Fjord’s Accenture-powered evolution and what it reveals about Karmarama’s future and the consultancy’s ambitions

Fjord Family

By Jennifer Faull for The Drum.

The Drum recently revealed that Accenture Interactive would soon move Fjord – the design agency it acquired – into Karmarama’s Farringdon offices, shedding more light on the kind of advertising group the management consultancy is trying to build.

Despite being under a spotlight, the ambition of Accenture Interactive’s grand plan has never really been ‘revealed’. It says it wants to help businesses create ‘brand experiences’, but won’t be drawn on expanding its media capabilities and continues to dance around questions on the threat it really poses to traditional agency groups. Instead, the industry watches closely as telling hires – such as that of Trinity Mirror’s Amir Malik to lead a new programmatic division – or acquisitions are made.

“We have a clear-cut strategy and it’s starting to show results,” Joydeep Bhattacharya, managing director of Accenture Interactive told The Drum in a recent interview, hinting that Karmarama will not be the last agency it brings into the fold. “I would just leave it to let the results show.”

Fjord’s evolution

Looking at the evolution of Accenture’s first purchase – Fjord – helps to understand where the consultancy and its agency collective are heading. It’s now been four years since Fjord was thrust into the consciousness of the industry when it was snapped up: “Looking back now it’s hard to remember quite how scary it was,” recalls Abbie Walsh, who has worked at the design agency for eight years, rising from service design lead to her current role as managing director.

“We were quite small at the time, 250 people, and Accenture was 260,000 so we did think ‘how is this ever going to work?’ It took not only the clever and warm guidance of our own leadership but also the guys at Accenture and the blind faith of people at my level to just really dig into it.”

That guidance came in the guise of what Accenture dubs a ‘shepherd’; someone who will manage the agency through the transition into the parent company and oversee its integration with the other agencies. Currently, Bhattacharya is that shepherd, helping Karmama to navigate the change.

Walsh said one of the key things Accenture did for Fjord was to leave the culture it had nurtured for the 12 years previously alone, including things like its annual gathering of its global design studios or trips tovisit fjords – of the geological nature – in Norway to celebrate key milestones in an employee’s career.

“And they injected things like an innovation fund which would underpin things that didn’t need to be paid for by clients,” Walsh continues.

“They never forced integration, even to this day. We’ve not been swallowed up, we still have our own brand, rituals, career track and opportunities; we still hire in under the Fjord brand and have our own internship programme. It’s been on our terms.”

But it hasn’t all been an easy ride. Walsh admits that in the beginning there were “hairy times” and a sense that Fjord was the “shiny toy” whose services could be tacked on to another client project, something Karmarama will also have to negotiate.

“But we know what to look out for, who to work with, and to be able to say no to the stuff that’s not right for our culture” she adds.

This process has allowed the once boutique design agency to grow “phenomenally”. It has gone from nine studios pre-acquisition to 24 today, and ballooned the team from 250 to over 900. But more telling of where Fjord’s future lies – and that of Karmarama – is in the kind of work is has since been exposed to and the new services it’s offering to clients as a result.

“Where before it might have been head of design [we were talking to], it’s now the CEO,” she explains. And while Fjord can decline work brought in by Accenture, today its billings are made up by some 90% of the management consultancy’s clients.

“We tend to not get a brief now; we write it. As opposed to [a client saying] ‘go do this design,’ we actually get a lot of projects around transformation,” Walsh says of the shift.

“A business might want to transform what it does or think about what to do in the world of digital. And quite often they will say they need to do that in a customer centric way, and we will advise them on what that will look like in terms of the vision and strategy and then we’ll help them bring that to life through apps, website or a store. And it’s a long-term engagement. Accenture has all of the credibility in delivering that.”

The second arm of the Fjord’s agency offering lies in what it describes as ‘Living Business,’ which sees Walsh and her team advise companies on how to take employees with them on any transformation project.

“What [a business does] will change, which means the people might see a big cultural change. So, we help with that. We’ve been through it, we know what it’s like, and we’ve seen a lot of clients fail by doing stuff on top but not helping their employees to change,” she says.

“Living Business is about helping businesses understand their purpose and employees be a part of it and then empowering them with the right tools. It’s the next frontier.”

Herding Karmarama

So, what’s the next frontier for Karmarama? While Walsh admits that Fjord was given the relative peace and quiet to get attuned to its new owners, the newest acquisition has not been given the same luxury. It’s been four months since it became part of Accenture and despite all eyes being on what it does next, the strategy – much like it was with the embedding of Fjord – has been to get on with business as usual.

Read the full article on The Drum.

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