What will groupings achieve when variety is strength?

Just as the Cox Review seeks to unify design as a force for good in government, commercial and social circles, the industry itself appears to be polarising even further.

We have long been aware of the great divide between ‘owned’ groups – particularly the global branding players – and the mass of smaller independent consultancies. Indications have been, though, that the edges might have blurred a bit.

The myth that only the independents are capable of great work has long since been debunked, with groups such as Omnicom’s Wolff Olins and WPP’s Landor, Lambie-Nairn and The Partners also on the creative prize circuit. Meanwhile, evidence is growing that smaller groups can provide design work that is as effective as that produced by bigger players and turn in a decent business performance.

But two moves remind us that the differences remain. On the one hand, we have WPP’s decision to put erstwhile Enterprise IG chief executive Dave Allen in charge of its integrated Team Vodafone (see News, page 3). This seeks to maximise WPP’s clout with the client – design groups Fitch and Enterprise IG are but a tiny part of WPP’s mighty marketing services force.

On the other hand, we have the plan by 35 Communications to form a league of like-minded independents to stave off the big boys, such as Enterprise IG (see Design Business, page 24).

There are precedents for Nigel Forsyth’s proposal, but how can this model work, given that all groups have their own performance objectives? Groupings of the 1990s, such as Totem, comprising consultancies keen to get into Europe, or the Ideal network, which linked groups working for Procter & Gamble, had a common goal. Challenging the big groups isn’t as clear cut an objective and hard to manage.

But, however consultancies seek to organise themselves, it’s worth remembering that design’s strength over, say, advertising is its breadth and depth. Surely, therefore, size isn’t the issue. Variety is best.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor

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