Design practitioners have much to learn from ‘grubby’ DM

As Hicklin Slade creative director Andy Barwood acknowledges in your News Analysis ‘Crossing the line’, there’s nothing new about direct marketing agencies handling design work.

As Hicklin Slade creative director Andy Barwood acknowledges in your News Analysis ‘Crossing the line’ (DW 8 February), there’s nothing new about direct marketing agencies handling design work. But Emma Rubach’s choice of words is revealing. DM is ‘grubby’, while design holds an ‘elite position’ in a ‘gilded fortress’. This fortress might be under siege but the old hierarchies and assumptions are still very much alive.

No discipline can afford to rest on its laurels. DM agencies have taken this to heart and it should be no surprise to see them getting involved in the sort of branding and design briefs you talk about.

DM agencies have a reputation for being fleet of foot, possibly because we’ve always had to work hard for respect. We have been quick to read the mood and evolve. Moving into traditional design territory is just one example. Another is the introduction of account planners. Creating communications that deliver a brand promise through narrowcast channels was crucial to DM’s evolution and reputation. The insight that a good brand planning department can deliver is a prerequisite for any targeted campaign and has helped us escape the junk mail tag.

Really, it’s all about common sense. Non-design specialists are often tasked with developing campaigns that need to adhere to brand guidelines, while branding agencies have much less involvement once the initial brand book is complete. On this basis, why shouldn’t the executional agency be involved at the development stage?

Our remit for credit card brand Marbles worked in just this way. While we didn’t come up with the original brand thought, we did evolve the brand construct and develop the guidelines, which then informed our communications strategy. The result, one happy client and a superbly ‘joined up’ campaign.

Perhaps there’s something here for our design colleagues to learn from?

Martin Nieri, Managing director, Clark McKay and Walpole, London W1

Latest articles

Remembering Jon Daniel: 1966-2017

We look back on the life and work of the Design Week columnist, independent creative director and social activist “who helped put black participation on the political map”.