Small screen, big potential

Screen design is a competetive but fast moving sector, driven by new platforms and brands. Liz Dunning offers some tips for survival

Screen design is a competetive but fast moving sector, driven by new platforms and brands.  Liz Dunning offers some tips for survival

It’s a good time to be involved in screen design. Public service broadcasters are having to fight harder to hold on to audience share, TV brands are launching ever more channels, the big networks are increas ingly uniting disparate brands under cohesive identities (to ensure more effective cross-promotion and to hang on to viewers) and new services such as video-ondemand nand Internet protocol TV are increasing.

At the same time, however, there are ever more players competing for projects: most channels have their own in-house design departments, there is an increasing number of new specialist start-ups as well as a number of consultancies that are brought in on projects precisely because they don’t specialise in TV. There are also issues facing us in terms of budgets – we have seen them decrease on traditional TV identity work or, at least, more deliverables required for the same money.

Given the challenges we face, how do you manage to sustain and grow a screen design business?

Find, develop and grow a great creative team – nurture young talent, encourage, reward and give responsibility. Being a small consultancy, our creatives are not hampered by the hierarchy that exists in some larger groups.

Be single minded in your marketing – agree your strategy and stick to it. It’s not possible to actively market your group to every possible sector or geographic location, so make sure your marketing activities are targeted and achievable. And remember, some things take time to come to fruition.

Communicate, communicate, communicate – with your partners, your team, your clients.

Keep up with the world outside – screen design is not limited to traditional TV identity projects any longer. You will need to understand and be able to work on a range of projects including IPTV and VOD services where the platforms used tend to vary from provider to provider.

This industry is all about relationships. Be flexible, approachable, open and honest with your clients. Our business is typically project-based, so it’s rare to hold on to an account over many years. However, our clients move around a lot, and if they were happy with you when they worked at one channel they are more likely to include you in the shortlist for their next project. And referrals are a key source of new business – maintain that relationship.

Love your producers – they are a goldmine of contacts. They’re the ones who know who’s out there, who’s best for a particular job and who they can rely on to create the best end-results, be it music composers, animators, illustrators or editors.

Never take rejection personally. In a business where pitching is the norm, you can’t afford to dwell on your losses. Learn from them and move on.

Be brave. Stand your ground and be confident about your creative decisions.

Ignore finance at your peril. Make sure your financial controller is part of the team and make sure all partners are aware of your financial situation at all times. Encourage a good working relationship between your project directors and your finance team.

Be realistic about what you can achieve. Timeframes for projects can sometimes be unrealistically tight and it’s up to you to really set out what is achievable for your client, given a limited timeframe. Likewise, if your studio is flat out and you cannot take on more work, don’t.

Having previously all worked as part of a much bigger group, my partners and I are really enjoying the freedom and flexibility that we have as an independent business. We can make decisions more quickly and respond to changes speedily. Our company is growing steadily – we have increased our customer base both geographically and by sector, having become one of the leading consultancies in design for IPTV services. We are proud of what we have achieved so far and we’re looking forward to another happy and successful year in 2008.

Liz Dunning is a partner at Dunning Eley Jones

Ten commandments of broadcast

• Find, develop and grow your creative team

• Be single-minded in your marketing

• Communicate with your partners, your team and your clients

• Keep up with what’s going on in the outside world

• Be flexible, open and honest with your clients

• Love your producers, because they have the best contacts

• Don’t take rejection personally

• Have confidence in your creative decisions

• Keep an eye on finances, and talk to your financial team

• Be realistic about what you can achieve

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