It’s a happy accident that Paul Stead’s promotion within Cordiant Communications Group should coincide with the Design Council’s revelation that design pays its way with clients . But how fitting the timing is. For a global marketing services group to acknowledge the importance of design gives it greater clout in clients’ boardrooms – exactly what the Design Council aims to achieve and what its survey suggests reaps financial rewards all round.
Stead’s elevation comes as no real surprise. Cordiant has shown more than a passing interest in design since it bought his multidisciplinary consultancy last June. With events group HP:ICM already on its books, it added Lighthouse Global Network to its portfolio in July, acquiring through it Fitch – ironically, Stead’s employer before he went solo in 1988 – C&FD, Primo Angeli, The Leonhardt Group and Ideascope. Then in November it bought London identity specialist Bamber Forsyth. What better way to create a strategy for its design interests and manage future acquisitions in the sector than to bring on board the head of one of its most successful groups.
This isn’t a new approach. The UK model is Martin “Sam” Sampson’s role at WPP Group, where he joined Sir Martin Sorrell’s enclave after WPP’s takeover of his consultancy, Sampson Tyrrell (now Enterprise IG). The US equivalent could be one-time Fitch chairman Martin Beck, who not only masterminded the takeover by LGN, but became LGN president after the event.
But Beck, now retired, was a marketing man and it is good to see another designer taking a senior role.
Where Stead differs is that he is a product designer by background, though PSD has long since broadened its scope. Product designers are deemed by many to be the intelligentsia of the creative world, but very few have proved to be great at business. Stead is obviously among the exceptions, with PSD turning in a fee-income of over £6.5m currently.
It will be interesting to see if Cordiant goes shopping for product design – a sector most of the big players have shied away from because of its notoriously low profit margins and uncertain place within the “branding” process. There is a strong view at the top end of product design – and among enlightened manufacturers such as Apple Computer, Swatch and Volkswagen – that the product is the brand. A little more persuasion by the likes of the Design Council’s new head of design and innovation Clive Grinyer and a few others might join the fold, making product highly attractive to full-service groups such as Cordiant and WPP.