You don’t have to specialise

Nikki Austen considers the benefits of being a multidisciplinary agency and how it makes for a more creative business

In the early 1990s, as I was entering the final year of my degree, there was a mantra adopted by our course leaders – ‘specialise, specialise, specialise’. They advised, ‘decide what you’re good at and stick with it, otherwise you’ll be unemployable.’ I always felt that this approach didn’t lend itself to what I believed in – having ideas and being creative.

As a graduate, I experienced the world of packaging, annual reports and fashion brands and was ever mindful that I was missing out on other great creative projects. Variety is, after all, the spice of life. Fortunately, for me, my first job was in-house at Ted Baker, giving me the opportunity to do a bit of everything, from logos to events.

However, consultancy-side, it’s not that easy. As a multidisciplinary group (or ‘media neutral’ to use the latest buzzword), we don’t want to appear to be ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’, but we also don’t want to close ourselves off to opportunities that give us a chance to add another string to our bow.

The trick to being truly multidisciplinary is to be confident – in your team, your suppliers and your client. If you’re not, you shouldn’t be working with them.

We tend not to get briefs from our clients any more – we get a problem, a puzzle to solve, which may mean a viral campaign, a piece of packaging or a beautiful brochure is the best way to communicate the message.

But, if what is really needed is a rebrand, then you should feel you can talk to your client about this. Then you can pull out all the stops to deliver and drive the project with the enthusiasm it deserves.

Working with Orange has allowed us to put this theory into practice. Six years ago, we first developed a youth strategy that saw immediate results.

They then asked us to take the strategy into retail, where other retail opportunities presented themselves. From there, we have built a diverse spectrum of successful work, including events through to global campaigns. We owe the success to their faith in us and to our strong, flexible and dedicated team.

When you work with many areas of a client’s business, you get to know not only the brand, but their culture. You can understand how they function and where they are in their understanding of the creative process. The client feels they have a genuine ally, someone outside of the business dedicated to solving problems rather than creating them – someone to help them achieve their vision.

Ultimately, what it means for your consultancy to be multidisciplinary is defined by the client and their needs. It doesn’t mean you have to be everything to everybody at all times. You simply offer a fresh and flexible approach and the ability to create diverse solutions for any problem or requirement.

For Nike, this has meant that a look and feel for their internal conference is approached in the same way as an above-the-line campaign. It’s about being more adept and willing to accept the small creative jobs alongside the big ones with bigger budgets. This way, you’re not always reliant on big money-spinners to keep the business alive.

Being multidisciplinary means you can be diverse in your thinking, avoid becoming formulaic and keep things fresh. In turn, you can keep your team inspired, give them a reason to do more research and keep their creative juices flowing. It also means we have a very high rate of staff retention because nobody gets bored. It can also improve your chance of repeat business and using your creative skills elsewhere in the client’s business.

We take a ‘what shall we do next’ attitude to new business, identifying the holes in our portfolio and looking for the clients we feel best fill them. Often we go in armed with just an opinion or something interesting to show. Being truly multidisciplinary often means bringing in an expert here and there. Not only is this hugely inspiring, as it injects new blood into the mix, but it gives us a chance to learn something new. There’s nothing more rewarding than learning on the job. This approach makes our working lives more fun and that’s what we’re all about.

Nikki Austen is creative director of Fold7


The key to being multidisciplinary and successful:

• Be sure you are confident in your approach

• Look to understand not just the brand, but the deeper client culture and their understanding of the design process

• Be honest with your client about what is needed

• Encourage clients to work with general problems, rather than predefined briefs

• Be prepared to take jobs of all shapes and sizes

• Be ready to bring experts in-house when required, and learn everything you can from them along the way

• Be flexible at all times – multi-channel is defined by the client’s needs

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