So design gains in adworld… but admen still call the shots

There’s been a degree of smugness in design about ad agencies fighting back. News in July that Saatchi and Saatchi is strengthening its design unit only added to the trend set by ad agencies Mother, through Poke and others, and St Luke’s through its deal with The Nest.

What better recognition of design’s role in building business – at a time of customer-focus and the platforms for communicating brands and services are so diverse – that our advertising peers should want a bit of the action.

But, despite declining fortunes, advertising remains powerful in the boardrooms of big global groups and clients, partly setting the agenda for the future of design. Many key design players cut their teeth in advertising – take, Landor’s newly elevated worldwide president Charlie Wrench, Landor’s London chief executive Cheryl Giovannoni and Interbrand chairman Rita Clifton. And, in many instances, the higher earning ad components of conglomerates like WPP, Omnicom and Interpublic Group still hold sway.

Apparently, one such is agency-owner Havas. Word on the street is that it was behind the ousting of managing director David Worthington from Conran Design Group last Friday and effected a ‘merger’ between CDG and Havas stablemate CGI, with Jane Simmonds at the helm (see News, page 3).

Worthington is the latest in a succession of notables to have left CDG in unexplained circumstances. Renowned interior designers David Chaloner and Barry Legg have both made exits over the past couple of years and Worthington’s long-standing cohort, former new business development director Piers de Trense, set up on his own in May.

So before we gloat about advertising’s shifting fortunes we should heed the warnings. Unless design makes a strong stand internationally – and many independent groups are striking partnerships to do this – it could lose out again to its creative industry rival. Ad agencies still, after all, tend to have the chairman’s ear.

Lynda Relph-Knight, editor – Design Week

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