On your marks, get digital

How to get ahead in the digital race, in the midst of a marketplace flooded with also-rans.

The onslaught of digital media projects in recent months is having profound effects on the way design consultancies are run. As more design businesses rise to the on-line challenge, they are discovering that it is a whole new ball game. Digital media clients, for example, are often very different animals to traditional clients and factors such as cost and timing are so much more critical. Since many have been set up, grown and brought to market at a remarkably fast rate, one of the biggest differences is the speed at which they operate. Cost is also crucial when venture capital is involved – try telling your venture capitalist that the first round funding is inadequate.

Given this extremely commercial environment, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that eight out of ten digital media design consultancies are failing to deliver work on time or on budget. So if you are a digital media business and you want to succeed by separating yourself from the pack, it is easy – simply give the client what it asks for.

How to achieve this while controlling quality is a huge challenge for two reasons. First, there is so much business out there that consultancies cannot recruit fast enough to keep pace with demand. With planning time squeezed and little time for staff training and induction, quality is bound to suffer. Second, there is no doubt that the digital product is more complicated to produce than traditional design work. With new technology to harness, the learning curve is naturally steep.

So what’s the solution? How can a digital media consultancy get its act together to ensure that clients stay with it for the next project rather than trying out one of the many competitors next time? The answer is to minimise what I call the getting/ doing gap. The getting/ doing gap is the separation of the new business function, the getting function, from the design or doing function.

If you were going in for major brain surgery, you would want to meet your surgeon beforehand and understand what the operation involves, how long it would take, the risks involved and the time needed to recuperate. If you were not fortunate enough to be covered by medical insurance, you would also want to know the cost of the operation. You would not want just to talk to a hospital administrator, for example, unless it happens to be the most routine of operations.

The same applies in the digital design arena. The client wants to be able to talk to people who know what they are doing and who can be relied upon to deliver. It doesn’t want to talk to a sales guy who doesn’t understand the operation. Hence the need to bring the getting and doing functions together as far as possible.

Introducing reward mechanisms to incentivise staff will have a strong influence on how team members perform together. Imagine what would happen if Manchester United’s defenders were given a bonus according to the number of goals they prevented from being scored; where would their incentive be to pass the ball upfield for goal scoring opportunities? If the name of the game is to score goals then reward all players on this basis, irrespective of whether they are strikers or goalkeepers.

My final bit of advice to digital media businesses is to remember that they are not dot.coms where revenue, market share and speed are so important. Like all service businesses, they must focus on profit and cash, as well as quality, of course, if they want to survive this exciting growth period.

Keys to success

Pricing the job

Never price work without involving the design and technical people. Pricing this type of work can be tricky, particularly if the website is complex and involves back- end databases. This can be a challenge since many consultancies don’t have all the technical skills in-house and this means having to liaise with their technical associates. It is essential for the marketing people to produce a detailed job brief that specifies all the client requirements. Obviously, if requirements change during the project, then the price should change.

Managing the project

It is essential to employ experienced project managers who have a foot in both camps. Quite often these are marketing people who can talk to clients and also talk to the technical people who generally never meet the client. They have an understanding of the technical issues and the technical glossary that tends to get used. Good project managers will not only deliver projects on time and budget but, more importantly, they will grow the relationship with the client.

Integrated teams

Try to integrate your teams of people. Most traditional design businesses have separate teams of designers and account handlers. The powerplay and politics between these two departments often destroys creativity and can ruin client relationships. Digital media businesses are more complex in that they often employ account handlers, project managers, designers, programmers and technical people. It is essential to integrate these different sorts of people as much as possible. The best way of doing this is to ensure that they all work within the same space. In my experience, this enhances the effectiveness of a team and allows for a better sharing of ideas and thoughts. Marketers benefit from seeing the work being undertaken and experiencing the frustration of technical people trying to make something work. It is amazing how quickly problems of underselling can disappear. Vice versa, it is good for the doers to experience and appreciate how difficult it is to win work and to see at first hand how difficult clients can be.

Motivating staff through rewards

You need to design your reward structure carefully in a way that encourages teamwork and co-operation. A good example of this is the salesperson who is rewarded with a commission on sales; something that is quite common in the design industry. This will motivate the salesperson to sell more but not necessarily at the right price. They have no interest in the quality of the product or how profitable it is.

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