Experience Design and Business Consulting Blend is the New Norm

By Elizabeth Searcy

A recent article in Adweek reminded me of why the North Highland/Sparks Grove successful in-house partnership was a forward-thinking prototype back in 2006. When North Highland had the idea to add marketing expertise to strengthen the team, it resulted in the perfect cocktail of business acumen and creative genius.


David Gianatasio’s March 13 article in Adweek’s Adtech & Martech section, “Global Consultancies Are Buying Up Agencies and Reshaping the Brand Marketing World,” presented the combination as a growing trend. I agree with Gianatasio in lauding the consulting-creative combination, but I would suggest it is a new norm versus a growing trend. Why? We have been doing it for years because it works well for our clients.


One point of distinction between the larger business consultancies and the North Highland/Sparks Grove relationship is that other organizations add creative expertise via acquisition. Our method presents a single team to the client, and I believe is more beneficial to them in the short and long run. Here’s why:

  • We hire natural collaborators. It is challenging for creative folks and consultants to work together, much less to understand and respect each other’s different way of thinking, unless they check their egos at the door. Hiring collaborative and open-minded people is a necessary ingredient to making an integrated agency and consultancy work in tandem toward creating growth for clients. This kind of culture is difficult to obtain through acquisition. North Highland and Sparks Grove work in tandem whereby our creatives want to design more strategic experiences, our strategists want to deliver more inspiration, and our technologists want to develop more meaningful experiences. That takes teamwork.


  • We save clients time and money. Even savvy C-suite executives may miss the fact of how challenging it can be for massive consultancies and creative agencies to serve them as one. We are positive change agents versus business interrupters because we are experts at management, implementation, and communications. Our natural collaboration model allows for fewer yet more viable ideas to surface. For example, in healthcare, we would only bring an idea to a client if it will pass compliance and regulation muster. At the same time, we contribute the kind of humanistic and empathetic approach required to deliver results. This combined focus on subject matter expertise and human experience allows North Highland/Sparks Grove to bring a stronger value proposition to the table.


  • Our creative culture is built in. We believe that the ego-driven creative culture is a thing of the past. When you are in it for your client, you create an open atmosphere focused on a common purpose. Whether we are developing a new brand, renovating a digital experience, developing code that makes a product more user-friendly, leading a company through change via empathy mapping, or determining the key demographic or an immersive experience to bring the brand to life, creativity is in everything we do.


  • We can build our own capabilities to serve clients. North Highland/Sparks Grove grew together from Sparks Grove’s infancy. We are employee-owned and are both incented to collaborate in the client’s best interests and know when to take shared risk. Our common values have resulted in a trust factor among our operations even when, or especially when, there is diversity of thought. As opposed to large conglomerates whose parts work in isolation, our people are in it together from the start.


  • We innovate to purpose. Clients will not tolerate spending millions of dollars on digital transformation just to wait two years to see if there is a win. People want shared direction and fast results. Two examples where we are nimble in innovation are our Futures practice and our commitment to HX (human experience). Futures offers our clients a strategic and creative process to anticipate and plan for the long-term. As to HX, we believe the evolution of the customer experience to the human experience is what every successful company must deliver now, and this will require our clients to consider organizing around purpose versus profit.


  • The bigger our competitors get, the stronger our value proposition becomes. Due to our size and the fact that we are employee-owned and collaborative, we are able to react to big ideas, client needs or new trends quickly and seamlessly. Plus, the trust and respect we give each other as experts allows our internal teams to scale better to the project. At the end of the day, we are focused on client success and can produce results in a more agile way.


It’s comforting to know that North Highland had the foresight in 2006 to create Sparks Grove from within. That foresight, combined with our collaborative culture, will allow North Highland/Sparks Grove to continue to bring business acumen and creative excellence to the world’s most progressive companies.


ElizabethSearcy2519RTPElizabeth serves as Global Head of Sparks Grove leading the strategic responsibilities while also continuing to serve as a client executive. She has more than 20 years of marketing experience and a consistent track-record of driving positive and profitable results for clients through creative and strategic thinking. She has deep experience across the broad spectrum of marketing, including digital, experience design, marketing and brand strategy, and product development. She is known for her success in developing brands and strategies in global, challenging and complex business environments and venture-backed growth companies. Prior to joining Sparks Grove in 2013, Searcy worked with several growth stage companies, as well as notable Fortune 500 companies, leading a number of global and industry-recognized branding and marketing activities.

Searcy is a graduate of Florida State University and holds an MBA in Marketing from Goizueta Business School at Emory University.