Lining up for Syzgy

Despite rumours to the contrary, award-winning Web design group Syzygy claims it is doing well. A forthcoming US deal will set the agenda for its future, says Clare Dowdy.

The Web design sector is as volatile as ever, and still dogged by rumours of groups in trouble.

Syzygy, which won best Web design group at the Yell UK Web Awards, is one such consultancy. Claims have been made that the group is in financial dire straits and has lost some big clients.

Chief executive John Hunt admits the group does not currently host Cartoon Network’s site – for which it won best entertainment site at the Yell Awards – and that it has lost Excite as a client. But he refutes claims that Syzygy is in financial difficulties, citing the amount of money it is spending on its Great Titchfield Street premises in London.

He concedes that the sector has been unstable, and puts it down to clients’ changing needs: “It needs big groups. [In the past] websites were just an extension of a company, now they are the guts. You need a partner which can service all functions [of the website] in all geographies.”

Siegel & Gale seems to recognise this, and is believed to be on the hunt for a London Web group to add to its UK offer.

Hunt expects to see a rapid polarisation of the big players and the small specialists, with no place for medium-sized outfits. The deal being struck with an unnamed US Web group could catapult Syzygy into the top division. The New York group has four offices in North America and would plan to buy up relevant groups in key European countries.

After the deal, Hunt would like to keep Syzygy’s numbers to below 60. It is currently about 30-strong.

“There is an opportunity to create a leading agency,” says Hunt. He draws a comparison with North American network US Web, which he describes as being less selective about which groups it has bought up.

Founded in 1995 by Hunt and creative director James Closs, Syzygy was originally started with Blueberry design group in London’s Chelsea Harbour. “It didn’t work and we broke apart,” Hunt says of the arrangement.

Since then WPP Group has taken a minority share in Syzygy. The ancient Greek word Syzygy means optimum alignment. Hence the consultancy’s philosophy is to create syzygy between creativity, technology and commerce.

It has managed to stay afloat while rivals have not been so lucky through its careful choice of clients, Hunt says.

“We have been very selective about who we work for – that is big and international clients. Half our revenue has always been from outside the UK. We have focused on the added value end, strategy and conceptual work,” he says.

Commercial clients include Wilkinson Sword, WPP Group, Pedigree Petfoods, Kodak, Kimberly Clark, Kraft Jacobs Suchard, Britvic, Duracell and Procter & Gamble. Non-commercial clients include the Marketing Council, Royal Opera House and Victoria and Albert Museum.

Along with the US outfit, UK Web groups have also shown an interest in Syzygy. So either way, the group is unlikely to remain the same for much longer.

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