Rapid response tactics for COI

The COI is simplifying its design roster, but will it make life easier for designers and Government departments? Scott Billings finds out

The Central Office of Information is putting the finishing touches to its design and creative services for print roster, which will provide public sector design services for the next three-to-five years (DW 7 April). Having endured criticism from the industry that its previous roster was too unwieldy and too large, the COI Publications team has sought this time to serve up a leaner, more organised list.

A great deal of consideration has been invested in the structure of the roster, which organises its 63 consultancies around eight categories of work, says COI Publications creative director Robert Bell.

‘Perhaps the last roster was not as well structured and was overlong. This time we have been very careful with the categories and the structure should be more productive all round. It also lessens the chance of a consultancy not receiving any work, although we try to be upfront about the trends of work,’ he says.

Fellow COI Publications creative director Fanny Sigler believes that carving up the roster into the eight categories will allow the Government communications division to respond swiftly to all the needs of its clients, which span the breadth of Government departments.

Start Creative is one of the groups selected for the new roster, after holding a place on the previous list. Consultancy managing director Mike Curtis agrees that there have been improvements this time around. ‘This roster seems to be a lot more focused, across different areas of activity,’ he says. ‘For us, it could be a bit more significant than three years ago, when it was perhaps more unwieldy and less focused.’

COI Publications’ turnover for 2003/2004 was £25.7m. While figures are not available to show where the department would sit in a league of design procurement bodies, the scale and scope of work that moves through its roster are enough to whet any design consultancy’s appetite.

‘We are over the moon to be on the roster. It is the most significant thing that has happened to us this year,’ says Alistair Sim, managing director of Manchester consultancy Love Creative, which has been selected by the COI for the first time. ‘I think almost everyone would like to be on it; as a business looking for new clients [a place on the COI roster] provides a lot of clout and reassurance [about the consultancy].’

The process of compiling the design roster can be arduous for both consultancies and the COI. Bell, Sigler and COI director of publications Andrew Prince have been working through hundreds of applications since July 2004, when the advertisement appeared in the Official Journal of the European Union. Since then they calculate that around 1300 man hours have been invested in total.

Two stages of ‘sifting’ follow, says Sigler. The first is a top-level check for relevance and compliance with requirements and the second digs a little deeper, analysing areas such as a consultancy’s ethos, its cultural fit and its creative process.

A shortlist is then drawn up. Consultancies that are new to the COI are visited by the Publications team to help forge a better understanding of their businesses. ‘We talk about processes, people, the culture and assess the atmosphere. We ask to be shown around,’ says Sigler.

Once established, the roster can provide resident groups with design work on everything from business cards to the complete generation of a brand, says Prince. ‘It is the whole variety of things from the public sector, including Government agencies in the regions and most major Government departments. A lot of what we are doing is about complete communication, not just design, so you can’t have a roster of just the top name consultancies.’

Love Creative’s Sim echoes this view. ‘Not all design consultancies are really about communication,’ he says. ‘However, we believe that it’s about communication over ego. We want to make a difference in what we do and the COI is perfect for us to accomplish this.’

While the bulk of Government departments may use the COI for their design and communication needs, they are not obliged to do so. Some have created their own rosters and others may elect to hold their own pitches.

However, when a brief does come to the COI, a shortlist of appropriate consultancies is drawn up between the COI and its client. The groups on this shortlist then make a credentials presentation to determine which one will secure the brief.

‘The pitch process has to be fully auditable and transparent, as we are often asked by Government auditors about value for money,’ says Prince. ‘However, we are not here to beat everyone down on price. There has to be a balance of quality, cost and timing.’

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