Jane Lewis talks to the clients and finds out what they want from a consultancy: understanding, compatibility and passion

From the designers’ perspective, corporate identity has come of age. Clients generally understand what it’s about and are keen for consultancies to stay on board for longer to ensure identities are properly implemented. Identities have progressed from being badges to being a whole experience, with consultancies getting more involved in staff communications and implementation across a whole range of media as well as the front-end design.

“Clients want more follow-through than they’ve ever done,” says Fiona Gilmore, managing director at Springpoint. “The industry has been talking for ages about how every aspect of a company has to reflect its identity and the penny is dropping now,” suggests Clare Fuller, head of consultancy at Bamber Forsyth. Nigel Markwick, a consultant at Wolff Olins, points out: “We’re seeing clients who want to say more about their culture through their identities. They are also aware there is more pressure for them to deliver what their brand promises.”

From financial services to leisure and entertainment, there are several sectors which have been key targets for identity consultancies. “We’ve experienced a huge increase in the number of financial services companies coming to us,” states Aziz Cami, managing partner at The Partners. He adds: “We’re also pretty active in the entertainment area and there’s a bubbling undercurrent in the telecoms sector, particularly on an international scale.”

Results from the Design Effectiveness Awards, announced later this month, suggest “smaller businesses are taking corporate identity very seriously”, according to Ian Rowland-Hill, chief executive of the Design Business Association. Entries for the under 1m category attracted significantly more projects this year with some impressive results, he adds.

What clients want

Finding a consultancy which matches the needs of the client is the challenge. Creativity remains an important part of the mix, but clients also need reassuring that consultancies understand their markets and are as passionate about their products and services as they are. An ability to work harmoniously with other marketing services agencies is also increasingly important, while for mergers and acquisitions work sensitivity and confidentiality is paramount.

Vodafone appointed Springpoint to review its identity after enlisting Search Agency to find the right match. Terry Barwick, director of corporate affairs at Vodafone, has been impressed with the results. “We didn’t want a consultancy which was too big because we wanted to deal directly with the principals. Springpoint had to understand the market before it could develop the identity, and it picked it up very, very quickly.”

Barwick valued Springpoint’s approach. “It sees the identity as much their design as ours. They fight very strongly for what they believe in and recommend. It was no easy ride, but like advertising you don’t want people just to roll over and agree with you all the time,” he says.

Rebranding the Gatwick Express rail service has meant new trains, new identity and a new experience, explains marketing and media manager Roy Campbell. When it came to choosing an identity consultancy, the company shortlisted three and Bamber Forsyth was appointed. “Bamber Forsyth was most in touch with what we were saying. It was a combination of its ability and understanding of what we mean by repositioning – helping us put some substance to it. One of the things that has been difficult is being realistic about what we can achieve and what is practical with finite budgets.”

“Getting something that’s right is incredibly difficult,” comments David Brady, marketing manager at LSM Partners, a firm of chartered surveyors based in London’s Mayfair. “It’s getting the balance right because you want something that represents your core values, but also something that clients will respond to and makes us human beings. But we didn’t want to look like a toy shop,” he adds. Brady drew up a shortlist of identity consultancies from names he knew already and those he’d read about in the press, and asked them to pitch.

“It was a case of sitting down and seeing how we could get our needs met effectively.We went with Redhouse Lane because we felt it would put a lot into it. They hadn’t got it quite right but had gone a long way down the road.” Brady also appreciated working directly with the consultancy’s account directors. “They interpreted what the designers were saying which was important because we didn’t want jargon we couldn’t understand,” he says.

When Georgina Fisk, marketing manager at software company Icom Solutions, was looking for identity specialists following a takeover by US-owned Keane, she wasn’t lured by the London groups. Fisk appointed The Design Advantage, another Midlands-based group. “The regional aspect made it far more personal. We wanted a hands-on agency, and at the end of the day it’s the personalities involved and their relationship in the team,” says Fisk. “TDA is also switched on to the commercial aspects of the project and understands it’s about bringing in revenue. I felt with a large agency we’d end up with a total change of identity. We needed a consultancy which was aware of the fact that we’re working with an existing identity which needs to be developed for the UK market.”

While some clients are put off by larger, established consultancies, others feel more comfortable with them. Jill Sharrock, creative director at Wedgwood, chose The Partners to work on the company’s new identity because she had confidence in what it could offer. “It was very important to have an agency professional enough to handle such a major company with all its tensions and complexities. We looked at three or four consultancies and to me it was important that they had their own mind and would challenge us.” She adds that, in creative terms that she needed a consultancy which “could keep the end goal in sight and understand the rules that brands play by”.

The Partners delivered just that and, adds Sharrock, was good at nurturing the client relationship. “We could bounce ideas around. In the early days it kept challenging the brief in a very positive way, which made us think long and hard.” The consultancy is still working with Sharrock and has provided a useful sounding board for all areas of design.

Room for improvement

Some clients complain that fine-tuning the divide between creativity and practicality can be difficult. Clients are looking for creativity which is relevant, and have to be able to communicate that relevance internally.

Sharrock believes setting creative parameters is crucial. “The danger is you can go to groups which are too wacky and which could push you too far. In the end it’s the client company that pays the price.” She also acknowledges that a clash of personalities could be very detrimental. “People should never underestimate the client relationship – great projects can fail because the chemistry is wrong,” she says.

Fisk is clear about what riles her. “With some consultancies you get design for design awards. From a client perspective the biggest bugbear is consultancies understanding how you want the design to work for you – you don’t just want an image that looks nice – and when making that link it is sometimes missed,” she says. Fiona Alldridge, executive director of charity RefAid, agrees. “There can be two extremes – you get design companies which love to be creative for creative’s sake and they can go too far and be too clever. At the other end you can get people who provide a service and do what they’re told, which is difficult when a client hasn’t had much experience of commissioning design. You need a consultancy which is prepared to stretch the boundaries a little but not to the detriment of the charity itself,” she says.

“Perhaps where agencies go wrong is they don’t always identify relationships beyond doing the logo,” Brady adds. The client shouldn’t be chasing the agency – relationship building could be handled more effectively. In professional services you always have to be looking for an angle to service your clients in the best possible way.”

While Barwick was impressed with Springpoint’s approach and ability to work alongside other agencies and suppliers from ad agencies to shopfitters, he believes some consultancies cannot always work compatibly. “If everybody had been precious about their input, it wouldn’t have worked. Springpoint had its say all the way through, but could work as part of a team,” she says.


Clients commissioning identity design seem more prepared to pay for what they get than in other areas of design. Those interviewed for this report were happy with fee levels and acknowledged they were getting value for money.

“Vodafone is very careful about what it spends its money on. Springpoint did a good job at an extremely good price,” comments Barwick.

“If you want something good you’re going to have to pay for it, both time-wise and financially. Fees have all been upfront – I know what I’m paying for and I’m happy with them,” says Campbell.

Brady believes he got value for money, and adds: “People might think you’re getting a logo which only took five minutes to put together, but at the end of the day you’re being charged for a thought process and you shouldn’t have to pay on a time basis.”

One area which is of growing concern for designers is how to work out what to charge, particularly when projects encompass more than the traditional design remit. As Cami points out, some projects cross over into advertising and other marketing services areas: “We should be rewarded accordingly, but remuneration levels vary in all these areas. Things have got to change because at the end of the day everyone has to work together in a cohesive way.”

Future trends

Wider remits, further collaboration with other marketing services agencies, more international work, and a greater challenge to come up with the right approach as clients grow more discerning.

“The huge thing that’s happening is increased collaboration with marketing agencies. There are some groups offering it all but the trend is specialisation,” says Cami. He also sees international registration of names and marques as a burning issue. “It’s an area that’s an increasing struggle. The difficulty is weaving your way through the inevitable conflicts that occur. Are you going to take on names already registered in sectors close to the one you’re working in, on the grounds that it’s worth battling for, or backdown with a more meaningless approach.”

Technology is also shifting the role of the designer. New media has impacted on the implementation of identity projects and in some cases is pushing consultancies into an advisory role. “Because technology is blurring the edges of who does what, a lot of implementation is happening by the clients themselves. What we’re doing is helping them in an advisory way and maintaining direction,” says Cami.

Gilmore sees increasing potential for designers to muscle in on brand guardianship and be retained as advisers once projects have finished. “I’m pleased because if you’re not following it through, even if you’ve given them a manual, there’s a danger it won’t be implemented properly.” Cami believes this is something designers should be pushing for. “Usually the culmination of a huge identity project leaves a feeling of relief and the natural inclination is to think the job’s done – we have to explain to clients it is all part of a journey,” he says.

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