Is design really under threat from the ad agency?

Design consultancies appear to be facing a growing threat from advertising agencies looking to bolster their design, branding and interactive capabilities.

Saatchi and Saatchi has become the latest ad agency to declare that it has intentions on the design world, following the appointment last week of former Fitch director Ashley Goodall as managing director of Saatchi and Saatchi Design.

Goodall has been hired by Saatchi and Saatchi chairman and chief executive Lee Daley to begin building design as a more significant plank within the agency’s portfolio.

‘Design is critical to our future success as a strategic communications company, and Ashley has a great business background and strong leadership credentials. His brief is to develop a modern and world class design capability,’ says Daley.

Until now, it seems, like many small design units within ad agencies, the 13-strong Saatchi and Saatchi Design has had a long, but undistinguished life in the shadows of its advertising big brother. But times are apparently changing.

Last week, Abbot Mead Vickers BBDO chief executive Farah Ramzan Golant announced that AMV BBDO plans to grow its in-house design and branding base alongside a number of other non-advertising channels, particularly interactive. Her declaration came after the agency unexpectedly picked up the job to design BBC2’s screen idents (DW 6 June).

Media fragmentation is finally beginning to elevate the importance of branding and design at a structural level within major marketing communications networks, particularly those with no major design components, such as Saatchi parent Publicis.

‘Of course, this will be a challenge to the design industry,’ says Goodall, ‘The only thing is we don’t quite know how good we are going to be at it yet.’

‘Design has always ticked along here, but it’s going to play a much more important role now,’ Goodall claims. ‘The answer isn’t advertising any more. Where you are getting media fragmentation, you need specialists. You need a stronger understanding of a brand and its media touchpoints.’

‘This validates what we are doing in the branding world, so I welcome it,’ says Charlie Wrench, president of Landor Associates. ‘I don’t see ad agencies as a long-term threat, because the advertising powers that be aren’t really interested in changing what they do. Six years ago, it was management consultancies that tried to take on branding, but they failed because their business models are inflexible.’

Creative and Design Groups inside Ad Agencies

• Saatchi & Saatchi Design (Saatchi and Saatchi)

• Dave (WCRS)

• Poke, Household (Mother)

• The Nest (St Lukes)

• The Laboratory (AMV BBDO) • Carbon (Leagas Delaney)

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