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Are consulting and outsourcing firms gobbling up the pie held by traditional advertising agencies?

July 2018

Read Time: 4 minutes

As the world is getting more and more digitalized, there’s a battle between consulting and outsourcing firms and traditional advertising agencies. If statistics are anything to go by, consulting and outsourcing firms are slowly but surely nudging ad agencies out of their own turf.


As of January 2017, 51 per cent of the global population – which is over 3.5 billion people - has access to the internet. Forty-four per cent of the world population owns a smartphone and 20 per cent of the world's population (7.5 billion and counting) has shopped online within the past 30 days.


Little wonder then that marketing spends of companies are rapidly shifting towards digital medium. In 2016, the market share of digital ad spend was 34.8% globally against 65.2% of traditional spend. A year later, digital had grabbed 1.8% more market share of the traditional spend, touching 37.6%.


The worldwide digital spend for marketing has been growing consistently at 16 % CAGR since 2015, and is slated to touch over US$ 336 billion by 2020.  The fastest growing markets are India with 35% growth and China with 22% growth between 2016 and 2017.  In the US, digital grew at a more moderate rate of 11% but still much faster than the economy as a whole. 


Technology is disrupting the marketing industry in more ways than one. All of the key marketing trends today are technology related where data, analytics, digital footfalls and behaviors are ruling the roost. Given their capabilities around these broader technology themes, consulting and outsourcing firms are better prepared to meet these challenges and have started taking market share away from ad agencies. For example, some consulting and outsourcing companies have tried to form a “digital native” marketing agency model having a strong platform around automation and analytics.  Multiple consulting and outsourcing companies have already crossed USD 1Bn in revenue from the digital marketing space. Accenture, IBM and Deloitte reported USD 4.4 billion, 3.0 billion and 2.6 billion in revenue from digital marketing in 2016. 


Consulting and outsourcing companies have also been leveraging their cash piles to aggressively acquire and integrate branding and content expertise. Accenture, in the past one year, has acquired 12 firms across the world specializing in the marketing space.  Other major acquirers of digital marketing / agency assets include Cognizant, Genpact, Capgemini and Tech Mahindra.

Consulting and outsourcing firms have proven to provide better deal terms. These include i) better commercials / higher valuation multiples ii) smaller pay-out periods, typically around two to three years, while ad agencies’ pay-out tenure can go anywhere between three to five years and iii) better career path for the acquired management team combined in some cases with retention / incentive packages for future performance. They offer management teams an opportunity to operate on a global scale, enabling them with strong back-office functions that have been set up for the same. 

As per Avendus’s research, factors behind outsourcing companies’ offering better terms than agencies include i) availability of cash (TCS and Infosys had USD 750 mn and USD 3.2 bn on their balance sheet for the last reported quarter) ii) consulting and outsourcing firms trade at higher multiples than agencies (top consulting and outsourcing firms like Accenture and Cognizant trade at an EV / TTM EBITDA of 15.4x and 14.1x respectively while top agencies like WPP and Publicis trade at an EV / TTM EBITDA of 8.1x and 7.5x iii) less overlap in offerings / capabilities with existing operations iv) a sales model which is more conducive to collaborative selling post transaction leading to more realized revenue synergies and v) deep expertise in acquiring and integrating people’s business and aligning incentives.

In the rapidly changing marketing services landscape driven by the digital consumer, there is tremendous opportunity for consulting outsourcing firms to change the advertising paradigm forever. The existing traditional ad firms will need to shape up or ship out. 


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