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For most of this summer, client groups have been announcing either new or revised rosters. Around a third of all brand-owners now operate some form of roster.
Opinion in the design industry is split between whether rosters bode well for business or present a move towards a “closed shop” way of working. But the reality is that clients are taking the lead set by advertising and rationalising their design buying methods to fit in with the way they buy advertising and other marketing tools.
The pros and cons of rosters for clients have already been discussed (Practice, DW 9 August). But consultancies now face a changing business landscape in which rostering poses a minefield.
Groups which aren’t on rosters are finding it increasingly difficult to land projects – clients with rosters tend to stick to tried and tested consultancies which understand their business from the inside. The more rosters there are, the more difficult it is to do new business. As rosters become more established, the same names tend to appear and groups outside the magic list have difficulties getting on. The problem is compounded by a growing tendency on clients’ parts to reduce the number of groups on their rosters.
Consultancies already on rosters don’t have a magic wand or a tried and tested method – or even Masonic connections – that ensure they are put on to lists and given work. The process is generally long, arduous and involves building relationships with clients before the roster is reviewed or set up.
Richard Watson, founding partner at client advisory group EDR, says it’s a “question of being in the right place at the right time and saying the right things”. Clients are looking for sector experience from a consultancy which isn’t “going to cost them an arm and a leg”, he adds.
And designers are always being told that design is a people-based activity; rosters are no different from pitching for any other business in this respect.
Deborah Boustead, Wagstaffs’ business development director, says that compatible personalities are important, but adds that groups must also demonstrate a number of capabilities. “Design groups need to prove they can think broadly about a company’s brand portfolio and how it can be managed and developed for the good of corporate aims,” she says.
Nucleus managing director Peter Matthews advises groups looking to get on to rosters to monitor existing lists and find out who manages and puts those lists together. “Find out when companies are likely to begin work on reviews and who’s going to be doing that work,” he says.
“You have to keep in touch with clients to know what’s going on. When asked to fill in forms, do what’s requested – you’d be surprised how many people don’t fill in basic criteria,” he comments.
It’s not a bed of roses when you do manage to get on a roster. Staying on can be a delicate business.
“Often the people who set up the roster aren’t the people that the consultancy will ultimately do business with,” says Boustead. “As a result, we’ve found that there is much ‘selling’ to be done to brand managers once you have been appointed. Brand managers get very frustrated with designers because they feel we should know every aspect of their business simply because we are on their roster. In fact, planning and research must still be undertaken to devise the most effective strategy to achieve the business objectives of individual projects.”
But, says Watson, the key to staying on is doing the project “on time, on budget, adding value to the client’s business. Push the client on the brief and be pro-active”, he advises. “It’s very rare that the client/consultancy relationship falls down on creativity.”
Without a doubt, consultancies need to work hard to ensure they are in a position to build mutually beneficial relationships with clients that lead to work. “Usually, the fee structure on rosters is lower than that of one-off projects,” says Boustead. “So to be financially viable for the group, a significant volume of ongoing business is needed. And to aid this, the onus is on the design group to be always ‘on the boil’.”
Matthews maintains that rostering is beneficial for small groups because the steady income “allows them to grow and maintain a high level of creativity at the same time.
“Other benefits include being able to schedule workload, so
rosters allow you to plan the development of your business more securely,” he says.
Ultimately, Matthews thinks rosters are a good trend for design. “Our industry suffers from the ad hoc nature of the business. We need to work on creating longer term, stable relationships with clients and make the industry more professional – that will be good for business.”