Offer the right strategy, charge the right price

You could substitute branding, retail or new-product development for the corporate communications we cite in this week’s client survey (see page 17). Strategy is the buzzword that links them all.

The sharper design groups have been bandying the phrase about for a while. Now clients such as Commercial Union and Granada Home Technology are demanding it of them. It’s a welcome change from the old scenario, where only clients commissioning ad campaigns came close to accepting a strategic approach from external consultants and a long-term relationship with a creative agency.

The problem is that design groups often claim expertise in strategic thinking when they’re not geared up to offer anything beyond a visual design service. By doing so they overstretch themselves and so devalue the strength of their real talents to clients. They also dilute the quality of service more genuinely strategic consultancies provide.

It’s a bit like a double-glazing salesman dressing up his trade and calling himself an environmental consultant. The difference is that design clients are usually more astute than the average householder because they buy consultancy services more often. Too many false claims and examples of poor service and the whole design industry takes a knock – it’s as ethical an issue as free-pitching and we should tackle it as such.

The other side of it is that many designers offering strategy probably aren’t charging enough for the service. Many have taken it on board to gain an edge over competitors, without costing it as anything but a new-business ploy. This is a short-term attitude that will rebound on design as much as the inflated fees commanded by some big groups did in the Eighties.

As clients demand more and more strategic thinking for next to nothing, visual creativity will be downgraded. A thriving creative industry needs both in balance, so let’s get our definitions right, be honest about our real skills and charge clients the proper rate for the job.

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