Ahmad Ktaech: lessons learned as a consultancy CD

Ahmad Ktaech has joined PR shop Media Profile as vice-president of creative and digital after two years with consulting giant Accenture. He started as creative director in Accenture’s Toronto office before being promoted to creative director for North America, overseeing output for six offices and about 70 creatives across the continent.

There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about the creeping expansion of the big consulting houses into territory that was once the sole domain of ad agencies and other creative and communications businesses. The Message talked with Ktaech to get an insider take about what it means to be a creative at a consultancy, and if they really are a threat to traditional agency business.

How Accenture viewed creative:
“They made it part of the business, they made it part of the thinking and, more importantly, they made it part of the selling,” he said. At a certain point technology became commoditized and no longer a differentiator for the consultancies, meaning that they began looking to creativity and creative solutions for a competitive advantage.

What that means for traditional agencies:
The ad agencies can keep their big TV advertising projects. Accenture is doing digital film, apps, microsites, social campaigns and out-of-home work that drives online. These are tactics that brands use to build awareness in a digital world, he said. While creative was once treated as an add-on to core consulting services, Ktaech said that once they got their foot in the door, it was relatively easy for Accenture consultants handling CEO or CFO assignments to push for additional creative-only assignments.

“It’s not a hard sell,” he said. The common approach was the creative team did this for you, why not let them try that project over there. It’s marketing budget that agencies will never even get to pitch for. “These opportunities are not going to market,” he said.

How working in a consultancy is different from an agency:
“Consulting firms are extremely, extremely efficient. They have processes that have made them extremely efficient in areas outside of creativity, like technology implementations and change management. They are taking that efficiency and that way of thinking and applying it to creativity,” he said.

How that changed him:
“I learned constraints are your friends,” he said. “Tight timelines, limited resources, speed… all those factors at the beginning of my creative career I considered a hinderance to my creativity.” But in a consultancy, where the billing models are different, efficiency matters above all, so the creative process—the actual work of coming up with ideas—was much more structured than at most agencies, he said. “Some of these constraints have helped me produce some of my best work for clients. I would be flabbergasted at the calibre of the output we would do in a three- or four-week period.”

On the importance of focus:
“It was just very efficiently used time,” he said. When working on creative assignments, teams were told not to worry about answering emails or administrative tasks that might interfere with the creative process.

“I was so surprised that when you just take out all the other distractions and noise and add these constraints they become your friends. You push yourself to become a better creative.”

On the importance of ‘high-value’ creative:
“I constantly pushed my teams across North America to focus on high-value creative,” he said. What does he consider “high value” creative? Ideas that don’t need a lot of selling or detail. “Our ideas had to be explained with no visuals, no headlines, just two sentences max. I would review concepts from any of the [offices] over the phone. I’d close my eyes and they’d read me their two sentences and if it didn’t spark imagination, if it didn’t allow me to load in the art direction [in my mind] or the copy, than it wasn’t high-value creative.”

On the importance of WIPs:
Accenture doesn’t believe in surprises or any big creative reveals, so clients were brought along for the entire creative journey. “Our clients saw the development of a project, or a campaign, or an app, or bot or a piece of writing, in increments,” he said. It’s what they call WIPs, or works in progress. “We were able to course correct if we went down the wrong path, so we could use some of the dynamic research to debunk some our hypotheses.”

On the hours:
The work was demanding, but the Accenture model allowed most creative teams to keep reasonable hours, he said. While staff sometimes worked well into the night as deadlines loomed, they  were duly compensated. Plus, those long hours were the exception rather than the norm.“They want you to be as efficient as possible. And they also know that after a certain time you are just clocking hours and not being efficient,” he said. “They make it comfortable when you are there, but they want to make sure you are not there any longer than you have to.”

David Brown