Bad presentation lets design industry down

It’s not a new notion that design consultancies could do well to hone up their presentation skills. But it is galling to hear these shortcomings revisited by a client addressing a mixed audience of marketing services types.

This happened last week at a seminar run by design-friendly accountant Willott Kingston Smith when David Magliano, sales and marketing director at British Airways budget airline Go Fly, outlined what a client like him, juggling an extensive international roster of marketing services suppliers, wants from his agencies.

Design hardly received a mention – Magliano admitted that his own background with the likes of Ogilvy & Mather and HHCL gives him an advertising bias – though we learned that he deals regularly with two design consultancies and two digital media specialists, as well as seven ad agencies and three research companies, among others. But the industry did come in for special rebuke when he spoke about presentation skills. Design consultancies are “staggeringly” bad at presenting, he says. Magliano urged all his “creative” agencies to “live up to the standards of the best”, the best in this instance being management consultants. And it isn’t showbusiness tricks, but solid factual arguments that earns them that reputation. “Don’t tell me ‘it’s great’, tell me ‘why?’,” he advised. This advice is sound, judging by The Identica Partnership’s success at Wembley (see News, page 3). The client there cites the understanding of his business as a reason for his choice.

Magliano’s checklist for presentation success is simple. Use hard data, not conjecture or assertion, he says. Explain the process by presenting solutions that you have rejected, stating why, as well as the course of action you propose. Quantify the anticipated results, not just in terms of cost, but also with regard to the benefits they will bring. Listen to the client’s view, don’t argue, but respond, and if something is agreed – such as the budget or a detail of the design – then stick to it in the final solution rather than trying to get away with a tweak.

All this makes sense for good client relations, but how many design groups do it? – a pitiful few by Magliano’s account. Accountability isn’t part of the consultancy culture, particularly with highly creative groups.

But there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be – most groups of any standing have a system whereby their designers present work internally to the rest of the team, sometimes even for prizes. Why not ask them to give an assessment of financial performance at the same time? It’s one way of integrating commercial effectiveness with the softer qualities of good design.

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