Lauren Dowding
Jan 11 · 5 min read

My transition form INDIE AGENCY to CONSULTANCY!

You’ve probably heard the outcry. Independent and Creative agencies are being swallowed up by… CONSULTANCIES.

It’s true and an absolute threat to the entire community, but the conversation hasn’t been particularly balanced. Agencies are depicted as the cool guys, the ninja’s, the radicals. Consultants on other hand may as well be labelled dweebs.

A defector as of 12 months ago, I hope I can see the problem from both sides. Full disclosure, I’m still in an independent, and the Strategic Design brand I work for is being run like a start up within the wider technology consultancy. However, I sit and work with the full team every day.

1. Creativity is your battle to lose

One of the biggest insults thrown at consultancies is BORING. Non-creative, unimaginative group-thinkers. Even the very best (acquired) talent is worn down by oppressive process and politics.

Now I don’t know if SPARCK is just incredibly lucky, but that’s just not the case. My team are incredible; ambitious, fiery, and super smart. A force to be reckoned with, and one that’s making waves. 5, then 15, now 45+ of us are taking on a company of 900+, radically changing the way we all work. It’s not a judgement — it’s a shot in the arm. We bring the energy, collaborating with (not preaching to) other experts in the business. Fulfilling our USP; great ideas, with the technical nouse to deliver them.

Of course you have to be sensitive, and inclusive. The point is you’re trying to form connections with people who see a value in trying something different. Everyone you win over becomes another ambassador for your cause, and in no time at all you have an army.

I’m sure if I was in an award winning creative agency, with spot on culture and a fantastic team, I would be furious at being transplanted into a grey building filled with Suits. But creativity only dies when you give up on the cause.

Treat the problem with the same scrutiny you would apply to a client. Band together, make friends. Ultimately don’t alienate yourself by being superior. It’s exactly what people expect.

2. Agencies aren’t completely innocent

I’ve worked for small-mid sized, independent agencies since I started 8 years ago, and most of the time it was great. But it’s naive to think we haven’t been part of the problem.

I can’t tell you how often we bit off more than we could chew. We were excited! We had big, experimental ideas… not wanting to be restricted by actual delivery. Of course we worked with partner specialist agency’s, but it’s always going to be tricky if you’re only half a step ahead.

Which neatly segues into clients…

Marcomms teams are fun. They like shiny things, they follow trends, they probably used to work at an agency like yours and are living a bit vicariously. Together you forge groundbreaking plans, putting the business to rights…Until you’re stopped (or more likely ignored). Turns out the business didn’t want that, the future strategy lies elsewhere, or it’s just not within your remit. Of course it crossed your mind, but you’ve invested so much time that you ignored the nagging doubt.

We’re all guilty of optimistically ignoring the reality of the situation. Building up expectations, without really connecting with the reality of the business. One of the real strengths of consultancies is their position with the C-Suite. If only because of scale, they’re often part of the inner circle — privy to strategic conversations and trusted with the big projects. Agencies need to find a way to form these relationships because the ideas and ambitions are spot on, it’s just they can fall on deaf ears.

3. We’re making each other better

And this is really why I’ve written the piece. Good independents are proactive melting pots. Clients and consultancies desperately need them to do well- they’re a driving force for the industry.

And consultancies can offer something too. They hold the relationships, they think things through, and they’ve got the specialists we all need to actually deliver transformative thinking. Consultants are hiring your talent? Hire theirs! They’re bound to be full of insider knowledge. We’ll learn a lot, if we pay attention the each others’ strengths and weaknesses.

As my old boss used to say, it’s about “raising the floor, and lifting the ceiling”. Pushing the industry to be its very best.

A final note — it’s not all roses

I’m very aware that in writing, all of this sounds easy. It’s not. In fact, keeping up the fight, always being ready to evangelise, and sometimes turning a blind eye to non-believers is tiring.

Being a consultant has also had a bigger impact on my life. Co-working means going where your clients are, working to their schedule and navigating their political environment.

And on top of all this any business that grows as quickly as SPARCK has is prone to growing pains. We have to work really hard to keep our culture, to win clients that we’re proud to work with. But our constraint is an opportunity; we have to rely on each other, we have to work collaboratively, and there isn’t room for ego.

But a year in, and I’m still convinced leaving my agency comfort zone was the best thing I could have done. I’ve developed (and am far more confident) in turning great ideas into action. And the proof is in the pudding — over the last year we’ve worked on incredible projects that include:

  • Collaborating with a leading bank to design and launch a new AI powered service for businesses to manage their money.
  • Researching and designing the new national NHS app (and many other core digital health services).
  • Exploring the future of travel and the role of digital services for a major logistics firm.
  • Helping Amnesty unearth opportunities to improve how they identify and take action on human rights offences.

This didn’t start out as a recruitment piece, but if you can identify you should definitely get in touch. Maybe you’ll even join us in Bristol!


SPARCK combines the best creative innovation of a strategy house with the experience and capability of a leading, privately owned, technology consultancy, BJSS, with over 900 technologists. We help companies shape and deliver new products and services — and create their future.

Get in touch at

We are a Strategic Design Consultancy. We help ambitious clients to create the future. We are SPARCK.

Lauren Dowding

Written by

We are a Strategic Design Consultancy. We help ambitious clients to create the future. We are SPARCK.

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