Champion the cause abroad – but take care

Time was when British designers had it made. They were world champions and that was that, with the corporate identity and packaging big boys in particular trumpeting their prowess to anyone who was prepared to listen.

We’re talking about the late Eighties, when size was king and expansionist moves took the likes of Fitch and the now departed Michael Peters Group as far afield as they could get. No self-respecting European supermarket chain or bank could turn its back on what the Brits had to offer – at least that’s how it felt.

Those were the days of the thrusting Global Gladiators and Worldwide Warriors – as we dubbed the vanguard supergroups in DW pages. Five years on, and our Mint Imperialists (see feature, page 12) are those who’ve stayed.

For many groups globalisation meant over-extension of finances and skills. They learned to their cost that not all markets are receptive to the British gospel. They have their own cultures, and they have their own economic concerns. Hence as the Eighties drew to a close British blood was spilled, notably at MPG, whose demise was put down in great part to its extensive push into North America.

Some groups got it right. Fitch, for example, has attributed its survival against the odds of London property traumas and retail decline partly to its merger with US product design group Richardson Smith; Pentagram meanwhile managed to transfer its culture across the Atlantic with admirable success (but then Pentagram was always a renegade).

Many others set their sights abroad, without actually moving there Рproduct designers Seymour Powell and TKO spring to mind here Рby liaison, as did Crabtree Hall with French group Plan Cr̩atif.

Where’s all this leading? It’s patently good for British designers to sell their skills overseas – why else would the Government back so many trade missions? But setting up shop’s a different matter. There’s more than one way to run your campaign, so think very carefully before you don that imperialist armour.

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