Networks are the way ahead

Large agency networks tend to provide opportunities that would be hard to come by independently, so let’s make the most of them, says Ashley Goodall

In his book The Elephant and the Flea, the wonderful Charles Handy articulates the idea that large organisations (elephants) need to reinvent themselves constantly through a collaborative interaction with small creative entities and individuals (fleas).

This is very relevant for design groups like Saatchi & Saatchi Design, that dwell in larger agency networks, for which all manner of opportunities exist, from business development, to access to knowledge and marketing investment. While some designers view large networks with suspicion, I believe a great future for design lies within these larger integrated communities and networks.

The forces of efficiency are stalking the earth: UK plc is losing out to Asian manufacturers and soon UK Design will feel the lash of the Apple Macintoshes in Beijing, Seoul and Mumbai.

Locally, companies are sending their procurement ferrets into the marketing nest to drive further cost efficiencies, and efficiencies within client businesses mean they are also pushed for time and expect close agency collaboration to deliver lean solutions.

With an oversupplied design market, we’re all heading for difficult times. But, salvation is at hand, and, to paraphrase Karl Marx, ‘together we are stronger’. 

First, let’s stick close to the marketing community and embrace the fact that design is part of a marketing and knowledge continuum. Understanding and engaging with marketing is part of the modern design expectation, and a marketing savvy UK Design will be smarter and more robust.

Second, if you’re not linked into a network, create your own – there’s no point in living in a design bubble if the bubble’s about to explode.

The walls of a large network not only confer multiple opportunities and introductions to develop business, but also provide access to learning and knowledge, interaction and resources.

These princely states of the new millennium afford some measure of protection against the global onslaught and enable UK design consultancies to stretch into far-flung foreign fiefdoms, punching above our weight with minimal cost.

Third, when design is integrated into the larger marketing solution, both the client and the consumer win. In an ideal network world, all consumer touchpoints are interrogated and we are able to leverage the knowledge from multiple disciplines to ensure branding happens seamlessly. In an integrated consultancy context, answers are not predetermined by the kind of agency you are, but by the objectivity of a consultancy-neutral solution.

However, one of the key opportunities for network design is to create continuity and own the interface between the brand and the consumer, which is harder to achieve when the design consultancy is independent and aloof.

Finally, there are commercial reasons why it’s good to be networked: marketing communities can share costs, reduce overheads and create facilities – receptions, human resources, information, services, information technology, office space, catering and people.

If you’re worried about being subsumed by a large network, you simply have to make the case for design – the commercial and qualitative value we as an industry bring, the fresh perspectives, the gift of continual reinvention, the authors of brands, the executors of brilliant messages, beautiful structures and the shaping of thoughts.

Let’s enjoy our fleadom, but ensure we stick very close to a big elephant.

Ashley Goodall is managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi Design

Key Considerations:

• Think broadly – embrace the wider discipline of marketing

• If you’re not already in a communications network, create your own. It can confer multiple opportunities to develop business, as well as access to knowledge and resources

• Be collaborative

• Think objectively about brands

• Don’t be afraid to engage with large networks. If you remain aloof it is harder to create continuity, but be prepared to make the case for design

• Have empathy to understand how you fit into the consultancy horizon, and make sure you stick very close to the ‘elephant’

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