Who has got the most control of the brand?

Ad agencies and design consultancies continue to compete against one another, but taking the collaborative approach has its benefits

Design consultancies and ad agencies have not always seen eye to eye. There is a considerable amount of competitiveness between the two camps, but consultancies have a lot to gain from forming close links with their cousins on the other side of the creative pond.

The emergence of digital consultancy Poke out of the ashes of Deepend late last year saw it form an informal relationship with Mother, though the consultancy also works with other ad agencies.

Poke creative Simon Waterfall believes that no consultancy should be set up to act as a subsidiary of a larger agency. ‘It just doesn’t work. To be best of breed you need to understand the market. We work with three or four of Mother’s strictest competitors and that improves our understanding of what’s out there,’ says Waterfall.

He says the benefits of the relationship can be seen across the consultancy. It includes better access to clients.

‘Being closely associated with people who closely control the marketing message is beneficial to us. [Through Mother] we get to speak to people who control the budgets as well as the creative output. You can say, “This is the best way to do this, this is the best way to do that”,’ says Waterfall.

The issue of who bills for what and how is non-problematic, he adds. ‘Poke and Mother are separate companies so we charge separately to the client. Fee-charging is very transparent, we just charge for what we’ve done,’ he says.

Smith & Milton joined the M&C Village, which includes ad agency M&C Saatchi and a host of other marketing and communications companies, in 1995. While the consultancy also works with other ad agencies, including St Luke’s and TBWA, Smith & Milton managing director David Haseler believes the relationship it shares with M&C Saatchi is particularly fruitful.

‘It’s important for a consultancy to have a network of skills and resources it can draw on. Also, M&C Saatchi has a large client base and an excellent new business effort. Doors are opened via M&C Saatchi that we would find very difficult to open and there are opportunities to work with their existing clients as well,’ he says.

While Haseler concedes that Smith & Milton’s relationship with M&C Saatchi improves the consultancy’s bottom line, he does not believe it has strengthened its creative output. ‘The potential friction point of this sort of relationship is creative. There is a feeling that the creative product resides either at the agency or the consultancy. Creative people are intrinsically competitive,’ he says.

Jim Moran, managing director and group executive producer of Attik New York, which has worked with ‘almost all the agencies in New York’, also points to the beneficial effect that working with ad agencies can have on his consultancy’s financial position. However, he feels that it is on the creative side that the consultancy has really seen the benefits.

‘We get to do a lot of varied work as there is good diversity in agency work and variety in how we execute it. I think our creative output has improved because the more inspiration we get from varied places the more creativity improves,’ he says.

‘While retained business is the ideal situation financially, the ad agency work brings in a revenue stream that is profitable and which allows us to do different kinds of work,’ he adds.

Waterfall believes designers have a lot to gain from the different creative perspective working with an agency has to offer. ‘The interface between two companies is when the most creative point is reached. Designers love what they don’t know and working in a different environment means they learn more and more. Working with an ad agency allows Poke to change direction, which makes it more interesting and educational for us. The client gets a superior product that has been talked about by all these people and so we all reap the rewards,’ he says.

To develop a good relationship, the consultancy and ad agency need to respect one another’s skill-sets, says Haseler. ‘As long as there is a mutual respect of the input each company has then everyone can win.’

Moran believes that, just as a consultancy needs to look after a client to ensure a successful working relationship, so it needs to be aware of an ad agency’s needs too.

‘We try to offer a seamless process and it’s important that we realise both the client’s and the agency’s vision. A lot of consultancies say leave us alone for three months and we’ll come back with the product. But you need to involve the agency, as well as the client, in the process and take care of them,’ he says.

Haseler says the dual approach is what the client wants. ‘These sorts of relationships are very client driven. A few years ago the buzz phrase was “through the line”, but clients recognise that most companies are unable to offer that. They want specialists on a project but specialists who work together as a team.’

The lines between advertising and design are blurring and increasingly consultancies and agencies find themselves working together. While there is still an on-going battle about who’s got their hands on the reins of the brand the barriers are coming down, as both groups realise the collaborative approach really can work.

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