As design industry notables head for Tuscany – or is it Ibiza? – to recharge their batteries, there’s a strong chance that thoughts of sale or acquisition will still be on their minds.
With multi-million pound deals in the offing, the prospect is tempting for consultancy proprietors who have given their all to the business. But with most groups, there is a genuine desire to use lucrative deals to fund global expansion or bring more disciplines on board.
The alternative for smaller groups has tended to be “strategic alliances” with like-minded creatives. But with banks and venture capitalists looking very favourably towards design, there could be new types of partnership in the offing.
What all this amounts to is increasing influence – and moves towards this end couldn’t be better timed. Leading consultancies across the board of disciplines, from The Identica Partnership to Rodney Fitch & Co, are finding clients are literally taking their opinions on board, as top managements start to appreciate the value of design.
Ad agencies and management consultancies have already been there. Access to the boardroom is no new thing for them – nor for the big identity players such as Wolff Olins, Enterprise IG and FutureBrand. But the way now appears open for branding specialists to join in, be they concerned with brands, services or retail.
One obvious reason for this is the power the consumer now wields as the choices increase. Design is traditionally far more user-friendly than advertising could ever be, and design groups tend to be less academic in the strategies they suggest than most management consultants.
Michael Peters takes the argument a step further, maintaining that the Internet has a key part to play in boosting design’s standing. It demands a multi-skilled approach to communications that design groups can deliver better than their ad agency peers and a strong consumer interface. It also rekindles the art of storyteller, allowing brand-owners to weave stories around their products – the history or geography of their origins, say – that have a more lasting impact than a quick-fix ad.
Peters and his colleagues have restructured Identica and sister consultancy Tango to take account of these shifts. Digital design is not an add-on or a specialism but central to the business, with just about everyone geared up to be involved.
This quiet revolution has not hit the headlines, but subtle moves like this arguably fit more naturally into the culture of design than some of the big business deals that are going down. It’s always worth considering a different way of doing things, as long as the goal is clear.