News that The Nest has thrown in its lot with ad agency St Luke’s will no doubt fuel debate about the relationship between advertising and design, aired in Design Business this week (also see News, page 3).
In so many respects, the two worlds are poles apart – at least in legend – for the way the creatives behave, with partying traditionally more prevalent in adland, and the way that billings are handled.
Ad agencies earn more in fees, spend more on shoots and the like, hang on to clients for longer and have more direct access to the board. They also pitch for free, in the knowledge that the rewards for winning could be huge. Design groups, meanwhile, tend to lack the confidence to challenge this stance and come away from encounters feeling like the poor relation.
But this model doesn’t have to be the only one, as the deal between The Nest and St Luke’s will hopefully attest; neither is typical of the sector it was born into.
The Nest has caused a stir through ground-breaking ideas for clients such as WH Smith and electrical retailer Ryness, while turning in a sound financial performance – it rose 53 places to 31st slot in this year’s Design Week Top 100 charts. Founder Alex Willcock describes it as a ‘true business development agency’, of which design is a key part. If only more design groups could balance their businesses as successfully.
St Luke’s, meanwhile, is one of the few ad agencies to strike a new pose in the late 1990s – the other significant one being Mother – and though its founders have moved on it still has a reputation for even-handedness with its team and creative solutions for its clients. Add this to claims of £38m of new business won this year and you have a formidable force.
More significantly, St Luke’s’ interest in The Nest – which initiated the sale – is based on a belief expressed by the agency’s chief operating officer Neil Thomson that design is equally capable of transforming brands for clients as advertising. He implies that though the deal has a lot to do with cultural fit and mutual benefit, it is this equal chance of a ‘point of entry’ into new business that has swung it.
Of course, we in design argue that our ‘side’ has a better chance, not only of engaging clients, but of addressing customers on a broader platform. Why is it, therefore, that we still lack the nerve that drives advertising, even though that industry has suffered from shifts in client expectations?
There have been deals between design and advertising before – witness the now defunct arrangement between The Open Agency and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO. But this one hints at a genuine partnership from which we can all learn.