A one-stop designer ad service

Design groups with branding and print expertise are moving into advertising. Mike Exon asks what these groups have to offer

The design and advertising industries have always rubbed shoulders – well, at least once a year thanks to British Design & Art Direction. Nevertheless, even at the bridging point – branding – the two have operated very differently. Brand definition on the design-side is clearly delineated from the work of the marketing services group adapting brand guidelines for media. The pair have always known their places.

But now there is a school of thought that believes the lines are suitably blurred to sell both disciplines, not just from within a giant network, but from within one single business. The fact that the creative industries overlap and are confused from the outside can be advantageous. Creative businesses continue to blur the line and clients are accepting it too.

Perhaps this explains why growing numbers of design consultancies are offering, or claiming to offer, integrated design and advertising services to their clients. The rise of terms such as “brand communications” conveniently packages disciplines such as design, packaging, on-line, print and even broadcast advertising together. But do they hold up under scrutiny? These are, after all, bold claims to make.

Aside from global marketing networks such as Cordiant Communications or Young & Rubicam, advertising in its broadest sense seems to sit comfortably inside some design group portfolios already. Groups like Johnson Banks on the print side, and Intro or The Attik on the screen side have shown the ability to cross over between industries. And acquisitions abound both ways.

Cheltenham design consultancy FLB Design recently acquired a 49 per cent stake in ad agency RPG Associates, (DW July 21). FLB chairman Phil Skinner identified an interest from clients as a significant reason for the business to broaden its scope of creative services. FLB’s deal with former Saatchi & Saatchi subsidiary RPG has also encouraged Skinner to look seriously at bidding for other complementary businesses. Other design-side business heads agree.

But it is not as simple as owning an advertising or marketing arm. Attempting to offer such services involves having an integrated business such as Marstellar, for example, which says it has a seamless design, PR and advertising offer. The Tempus group, too, claims to have succeeded in referring clients between sister companies Brown ID, Added Value Group and media buying agency CIA.

“We don’t sell advertising per se, but what we do sell is the best creative solution for the client’s brand. We call this the ‘creative expression’,” says Added Value group communications director Annick Devillard.

But this inevitably calls for projects to be “donated” between companies where appropriate, which runs slightly counter to “normal” business practice.

Retail communications group Yellow Door was launched three years ago by former Harvey Nichols marketing director Mary Portas. In that time the group’s twin in-store design and PR functions for the fashion retail sector have grown increasingly close. Now the group has launched an advertising arm, primarily to offer print advertising services to new clients such as Scotch House, Dannimac and Links of London.

“Because they don’t tend to be specialised like us, a lot of the larger ad agencies don’t fully understand the aspirational side of fashion retailing. We ultimately see ourselves as creative thinkers,” says Yellow Door design director Phil Stentiford.

“A lot of ad campaigns could easily originate from shop work and then be taken into the advertising arena, but it usually never happens,” he explains. Yellow Door’s advertising concentrates on print and poster work, but not media buying, which is handled externally by New PHD.

What becomes apparent is that offering broadcast services is a different game to doing the odd print project or direct mail piece. The resources and expertise required are not readily found in the design industry, so many groups have brought in experts from advertising.

Lambie-Nairn is one of the few design-side groups which works with TV and print advertising. Its recent print, poster and TV trails for BBC Radio 3’s campaign for The Proms are based on work by illustrator Brian Grimwood and actually produced in conjunction with Bartle Bogle Hegarty. The ad agency is also working with Lambie-Nairn on the forthcoming launch of ITN’s 24-hour news channel. Lambie-Nairn strategist and former J Walter Thompson copywriter and creative director Iain Dunn explains why:

“We had been working with ITN for a number of years for its business-to-business branding and when it was looking for an agency for the launch it wanted us to pitch. We knew we could bring a deep knowledge of the brand, but we didn’t have the resources to plan and buy media, conduct research and analysis, nor a specialist team that does creative advertising for a living. Another approach we could have taken would be to farm out the services we needed, but from a client perspective they usually prefer a tight-knit team,” he says.

However, Dunn’s experiences of design/ advertising collaborations have not all been fruitful and he sees a natural rivalry between the two types of company.

“I don’t think that it’s a particularly natural relationship, because ultimately there is the question of which is the guardian of the brand,” says Dunn.

So can one business offer design and advertising services from one single team? Design and advertising group Elliott Borra Perlmutter’s founders believe so and draw talent from both creative backgrounds. Julian Borra, ex-Leo Burnett creative director and now partner at the 16-strong London consultancy, explains the thinking behind the group:

“It really isn’t complicated. We’re a creatively-led consultancy and we start at the level of producing great ideas. We are not structured like a traditional ad agency looking to drive everything to TV first then to print and so on. It’s about the ideas which are right for the brand.

“Sometimes we will do just a brand identity, but most of the stuff that we are doing is about deciphering what a creative strategy should be,” he says.

EBP collaborates or farms out work to film production groups where necessary, employing creatives from ad agencies and designers from fashion and retail design, so avoiding straightforward classification.

“I think there are a lot of people trying to do it. Some of them tend to be a lot larger than us, but they don’t tend to have the design element that we do,” Borra adds.

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