‘Project Magnolia’ by McKinsey: Should you put your own Marketing team to the test?

Op-ed piece on the leading B2B portal Consulting.de with ~ 55.000 readers and ~ 95.000 page views monthly

‘Project Magnolia’ by McKinsey: Should you put your own Marketing team to the test?

March 21, 2023

Magnolia is a genus of plants known for its elegant, large flowers and hardiness. McKinsey is currently using this exotic shrub as a metaphor for its Project Magnolia.

With this, the consulting giant wants to completely overhaul its business model. It wants to become more agile, easier, safer and higher quality, with fewer repetitions. One possible consequence could be the reduction of around 4% of the 45,000 employees worldwide. More than 2,000 jobs would be affected, mainly in the back office such as marketing or HR.

In general, the magnolia is appropriately chosen as a metaphor for management.
It emphasizes the importance of adaptability, resilience, beauty, strength, stability, and long-term vision in leading a company to success and surviving in an ever-changing business world.


Why are the cuts focused almost exclusively on the back office, including Marketing?

Because at McKinsey, the ratio of consultants to non-consultants is one to one.

No other company in the industry has that. The other two players in the MBB trio “only” afford a ratio of one to three. For medium-sized consulting firms, this is often one to ten. Specialty boutiques even manage with a ratio of one to eighty to one hundred.

You have to be able and willing to afford the luxury of a huge back office – especially in Marketing & Research.

In my almost twelve years as Head of Marketing & Communications EMEA at Booz, now Strategy&, I repeatedly interviewed candidates from McKinsey. De facto, we never hired any of them.

Why? Not because they didn’t get through our assessment.

On the contrary. McKinsey marketers were among the best of the best.
But they were and are extremely specialized – often in just a single sub-sector of a single industry or a single communications discipline. This was not compatible with our team set-up and our cross-silo Marketing strategy.

In economically turbulent times, it is therefore logical to take a close look at one’s own cost structures. Large back offices cost margin – who would know this better than consultants?

When it comes to the ‘Magnolia factors’ of adaptability, resilience, strength, stability and long-term vision – not just at McKinsey – I see three aspects.

These can be derived for the company’s own Marketing. This also applies for players that have a different ratio of consultant to back office.

1. Regular Marketing audits

Anyone who says “A” – i.e. demands peak performance from everyone – must also do “B”, i.e. regularly sweep his own front door. It is therefore only logical to regularly put everything to the test with a Marketing audit.

Anyone who does such an audit brutally honest about all key KPIs will see:
This may be the case. potentials are still unused, or that is possible. a “luxury factor” for economic highs. This helps to avoid hectic job cuts in times of crisis.

2. Break down silos and create future-oriented Marketing structures.

In many consulting firms such as WP companies, the model still looks like this:

  • Marketing pushes a team of marketers, communications and events specialists, etc.
  • Sales is in partner hands alone.

Preprogrammed is the subliminal perception:

  • Marketing is poison for the margin.
  • Marketing only costs money, but generates none!

Modern marketers therefore have to continually prove their value. One that goes significantly beyond writing press releases or organizing webinars. This works by breaking down silos – both within Marketing and to the partner organization.

3. Use outsourcing of Marketing areas sensibly

During peak periods, many companies in professional services have built up a large headcount in the back office. I do experience this in approxamitely a third of our Marketing audits.
Thinking about outsourcing as a future-oriented cost-cutting strategy makes perfect sense.

Three Marketing areas where outsourcing is a good idea without sacrificing quality

Apart from the classics such as graphic design, which many consultants have long outsourced to India, Pakistan or to specialist providers, or search engine optimization (SEO), I see three areas where outsourcing makes sense. And this without any loss of quality.

1. Content marketing

A colleague recently ventured the thesis: “Content is becoming a commodity“.
Anyone who has been involved with AI tools like ChatGPT knows that this is an epochal shift for content creation. Peter Thiel even compared it to the disruptive iPhone moment.

That doesn’t mean that in the future, AI will create all blogs, white papers or studies.
But in this area, an enormous amount of time and effort is tied up in-house – sometimes too much. Here it is worth looking (and comparing prices) to external specialists who create high-quality content.

2. Social media management

Since the LinkedIn boom, a lot of manpower has been brought on board to manage social media presences. In my estimation, however, the hiring boom of the last three to four years in professional services is over.

Here, too, outsourcing is an option. Just when the days of paying US$700 as an hourly(!) fee for creating LinkedIn posts are over.

3. Email marketing

Of course, all consultancies as well as the Big 4 now use powerful CRM and automation tools for their email campaigns. But if these are not done in an editorially-optimized and new business-focused way, I see open and click-through rates that are far below their capabilities.

So here, an outsourcing discussion is worthwhile too.

Bottom line: ‘Project Magnolia’ is an exciting blue print for many marketers in professional services.

‘Project Magnolia’ will either prove to be a blue print for loss of expertise and experience with long-term negative impact on Marketing effectiveness and efficiency. And a difficult new start; i.e. a high investment of time and budget for hiring new talent after the crisis.

Or it is a blue print for recognizing competitive advantages through modern, fluid team structures and targeted outsourcing at the top level. Higher creativity, flexibility and strategic innovation are thus possible.
(This is an automated translation. We apologize for any inaccuracies!)

Would you like to check your own Marketing mix – with the goal of peak performance?

Then let’s talk on the phone about how our Marketing audit could help you!

Author: Susanne Mathony

Susanne Mathony
Susanne Mathony

The positioning of brands and people are my passion. For more than two decades, I have lived out my calling with CEO positioning, strategic marketing and communications consulting, PR and business storytelling.
Added in 2014 was the Social Media Consulting. Here, the focus is on #SocialCEO and personal branding and positioning of boards and teams on LinkedIn.My home is Professional Services. At GSA and EMEA level, I worked for AlixPartners, Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Strategy& as well as Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
As a political scientist and trained journalist, I started my career at a Washington, D.C., think tank.

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