DW Top 100 design groups

It’s good news all round, as consultancies across the board continue to buck up their business performance, strengthening design’s claim to be taken seriously as an industry. Over the 12 months to December 1998, UK design fees were up to 408m from the previous year’s 343m for Top 100 groups – an increase of 19 per cent. Turnover meanwhile kept pace, rising 20 per cent to 631m from 526m.

On the face of it, Enterprise IG put in an outstanding performance last year, leapfrogging Cambridge Consultants to take top slot in the charts. Its UK fee-income rose by a massive 77 per cent to 35m and it added 35 people to its London staff.

The reality is that the WPP Group identity arm can no longer separate out its UK earnings, working across the network’s global offices. Billings for clients such as Hilton, Monsanto and Arthur Andersen go through London, though the work involves international collaboration. This phenomenon is likely to affect other big identity groups such as Interbrand Newell and Sorrell and possibly Wolff Olins in the future. Landor Associates has also had problems separating out its figures in recent years.

Enterprise IG London chief executive Dave Allen says the situation reflects the increasing globalisation of the business. He ventures that between 22.5m and 25m of the total 35m design fees was probably generated through purely UK work during 1998 – representing an increase of 14-26 per cent over the fee-income published in last year’s survey.

Enterprise IG also leads the field in the global stakes (see chart, page 71), substantiating the shrewdness of WPP Group chief Martin Sorrell’s move to bring together the group’s worldwide corporate identity interests under the Enterprise banner.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Consultants reported UK design fees down 5 per cent on last year, against predictions of 20 per cent growth, while its UK staffing levels remained the same. The global design-to-engineering conglomerate is looking to grow 10 per cent during 1999.

There are no other big changes among the top five positions, though performance varied throughout the year. Imagination (3) grew 32 per cent in terms of fee-income and added 51 people to its staff, including 38 designers. The massive difference between fees and turnover reflects Imagination’s business as an event and production specialist.

Interbrand Newell and Sorrell (4) just surpassed its growth prediction of 20 per cent in fees, adding 37 staff to its London office. Reshaping the business following the merger between Interbrand UK and Newell and Sorrell, effective in January 1998, hasn’t hampered the combined group’s fortunes.

Wolff Olins (5), meanwhile, reported a growth in fee-income of only 7 per cent against its bullish predictions of 25 per cent growth in the heady days following its management buyout. It added 30 people to its total UK staff, but reduced its design team by eight. We await signs of the effect of the consultancy’s venture into New York, which should start to show in next year’s tables.

Rising up the charts are Fitch (8), with a healthy 39 per cent increase in UK fee-income, and CLK. MPL (9), which reported a staggering 111 per cent rise. Branding groups The Identica Partnership (15) and Jones Knowles Ritchie (16) are both on the up, one reporting 56 per cent growth in fee-income and 18 new staff, the other up 40 per cent in fees, with six new staff.

The Partners (17), which took top honours in DW’s 1998 Creative Survey (DW 26 June 1998) is up seven places, reporting fees up 42 per cent against projected growth of 15 per cent. Total staff is up by 15, including eight designers. This welcome shift shows you can mix business with creativity and win on both counts.

WPP Group branding consultancy Coley Porter Bell (18) has meanwhile started to claw back the standing it lost last year, when the effect of losing two big clients, British Gas and Promodes, took its toll. It has held its position in the charts, but fees are up 24 per cent against projections of only 15 per cent for the year.

Other successes in the top third of the chart include identity, print and multimedia specialist IDH Group (19), up 13 places with a 54 per cent increase in fees, and Event Communications (31), which notched up a 89 per cent rise.

On the face of it, Allen International (27) has boosted its design fees by a massive 88 per cent. But this apparent upturn in fortune is due to the fact that the consultancy completed its form incorrectly last year, showing UK billings for overseas work as overseas income. As it has no offices outside the UK, all its design fees count as UK income.

Dropping back are Diefenbach Elkins (42), whose main UK interest is Diefenbach Elkins Davies Baron, with fee-income down almost 25 per cent, and WPP Group’s Scottish annual reports consultancy Scott Stern Associates (=50), with fee-income down 29 per cent.

Newcomers to the Top 100 include Landor Associates (12) back after a couple of years’ absence following the stock market flotation of its US parent Young & Rubicam. Dragon (=37) also made a come back, sharing a slot with Marsteller Giant (=37), which entered the charts with fees up 167 per cent.

But the biggest leap is that of multimedia group Deepend Design (47), shortlisted in the 1999 Design Week Awards for its design skills. It has shot into the Top 100 with fees up a massive 231 per cent, showing that website design can pay, without compromising creativity.

Cash isn’t the only measure of an industry.

Its true might is also measured by the number of staff it employs. This year’s Top 100 groups employed 5594 UK staff during 1998, of whom 2622 were designers. This is up on the 1997 figures of 5000 and 2346 respectively. But this boost in staff numbers hasn’t dimmed efficiency for the top performers (see Efficiency chart, page 75) showing that design is finally coming of age as an industry.

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