Martin Sorrell had it right when he saw a future for design, and particularly corporate identity, on the global stage as part of the marketing services mix. WPP Group hasn’t looked back since his move, buying consultancies worldwide and setting up the Enterprise grouping of identity firms. All is not resolved between Enterprise companies – it isn’t easy to marry up creative concerns – but the spirit is there and the network in place. Sorrell, meanwhile, is in with a promise of a multi-million pound bonus for his efforts.
Sorrell may be the outstanding UK example of an entrepreneur skilled at juggling creative businesses, but never has design been more saleable across the world. It’s no longer a case of big firms or financiers baling out failing groups whose reputation is for creativity. Deals struck by international giants are more about global strategy. With groups still looking hungrily at the UK, how much longer before the newly bought out Wolff Olins becomes part of a bigger business? On a smaller scale, UK media companies are mustering forces. Burson Marsteller’s recent deal with Giant gives both an advantage in the marketplace, and Wagstaffs’ acquisition of The Green House is expected to herald the takeover of a strategic research group.
Most of these deals involve acquisitions, ailing or not, and are creatively led. Fears, therefore, that corporate design will mean even more blandness might be unfounded, as long as the acquirers keep faith in the qualities that attracted them to their acquisitions.
Nor are fears that globalisation will mean the death of creativity founded. In the UK blinkered parochialism is more of a threat. There will always be a place in design for the talented specialist. Legends such as Alan Fletcher and the late Saul Bass have their younger counterparts: Chip Kidd (see Profile, page 12), is one of them; our own Michael Johnson another. There’s room in design for anything but mediocrity. Diversity is the greatest strength.
Success against the odds
Talking of diversity, we’d have a richer mix with more design entrepreneurs like James Dyson. He may have overdone the media coverage, but I urge you to read his new autobiography, Against the Odds (Orion Business Books, price 18.99), to understand what really makes him tick.
Even in his Norfolk childhood, the ingredients are there: passion, obstinacy and the need to crawl out from the shadow of bigger people and stand alone. Read on and you’ll find an inspiring role model for yourself and for the industry.