Haydn Townsend on scaling Accenture Interactive in SA
by Herman Manson (@MarkLives) Haydn Townsend, the former group CEO of Wunderman Thompson South Africa and slated for relocation to a global client role based in London, has decided to stay in SA and has also taken on the role of managing director at Accenture Interactive Africa.
Townsend has big plans for the local office, with the stated ambition of building it into the no. 1 agency offering in the country. The intention is to double in size every couple of months. This might be done through organic growth, including the potential launch of one of Accenture Interactive’s creative brands (which currently include the likes of Karmarama, The Monkeys and Droga5), acquisitions or a combination of both.
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The consultancies, long dreaded by the local agency sector, have arrived, says Townsend. He has at his disposal both resources and intent, as well as a well-travelled global roadmap for local expansion. Fjord, its global service design agency, is already established here, and the SA operations of Accenture Interactive totals 48 people.
Accenture Interactive is one of the global consulting firm Accenture’s four business units, the others being strategy and consulting, technology and operations. Its aim is to “design, build, communicate and run experiences across the entire journey for their customers.” Services globally include product and culture design; technology and experience platforms; creative, media and marketing strategy; and campaign, content and channel orchestration. [Note: Accenture Digital, the operation MarkLives reported on back in 2017, no longer exists, and is replaced by Interactive.]
Leading agency play
Townsend, who reports to Singapore, has been tasked with building Accenture Interactive into one of Africa’s leading agency plays. It’s already the world’s largest digital network and consolidated agent network by revenue (US$10.29bn) and is the fourth-biggest agency company in the world (WPP leads with revenue of US$16.89bn, followed by Omnicom and Publicis Groupe), and is the Ad Age Agency of the Decade for 2020. Having established itself firmly in many developed markets, it’s now targeting what it terms growth markets, which includes those in much of Asia, Australasia, South America and also Africa.
SA has been identified by the group as a hot spot for creative talent, and the local office will service both local and global clients. “We are a really talented country, both in terms of creativity and technology/development expertise,” says Townsend.
Accenture Interactive has been building its creative credentials through the acquisition of various top agency brands globally, and Townsend aims to marry the halo effect of one of these brands with a strategy for building scale in the local market. His objective is to offer clients an integrated offering which includes product and service design right through to communications.
Already, Accenture works with many of SA’s top brands, and Interactive will be offered as a plug-in service to existing consulting, operations and tech clients. Ultimately, he would like to see clients taking up a comprehensive offer which includes strategy, business planning, the finding of design solutions, physical and digital product build and communication. Interactive is positioned as an experience agency, with the objective of building seamless customer experiences, from early interactions with a brand to unboxing the product and finding adequate customer support.
Townsend says agencies used to build brands through a focus on communication (such as launching a TV campaign) but notes that, in a fragmented marketplace, proper experience and interaction design reduces friction points, which is as, if not more, important.
Also working in its favour is the consulting operating model, which is also be applied to the Interactive business, and which avoids what ad agencies know as conflict work. The Interactive model embeds its people within the teams of specific clients, rather than having them sit in a central agency office (the proportions vary by client but the majority are in the clients environment).
Logical expansion point
Accenture has many existing, deep relationships with its clients, spanning strategy, operations and back end systems. For Townsend, Interactive’s offering is the next logical expansion point on existing offerings, creating an interlocking unit to build on current relationships. It also promises to bring CMOs into conversations Accenture is already having with CEOs and CTOs, he says. Existing Accenture (not Interactive necessarily, yet) clients include MTN, Vodacom, Telkom, Standard Bank, Liberty, Sasol, Woolworths and many more. Townsend is happy with Interactive’s existing service design and digital offer, but will now scale to content, communications and digital media.
For Townsend, Accenture Interactive’s SA ambitions will grow the SA industry, rather than diminish it. He says it will create vital job opportunities within the industry, and play an important role in retaining talent in SA, rather than seeing it exported overseas. It invests back into the industry and its people, and commits to a massive transformation agenda within the industry. He believes it will bring new blood into the industry and export work, rather than people.
It also adds Africa to global client conversations and pitches. Accenture Interactive will follow clients into African markets outside SA, and Accenture already has country teams in place in other African countries.
Townsend points to Accenture Interactive’s São Paulo office as offering a case study for building the SA agency — there, it’s scaled to over 1 000 people in three years. Already, there’s a number of quick wins in the pipeline, he says, and several key hires are set to be announced in due course.
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Herman Manson (@marklives) is the founder and editor of MarkLives.com.