Competition or Collaboration


When my colleague, Leon wrote an article in July last year on how there was an uprising of both consulting companies and traditional advertising agencies competing in the same space, giving birth to “cagencies”, it got me thinking – what is a cagency in its truest form? 

The Economist in 2018 heralded that traditional agencies will struggle to remain competitive. In fact, when Michael Houston of Grey Group announced it was launching a consultancy arm in August 2018, it’s almost a direct response to that. The edge in size and what agencies fondly pitch as “regional planning and budgeting” advantage to keep a larger piece of their estate wasn’t necessarily working anymore.

To stay relevant, agencies had to innovate and compete with organically local grown competition, often start-up outfits by leads from the advertising agencies themselves. These smaller, more nimble creative outfits were able to activate solutions that enable brands to deliver a memorable, personalised and deeply engaging customer experience. 

So, what has taken place in this competitive creative space?

The amalgamation of large agency groups was a consolidation exercise of sorts. They positioned themselves as a disruptive force within and for business. This respite allowed them to “own” insight and create propositions that enabled them to zag when everyone else was zigging, driving first mover advantages and getting a share of the spoils. They were the Cersei Lannister of the industry. But a mixture of complacency, lack of pace and/or investment in transformational thought process have led to an about turn. The expansion of consultancies has seen the likes of Deloitte and Accenture acquiring Acne and Droga5 respectively as their creative extensions in recent times. They are now competing with mainstream agencies and disrupting the creative agency sector.

These consultancies are showing how they connect with consumers better using their tools – data, dashboard analytics and service design. Turned off by the lack of agility, talent, innovation and business understanding in the business space, clients are turning to consultancies or are increasingly looking to insource business analysts, customer experience experts, design teams, innovators and product managers, setting up workshops to accelerate success. Agencies today are being challenged at their “own” game.

Clients are searching for partners who understand their business and beyond this, who can truly drive transformation in the way they communicate their brand. They don’t want tactics anymore.

COMMUNICATE witnessed this steady shift and in 2015, reviewed and transformed to thrive in this current cycle of disruption. We grew organically from a business consulting field focused on delivering and implementing effective communication strategies for our business partners. Complementing PEMANDU Associates and anchored by the genesis of PEMANDU’s proven Big Fast Results (BFR) transformation principles in both the public and private sector, COMMUNICATE is an organically homegrown private enterprise, consisting a team of seasoned executives from the hybrid of business consulting, brand communication and creative field. 

To stay abreast of the competition,  COMMUNICATE had developed eight approaches aimed at delivering greater value to our clients.

1. Build business cases, not websites

That first consumer port-of-call, impression or touchpoint is most important. We work with our clients to understand their competitive landscape, business and customer needs, co-developing strategic and expected experiential outcomes and ROI scenarios to storyline the business direction. We do this so that the brand messaging remains relevant. Leveraging against subject matter consultants from multiple sectors allows COMMUNICATE to value-add by extending fundamental key business analytics and insights at no extra cost to our client. 

2. Get proactive and creative

No one brand is identical. They may seek the same consumers, but good brands have both (Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and Unique Value Proposition (UVP). Therefore, we customise creative media products and solutions for each individual client. These creative prototypes allow both the client and us to gain better understanding of different techniques and effective tools, as it is about introducing new ways of working and behavioural shifts. Creative strategies and media planning must be anchored on the company’s P&L and intended outcomes. Incorporating this practice into everyday processes has led the teams we work with to becoming more nimble, resourceful and curious.

Recognising USP and UVP will help brands find their key differentiators.

3. Quantify and Monitor the Measures

One pet peeve I personally had about media planning in the early days was that once upon a time, the client’s effective spend was measured by the Opportunity to See (OTS), ie the more money spent, the more eyeballs you supposedly reach. And if you didn’t have enough budget, you won’t have the desired reach. Perhaps, to an extent, that industrial stereotyping is still prevalent today. I questioned my media agency at that time “what about the opportunity to feel?” We must identify what can be measured or experienced, when, how and agree these to be the measures of success. Because each target market in today’s consumer landscape is different. Trends and messaging for each target group is different. Thus, a reiterative monitoring process for brand activities must be set up early with a clear baseline against clear business objectives.

4. Work to deliver outcomes not outputs

True to our BFR and business transformation DNA, COMMUNICATE works with our clients to build longer-term value frameworks, so that we are jointly rewarded for accelerating as well as achieving business success. And, if these successes are met, we would recommend bringing in commercial models to assist the business to establish a sustainable and effective Quantum Leap model to drive greater growth.

5. Create a leaner experience of delivery for clients

Speed to market is critical and we at COMMUNICATE understand this. Hence, our Big Fast Results approach. We recognise that sometimes, somethings don’t need to be “finished to the edges”. A more agile fit-for-purpose and iterative approach to driving delivery should be more widely adopted. As Datuk Sri Idris Jala frequently advises, “Let’s not make perfection the enemy of the good”.

6. Be at the forefront of innovation

At COMMUNICATE, we are constantly driven by our hunger to learn and adopt best practices. Identify how trends and needs can both drive efficiencies within business and enhance customer experiences through creating more personalised brand communication. We believe that building intellectual properties to be licensed is not as important as building adaptive intellectual properties that can be both implemented FAST and EFFECTIVE. Technology today has also improved efficiency on our delivery system. Rudimentary tasks like data collection, processing and reporting can now be automated and shared, allowing more time for people to focus on strategic planning and execution. 

How one should prioritise tasks at work.

7. Instil a culture of intrapreneurship

Almost every company promotes holistic integrated operations. But often, these aren’t enforced due to reporting lines. We work with clients to encourage a culture that allows for staff autonomy and multidisciplinary, cross-functional teams to work together. Brand building isn’t a silo exercise. The brand needs to be embraced by all levels of employees in the company. This will help enhance the sense of empowerment, ownership and belonging as well as fostering agility and creative problem-solving. 

8. Don’t just advertise. Engage!

The pie simply isn’t getting any larger. With the advent of technology and soon AI, the thin line that exists between marketing and advertising is getting increasingly blurred. With search engine marketing (SEM) and display advertising, social networking is turning out to be a preferred channel for most brands pairing advertising with marketing to achieve best results.  

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. Here’s why.

Many believe social media is a powerful marketing channel that should be used cautiously for advertising purposes. Advertising will have their place, but too many brands try to “advertise” within their social communications to drive immediate action. This is not ideal because over time that misuse of the medium diminishes trust and efforts to build relationships.

To leverage social media in the most optimal way, brands need to understand what customers want. Do they use social media to be bombarded with adverts and gimmicks? Or are they looking for information presented in an interesting way? 

Brands that have researched the pulse of their target audience know how social media can benefit their integrated marketing communications strategy. Keeping that in mind, they know how to leverage it without overusing it. 


COMMUNICATE LIVE! will be publishing regular candid insights and observations of brand marketing and communications. To find out how COMMUNICATE can play a part in activating your business strategies – whether you’re a consulting business, an agency seeking to disrupt or a brand wanting a greater share of voice, get in touch with us for a chat. COMMUNICATE believes in working together and collaborating to bring about the right results.