Good things don’t just come in small boxes

Large, international groups are able to give brands a lot more exposure than smaller consultancies, but a mixture of both could be best

Having worked in both a large, global design consultancy and from my front room trying to get a start-up off the ground, it is interesting to look at the benefits a larger consultancy can offer. My experience allows me to give an informed view on what the differences between a large and a small consultancy are and I believe there is a place for all sizes. But in this article I want to concentrate on why I think big is beautiful.

One of the beauties of the larger consultancy has to be the scope that it offers. It gives staff a chance to cross over design and branding disciplines, more exposure to a variety of client projects and the chance to travel to international offices to work on briefs in new markets and cultures. It also makes an interesting and challenging environment for management teams.

Variety keeps designers creative and variety does not just come in the form of projects and clients, but also in the amount of people you can interact with in a large consultancy. Even interaction with ‘suits’ can provide creative food for thought and a good practice ground for debating skills when trying to get a brief through an account team, or convince a finance manager that your design solution meets objectives both visually and financially.

Unlike small consultancies, where waiting for invoices to be paid and rent concerns can absorb much of a managing director’s time, as part of a big consultancy you have more freedom to concentrate on client satisfaction, strategy, creativity and the growth of your design business. As there are more people employed to run a larger group everyone is doing what they are good at, rather than having staff look after administration and office management roles alongside design.

There are also issues with cashflow, in that key purchases for software, computer equipment and so on may not be bought at the right time, so innovation can be lost and the business is prevented from driving forward. Small can sometimes mean reactive as opposed to proactive in terms of investment in technology for growth.

A larger, international design consultancy is able to give a client’s brand more exposure, in more markets, more easily. It can also give a client vital market intelligence across a whole range of countries where a consultancy has real experience of how the consumers in that region operate.

I think it is hard to judge an optimum number in size for a consultancy. If it really were the case that to be around ten people in size worked best, then most consultancies would remain that way. Just in the way that it is healthy for clients and their brands to grow in market share, then I feel it must be the same for design consultancies.

Surely it must be about the size of consultancy that suits clients’ needs. There will always be a place for smaller boutique consultancies that may be able to deliver cutting-edge creativity, but only across limited markets or regions. A large global client needs a consultancy that can still deliver creativity, but has experience, exposure and understanding of the markets it needs to access.

We should also look at our friends in the advertising world, where the age old gripe about larger agencies being the antithesis of creativity doesn’t seem to ring true. British Design & Art Direction Awards and the like fill the receptions of some of the biggest ad agencies in the country. Size does not impede their creativity. Yet again there are clear areas of delivery for each strategy and campaign – account management, planners, creatives, administration, production – so the client’s brief is carried out by teamwork involving people in roles that they are good at.

The larger design and branding consultancies are run in a similar way. In fact, the creative teams have even more time to be creative. They also have input from people with different perspectives on a brand – a marketing or planning perspective, for example. This can translate into interesting scope for a new product or piece of brand communication. Designers are not the only people who can have good ideas. The teamwork that exists across design disciplines and varying roles within a consultancy actually stimulates creativity and innovation.

There are, of course, benefits to being small as well as to being big.

Perhaps a combination of large and small consultancies forming part of a group is the optimum solution. A group of like-minded consultancies of varying sizes – from 30 people up to 110 people – which can still deliver creativity and client service, but are based throughout the world. Through a combination of these offices clients can benefit from global reach with consultancies that have differing design perspectives and regional market and cultural understandings, but at the same time are linked through common processes, reporting and delivery.

The best of both worlds, where both big and small are good and work together, could be a beautiful solution.

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