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View from the Top: The Power to Transform

—30 August 2017
—Suki Thompson, CEO of Oystercatchers, reviews 'The Power to Transform'

Tell us about why you established Oystercatchers in 2008, and the role that you look to play for your clients.

I have a passion for entrepreneurialism and transformation - both were part of a clear vision for Oystercatchers.

2008 was a pivotal time for marketing and change: relationships between agencies and marketers were at an all-time low. In tandem, budgets were being savagely cut.

My business partner and I looked to play a part in reshaping the future of the marketing industry to help brands accelerate performance at a time of great complexity. Our focus was simple: we believed, and continue to believe, that commercial success comes from collaboration and long-term partnerships between agencies and clients. To help move the industry forward, with natural change, we needed to move client headsets from pitch to partnership.  Our vision grew traction as companies including Sainsbury’s, McDonalds, and British Airways came on board.

You recently changed your ownership and joined up with Centaur Media. How has this changed your operations and ambitions?

The decision to sell was professional and personal. The business had grown 190% over four years, as we expanded our service offering working with 80 percent of the FTSE250. We had grown our footprint into Asia and the USA. But, the market was rapidly changing and we needed to meet changing client needs. As digital grew, we needed to invest heavily in new data and digital software to expand our consultancy services and training/capability offering.

From a personal point of view, as an entrepreneur with a love of learning and growing, I wanted to learn within a different business environment, such as a PLC, and introduce the team to new ways of looking at how client performance can be accelerated.

Today, Oystercatchers marketing consultancy is partnered with Econsultancy, a fully focussed digital consultancy, under Centaur Media’s umbrella ‘The Power to Transform’. We offer clients tools and services to become high performing modern marketers including marketing model development, marketing spend optimisation, agency search and development. Our expanded offering also includes capability development through online and face to face learning, (Mini MBA, Digital Fluency, Entrepreneurial Skills, Mini Msc – Digital Marketing).

The consulting industry is developing fast. Technology is changing what we can do, there are new business models and many more complex client needs. What implications does this have for you and how are you approaching this disruption?

I believe success comes from agility in aligning the power of the team to the client’s fast-changing business challenges. We need to bring data, content, marketing and digital together – and these are skills we now look for. In the modern-marketing world we tap into psychologists, analysts, technology and procurement experts to uncover behaviour insights of multi-channel customers. 

Another factor of change is that business decision-making has become more complex, and the client base has broadened. Traditionally, we would work with the Chief Marketing Officer. Today clients include the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Financial Director and Head of Talent.

As a result, the days of “one size fits all” are long gone. A recent Post Office assignment saw us briefed to re-model the marketing and digital function, unlock value from existing customers and their data to accelerate sales performance, and, create an over-arching data and digital transformation strategy for the business.

There’s a lot of talk about the convergence or sparring between creative agencies and management consultancies in the digital age. How do you see this playing out? Are they complementary?

I see brands reorganising to be increasingly data driven and customer eccentric.

Marketers are exploring new ways of working and receptive to trailing flexible agency models to fit with evolving requirements. Smart businesses understand that the customer comes first and they need to work back from the technology rather than the other way.

Equally, we have seen power shift from the brand owner to the customer. Agencies that neglect to invest in enabling their amazing ideas and innovations to be customer relevant and positively embraced by the client organisation, are not going to survive.

I do think that many agency groups know they must fundamentally change and are taking steps to do so. Not easy, this is a seismic shift, and consultancies are naturally very good at implementing change.  

That said, my take is that the future will see a merger of consultancy and creative agencies – a super “creative consultancy” combining the ability to create incredible ideas that resonate with customers and offering remarkable ROI via data analytics.

This is the MCA’s Year of Diversity. I know this is important to Oystercatchers. Why would you say that it matters so much in consulting and what steps are you taking?

My strong belief is that everyone deserves a fair chance, no matter who they are or where they come from. I like the expression “I’m not different from you, I’m different like you”, and I keep this at the centre of my principles. In my view, a diverse company creates a richness of ideas with relevant output, reflecting the reality of customer communities.

I believe that speaking out about inclusion and involvement with industry-wide initiatives is valuable and effective. And we all get involved, from the youngest in the company to myself.  As a team we have actively embraced, among others, Women in Business, the Women’s Equality Party, the Ideas Foundation, Creative Equals, BAME2020.

Oystercatchers has embraced the MCA’s Consulting Excellence scheme. How have you found it in practice, and what difference do you think it can make over time for clients?

A great industry initiative which aligns extremely well with our own approach to consultancy. It adds weight and value not only internally, but also to clients. The professional development element provides valuable learning opportunities for our junior consultants – who have benefited much from this. The better value we can offer to clients, the better for the whole industry.

What do you look for when recruiting new consultants? What is your advice to someone thinking about a career in consulting?

We like to ‘get stuff done! And we look for people with drive and ambition to help our clients. Our industry is innovative, forward thinking and diverse – offering opportunities to work with extraordinary, inspiring businesses and to be at the forefront of change.

We believe we can build on basic skills and look for people who are prepared to be fearless and curious. People who will build strong and trusted relationships with colleagues and clients. People who will make a real difference to our clients’ businesses.

I personally make it a point of principle to help my team and my mentees grow as individuals. We have supported many Oystercatchers to build and run their own businesses. So I am particularly excited about an innovative online training programme we are launching in September –  specifically designed to help entrepreneurs learn and grow with a focus on women. The UK is losing £1 billion a year by not encouraging female entrepreneurs, this, I hope will help redress the balance.

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