doubledigit. Sometimes it is pure organic growth, sometimes it is inorganic. This is always looking at all the spectrum, from telling the story to driving customer engagement.”
In recent years Accenture Interactive has been making marketing headlines through its acquisitions of agencies such as London-based design consultancy Fjord in 2013, Hong Kong digital network PacificLink in 2015 and the UK’s Karmarama last year.
Some of Fjord’s clients are still working with Fjord. Others are working with Accenture Interactive, being serviced by the same team. Fjord is present in the UAE, but it is not yet branded as such. When Accenture Interactive moves to new offices in the coming months, Fjord will officially launch in the region. But while the likes of Fjord and Karmarama may be calling cards to present at digital pitches, they are still part of a greater whole.
“Branding has an impact,” says Fregonas. “We preserve the branding and we preserve the culture, but it serves a common goal.”
Fregonas says that digital brings with it a flexible attitude. “Digital is more than software,” he says. “It is the mindset as well, and interactivity, the way we work.”
“The other agencies, they are never quick, they are never fast,” he says. “Don’t do something for 12 or 13 months; that’s not the mindset of digital.”
However, a quick-reaction mentality is easy to preach when a firm is in double-digit growth. Its rate of expansion means that Accenture Interactive must be changing almost daily as it snaps up new shops and recruits teams.
Fregonas and his counterparts in Accenture Interactive offices around the world are hiring as the company grows. One of the roles they are recruiting is “experience architects”.
The roles tend to be industryspecific, with telecoms experience architects servicing telcos, for example, and those with hydrocarbon backgrounds working with oil company clients. Their job, says Fregonas, is “knowing how to “We don’t want to be seen as someone who is specialised in one specific technology, because it will evolve over time. We want to make sure we are famous for experience; that is our real mission.” architect a new experience from the front-end perspective, knowing how to architect and at the same time knowing how to drive the right content, the right search engine optimisation, the right service, the right marketing”.
Experience architects are key roles. “Those types of profile are senior profiles,” he says. “It is senior managers and above with us, and they receive specific training and dedication and attention.”
There are three key backgrounds the agency’s staff tend to come from, reflecting the breadth of its offerings and ambitions. They are from creative agencies, they are business consultants or they are technologists.
Accenture Interactive aims to be seen not as a service provider but as a partner to its clients. True, most agencies today will say the same, but Accenture Interactive has an arrogance grown of experience to back that up. Its parent company, Accenture, is born of closely advising C-suite clients, and this trickles down to its component parts.
The agency’s positioning “sets the right discussion peer-to-peer with the chief marketing officer,” says Fregonas. “You cannot be seen as a ghost, because we want to be taken as partners.”
To justify its place at the top table, Accenture Interactive needs to be more than a creative agency.
“If you compare us with the traditional competition, I believe we balance well the right and left parts of the brain,” says Fregonas. “We are not just creative, the right part of the brain; we are also left-brain, rational, fact-based.” This means SEO specialists, customer insight specialists, data management platform specialists and other data scientists work hand-inhand with creatives.
If traditional creative agencies are the antithesis of management consultancies, then the likes of Accenture Interactive and its equivalents at IBM, Deloitte and other consultancies are the synthesis of the two disciplines – where the pencils meet the pie charts. At the same time, more and more marketing and communications holding groups are offering up consultancy services as part of their packages, and the lines are getting blurred as the suits move downstream and the creatives move upstream.
Just as adland’s stalwarts must evolve to survive, so must the professional services firms to stave off the incursion from the likes of Publicis and WPP. As such, part of Accenture Interactive’s job within its parent company is to help lead Accenture itself to a wholly digital existence – to “turn to the new”, as Fregonas says. “The type of people that we recruit are different [from others in Accenture],” he says. “You can see that – not just in the way they dress, but you can see right now within Accenture, within the office, who is part of Accenture Interactive and who is not. I hope in the future you can’t.”
In the meantime, he says, Accenture Interactive’s main challenge is to remain relevant, in the field of experience, to CMOs and other clients. And as for that title of biggest and fastest-growing digital agency, the 2017 results will be out any day now. “In May we will know if we keep the number one spot,” he says. “The difficulty when you are number one is to stay number one. And it’s difficult to be better than number one.”