Measuring up

Last year marked a time of consolidation as the merger mania we reported in the 1998 Top 100 trawl abated and succession became the bigger issue for many UK design groups. With an upturn in fortunes for most key players and average growth of some 20 per cent in both fee-income and turnover, principals of groups set up in the Seventies and Eighties are looking to retire or cash in on their investment, leaving the management of their groups to new blood.

One of the most prominent of these is Pentagram Design, from which founder partner Kenneth Grange departed for a solo career, as Alan Fletcher did a few years ago. New Pentagram partners last year were architect Lorenzo Apicella and graphics star Angus Hyland, both of whom brought their own businesses into the fold. Their impact on the group’s financial performance won’t show until next year, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for their projects.

Design House bosses John Larkin and Tim May promoted former client services director Lavinia Culverhouse to managing director and focused attention on creative directors Mike Booth and Marcus Haslam as, after almost 30 years with the business, they prepare to take a back seat. Meanwhile, Colin Porter resigned as chairman of WPP Group-owned branding specialist Coley Porter Bell to pursue new ideas through his company CorpBrand.

But there have been some merger deals, with others in the offing. Among the most significant was the deal struck last December between Michael Peters’ group The Identica Partnership and Tango, formerly owned by ad agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty. Identica took over the retail graphics specialist, but Tango retained its own identity. BBH meanwhile acquired a 21 per stake in the combined design group. Again it’s too early to see the financial impact, but Identica and Tango are certainly ones to watch.

Rumours continue about a change in ownership for Design Bridge, whose name was linked with ad agency Ammirati Puris Lintas last April. Nothing came of that discussion, but eyes are still on the 13-year-old branding consultancy.

Also interesting was the 25 per cent share global product design giant Ideo took in Michael Wolff’s new non-design consultancy The Fourth Room. Then there was the name change of Horseman Cooke McBains, owned by ad agency Abbott Mead Vickers, to The Open Agency – a 130-strong team going through the line from design and multimedia to advertising.

Also reflected in this year’s survey is the shift towards multimedia by a number of groups. One of the boldest is Nucleus, which announced late last year that it was pulling out of packaging and focusing on multimedia and identity projects. The multimedia ranking shows how other multi-disciplinary groups are faring in an area few had contemplated entering some three years ago.

As ever, we have based the Top 100 and other listings on a questionnaire available to all Design Week readers. The findings have again been analysed with help from Ian Cochrane, of independent management consultant Ticegroup, who has checked any questionable data to ensure that our findings are as accurate as possible and that the survey maintains its position as a respected source of information on design. We do, however, rely heavily on the honesty and integrity of participating consultancies.

We are indebted to those who have taken part and, in particular, welcome Landor Associates back, after two years’ self-imposed absence from the charts while the stock market flotation of its US parent Young & Rubicam went through. We have tried to pull in the key players to give a comprehensive industry picture.

Not everyone has been able to comply with the questionnaire and some groups have been omitted from certain charts. Others, such as Siegel & Gale, C&FD and Light & Coley, failed to meet our deadlines, despite persistent calls.

As in previous years, we have based our ranking on fee-income derived from design work. The Top 100 takes account of fees billed through a UK office, whether or not the client is British, while the global chart looks at combined fee-income generated by a group’s offices in the UK and abroad. A third, overseas ranking looks only at income earned through offices abroad, pointing up the big groups for which the UK is but one of several players.

For the tables set out by discipline, we have again based the ranking on design fee-income. But this year we have published two tables – showing UK billings and global income.

The survey is based purely on financial performance and in no way reflects creative ability. However, given the strength and experience of some of the groups, it’s obvious they are getting something very right. Clients don’t come back – and billings don’t rise by an average of 20 per cent each year – if the product isn’t right. Watch out for DW’s Creative Survey on 25 June to see how the stars fare in the creative stakes.

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