Jon Wilkins’ punk attitude keeps Karmarama and Accenture deal on track

Karmarama’s World Cup ad for BetVictor could be seen as an “up yours” to Accenture, the management consultancy that bought the agency at the end of 2016.

The spot starts with a doom-laden message which could be seen in a math men versus mad men context: “They say that the machines have won. That algorithms have turned sport into a maths problem.” Then it hits back to celebrate the unexpected: “Sport is not a science; it is beautifully unpredictable.”

Accenture’s number crunchers won’t see it as a slight. The Karmarama deal – which many in the industry were sniffy about at the time – seems to be going well.

Karmarama’s billings grew 45 per cent to £180 million last year, and they moved up from 16 to 12 in the Campaign/Nielsen rankings. They won First Direct, Halfords and Philadelphia in 2017, and were a key part of Accenture’s global Maserati win. All this while keeping up creative standards.

Jon Wilkins, the agency’s chairman, discusses the relationship with Accenture in Propeller’s “Dog n Bone” podcast this week, where his tone is more of an “up yours” to the ad industry than to his new bosses.

He says: “I’ve always been a bit of a punk. I like being at the destructive edge of change. What we’ve done with Accenture is move the industry on, whether it succeeds or fails, because we’ve recognised that creativity needs to plug into bigger business problems.”

As one of the founders of rebel media agency Naked, Wilkins favours the “take me as I am” approach. He claims that Accenture “has no intention of changing us. They didn’t buy us for scale or revenue or client contacts, because they’re absolutely f***ing massive and they’ve got shit loads of client contacts. They bought us to be dramatically more us than we were before.”

Russell Marsh, Accenture Digital’s managing director, put it more prosaically during a session at Advertising Week Europe. He called purchases like Karmarama (and other creative agencies including Monkeys in Australia, Rothco in Ireland, Altima in France) a “bolt on,” but it’s the same message – they won’t be diluted by Accenture’s 430,000 people in 200 offices around the world.

Accenture made $1 billion of agency acquisitions last year, according to global marketing consultancy R3: more than WPP, Omnicom, Interpublic and Dentsu combined.

Marsh, who used to be global chief data officer for IPG Mediabrands, also had some advice for agencies. He said, “They need to work out how they take costs out of the business where it’s relevant, through things like programmatic, and then add incremental value by reinventing themselves to add new creative opportunities to bring to life some of the client problems.”

Wilkins explained the attraction of Accenture in the first place.

He said: “Maybe rightly or wrongly – we are not the best creatives in the world – but we believed that our strategic and creative chops could sit further up the food chain. We didn’t like being treated as a supplier by clients.”

He described working with Accenture: “They are very entrepreneurial, very client-centric – more client-centric than agencies – they don’t do anything that doesn’t benefit their client, which is interesting given some of the debates around agencies being slightly self-serving. They are a big company but they move so much faster than agencies, they move into every space rapidly. It’s a rollercoaster and there are a lot of opportunities.”

As Sorrell’s departure leaves not just WPP but the whole industry more focused on how to face the future, the partnership between Karmarama and Accenture allows a glimpse into an alternative way to do it.

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