Retain your individuality in the race to win new clients

The message we’re receiving from the industry is that, despite the economic dip, there is design work to be had, albeit with tighter budgets, reduced fees and the competition never so fierce.

Most of the stories in this week’s news pages, for example, are about projects won, completed or in progress, with scant indication of the redundancies and closures that hit some design groups in the spring and summer. Design has once more rallied round.

Many of the jobs hitting the headlines are noticeably smaller – a communications audit rather than a new identity, for example. It amounts to a lot more jobs on the go, won through a higher number of pitches and requiring a greater degree of relationship-building with more clients and better workload management.

It’s a testing time for consultancies and those with good managements are most likely to succeed. But the key is to win the work in the first place.

We know some clients wish to cut costs, by bringing design in-house or appointing smaller groups with lower overheads often based in the regions. Never has there been a greater need for guidance on fee-scales to prevent design being devalued permanently in the minds and budgets of clients – something the Design Business Association should take to its heart as it rethinks its executive line-up and plans its move forward.

But nor too has there been a greater need for consultancies to differentiate themselves from their competitors and to produce work of real quality, whatever the brief. Too often consultancies pitching for a project or even trying to grab attention claim exactly the same attributes as their rivals – the rush to add the meaningless phrase ‘branding consultants’ to the name of a design group that previously rallied under the banner ‘strategic consultants’, equally meaningless in most instances, is a symptom of this.

Too few consultancies allow personality to come through in their bids for new business as they strive too hard to please the client on what they perceive as their terms, yet personality is what lays the foundation for successful relationships. Clients attending the recent Design Forum new business event held in Lisbon with backing from Design Week and the DBA, for example, found themselves drawn to people they got on with in the course of an intense working weekend rather than necessarily those with the slickest presentations. They’ve seen all that before.

These are not new thoughts, but they are worth repeating. Get out there, by all means, but be yourself and do the best work you can. A good client will respond to your individuality and have a greater respect for your ability to bring differentiation to their brand.

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