It isn’t just in terms of revenue that Top 100 consultancies have grown. UK staff numbers have swelled 12 per cent across the board, from the 5000 employed by Top 100 groups in 1997 to 5594 in 1998. The number of designers employed full time rose 12 per cent, from 2346 to 2622, but still only accounts for about half the staff of bigger groups.
It’s a sign of increased profitability that fee-income and turnover for the year rose by around 20 per cent and that staffing didn’t quite keep apace. But it’s always worth remembering the number of freelances working in design, often in senior positions or as specialists employed on a project basis.
Though key players such as WPP Group’s corporate identity business Enterprise IG, Imagination and Interbrand Newell and Sorrell increased their staff levels substantially last year, the days of really big multidisciplinary consultancies are over as design groups look to better ways of working through networking or collaboration with like-minded businesses.
Few of the top groups have built their design teams while adding to their pay-roll overall. The Identica Partnership, for example, has increased its staff by 18 (42 per cent), but only three are designers. Fitch, meanwhile, has added 19 to its London office (18 per cent), of whom only two are designers. This suggests a push towards new business as well as better consultancy services as both the businesses mature.
It is, however, interesting to see WPP Group’s interiors arm BDG McColl boosting its UK team by 23 per cent – an indication that property work has picked up, not just in retail. The Partners has added 15 people across the board (27 per cent) of whom eight are designers.
Looking at the broader industry picture, it’s worth remembering that design groups taking part in Design Week’s 1998 Salary Survey reported a 27 per cent increase in the number of designers they employed in the UK (DW 6 November 1998). This suggests considerable growth among the smaller agencies, whose main focus is on pure design jobs rather than on offering comprehensive consultancy services.
Though Top 100 consultancies are largely UK-based, global growth for a number of them has lead to a 16 per cent rise in staffing worldwide, from the 7096 reported last year to 8248 this. This means they now employ 2654 staff overseas, compared with 2096 during 1997.
As far as designers go, the worldwide figure has risen by 16 per cent to 3802, compared with 3288 in 1997.
Those that have grown globally include Enterprise IG, which has added 90 overseas staff (30 per cent) partly through the acquisition of German consultancy Windi Winderlich. Fitch’s overseas staff is up by 54 (24 per cent) as its US offices continue to prosper.
One of the biggest increases in overseas staff is by Interpublic Group’s branding arm The Coleman Group Worldwide, owner of Coleman Planet in the UK and Coleman Schmidlin in Switzerland. The group has increased its overseas network by 82 (59 per cent). The deal it struck with Millford-Van den Berg earlier this year, taking a 71 per cent stake in the Dutch identity and packaging group to complete its European network, will show in next year’s listings.
Big global mergers and acquisitions have petered out over the past few months – or UK design groups have ceased to be prime targets for largely US predators. We can, therefore, expect the overseas staff contingent to remain reasonably static over the next few months.