How CEO Brian Whipple Transformed Accenture Interactive
ADWEEK|September 10, 2018

How brian Whipple transformed Accenture interactive into a marketing leader for the digital age.

Richard C. Morais

Brian Whipple, the longtime CEO of Accenture Interactive, loves fishing; casting his lure into deep waters of the Atlantic. 

And from his Boston office, where since 2010 he’s run the world’s largest digital agency—to the tune of $6.5 billion in revenue in 2017—he’s reeled in some pretty big clients, overseen dozens of acquisitions and more recently, this summer, made big waves with the announcement that Accenture Interactive would offer marketers in-house programmatic services.

Yet Whipple is not your garden-variety consultant. Yes, he grew up in the firm, starting his career there in 1987 and spending the next 18 years building up a knowledge base and Rolodex. But by 2005, he moved on to the agency world, with senior leadership roles at RAPP and Hill Holiday. It was here in agency-land where he saw an opportunity—and the future.

“There was little talk, but no action, about the intersection of marketing and technology,” Whipple remembers. “The broader things of connectivity, mobility, the internet was not leveraged in a scalable way for marketing. It was more systems integration. Things were just beginning to wake up in this intersection.”

This intersection, he realized, was coming to a crossroads sooner rather than later. And in a bit of serendipity, Accenture was looking for an executive to lead its fledgling digital-marketing venture; one who was part business strategist, part ad executive and who could talk directly to the CMOs like the consulting firm was already talking to CIOs.

So the big consultancy called Whipple.

“I was interested in growing a scalable business in the billions, not in the millions,” he says of his decision to move over. “And while I am a big fan of various agencies, and the agency culture … they are by their very nature, intrinsically nonscalable.”

A medium-sized agency might generate $200-250 million in revenue, and Whipple believed that if you could tap into the fusion of marketing and technology, those numbers might be the sum of two or three clients, rather than 80 clients. “I thought there was an opportunity to build something really, really big,” he says. “It’s the scale that was there. That’s what I saw.”

Martin Sorrell, also building a digital agency via his new holding company S4 Capital, believes the Accenture Interactive chief’s strategy is on point. “I was struck by Brian Whipple, who recently said, ‘We don’t compete with the agencies. We go in at the CEO, CIO and CMO level and sell big digital disruption projects. We’re not fighting for $5 million or $10 million tactical implementation projects. We buy [the world’s largest design consultancy] Fjord to implement what has already been won at a senior level.’ I think that’s where it happens. It impressed me,” says Sorrell.

Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer at HBT Marketing, worked for Whipple at Hill Holliday when he headed up the Boston creative shop’s relationship marketing group. Whipple, she recalls, told the team they each needed to think of five ways they could help their clients grow beyond the work they were already doing for them. “Looking back, it’s no surprise he became an empire builder,” says Harhut. “He was always taking a look at the big picture. With Brian, it’s all about the thinking.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM ADWEEKView All

Whole Foods' Will Chau Has Had A Scrappy Path

The path of Whole Foods Market’s global director of creative and branding has been a scrappy one.

3 mins read
ADWEEK
March 4, 2019

This Is Your Brain On Marketing

Brands toy with sensors to better understand their customers.

3 mins read
ADWEEK
March 4, 2019

The Barbie Doll

On the eve of her 60th birthday, a look at. America's most primped, perfect and polarizing plaything.

3 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019

Marketing Needs To Be Inclusive

Diversity efforts must be authentic and go further than checking off a box.

3 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019

OMD

The agency clawed it's way back to the top by making ‘better decisions, faster’.

6 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019

Meet The New Broadcast TV Chiefs

After taking over last fall at ABC, FOX, and NBC, these four execs are ready to reveal their strategies.

6 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019

Initiative

Today’s media agencies face a new slew of challenges, as more clients slash budgets, issue RFPs and take everything in-house, from planning to programmatic. But clients aren’t the only ones making big changes. Both OMD and Initiative bounced back from challenging years with strategic pivots, picking up new business from brands like Daimler Mercedes, Liberty Mutual, Revlon and the U.S. Army. Breakthrough network Essence transcended its reputation as Google’s digital resource to score new partnerships with BP, Peloton, T-Mobile and more while doubling its headcount and adding 11 offices around the world. On the work front, these shops proved their media mettle with headlining campaigns for Amazon, McDonald’s, Target, USA Network … and who could forget the International House of Burgers? Read on to find out why these three earned Adweek’s Media Agency of the Year honors

5 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019

Essence

A strong vision and a key investment from holding company WPP Fueled an incredible year.

5 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019

Eryk Rich

Deutsch’s Head Of Music Straddles The Record And Advertising Industries.

2 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019

Agencies Scramble Over OTT

Investment teams try to get up to speed while they educate clients.

3 mins read
ADWEEK
February 25, 2019