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News Plus 23 Mar 2021 - 3 min read

AKQA's Brian Vella on trumping Deloitte and Accenture, why brands are returning to long term transformation planning, and why the Ikon merger is "all upside"

By Josh McDonnell - Senior Writer

AKQA's Brian Vella: "There are still a lot of companies struggling with the investments they have made into their martech stacks and platforms, how they are stitching them together with existing systems."

AKQA regional boss Brian Vella says brands are returning to longer-term transformation planning after a Covid digital sprint. The firm's view is given additional credibility after topping Gartner's most recent 'Magic Quadrant', trumping the likes of Deloitte and Accenture. Meanwhile, Vella says the Ikon merger into AKQA Media "is all upside".

What you need to know:

  • AKQA has topped Gartner's 'magic quadrant'.
  • APAC boss Brian Vella says most brands have caught up after Covid panic transformation sprees.
  • But some are regretting vanilla martech choices as they scrap over the same targets.
  • Meanwhile, the Ikon merger is all good, he insists.

There's a reason AKQA is still in the name [post Ikon] – because we are all working together.

Marketing magic

AKQA has topped Gartner's list for innovative global marketing agencies, which rates agency capabilities including marketing strategy, creative, content and execution across most key disciplines, laying them out on two key axes against competitors.

Having hit the sweet, top right spot, APAC boss Brian Vella told Mi3 the agency now uses the Gartner report as a "serious measure" for  success.

"If you look at the competitors we have in this report, you can see it highlights the convergence going on in not just creative services but tech, data, digital transformation and media," Vella said.

"To be a clear leader on both axes speaks to how we are evolving to meet the changing landscape and increasing demands for innovation from clients."

Covid acceleration

Vella said even brands that have had a 'good Covid' now need to reinvent - because almost everybody else has caught up, after a cycle of blind panic.

"There’s been a real shift towards 'catching up' when it comes to digitisation of a business model and how brands go to market," Vella said. "They want to keep ahead of those sleepy competitors."

As such, brands are now mapping out innovation strategies to suit a post-Covid world.

Vella said they are moving beyond 'bunker mentality' short term strategies and back into 3-5 year windows in a bid to gauge how technology and strategy choices made today will fuel overall business growth and engagement tomorrow.

Differentiation beyond martech

While brands have poured mutliyear budgets into digital transformation, CX and ecommerce over the last 12 months, not all of those investments have hit the mark, Vella suggests.

"There are still a lot of companies struggling with the investments they have made into their martech stacks and platforms, how they are stitching them together with existing systems," Vella said.

Multiple marketers have openly discussed their difficulties with the value of these tech stacks, with some blaming providers for selling a solution but failing to execute implementation.

Vella suggests many brands are stuck with a degree of "sameness", having bought into similar martech stacks – and ultimately using the same tech as those they are trying to compete against.

"There’s a spectrum: those struggling with the heavy load of these platforms and their own legacy systems; and then there are those who have got their foot down on the gas and are pushing ahead in really creative ways," Vella said.

"All of them are looking to separate themselves from the pack, which ultimately is going to come down to a seamless and effective end-to-end user experience that leans on customer data."

What's in a name?

WPP’s move to wrap Ikon into AKQA Media created headlines – and probably won’t be the last consolidation play coming out of the holding company.

But Vella insists the merger creates a business greater than the sum of its parts – however it is carved out in the WPP global/WPP AUNZ deal.

“From a client point of view, I don’t really see any difference. There is some structural stuff that may change from a WPP point of view, but in terms of how we work together day to day, very little changes. I’ve known [National Managing Director] Chris Hitchcock for years. We all get along well," he said.

“We're all aligned on the opportunity in the marketplace to do something different. And there's a reason AKQA is still in the name – we are all working together. There is only upside there.”

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