Specialisms

In terms of UK identity business, three consultancies stand out for financial performance. Enterprise IG is way ahead of the pack – partly because its UK billings include some global projects – while its arch rivals Wolff Olins and Interbrand Newell and Sorrell make a very healthy appearance in second and third slot respectively. But, while Wolff Olins has more or less held its income year on year, INS has leapt forward during 1998, reporting a 23 per cent rise in its corporate identity fees.

It is interesting to see The Partners virtually doubling its income during 1998, from high profile identity projects such as financial services offers B2 and Save & Prosper. Identity now accounts for just over half its work.

This is a position Thames Ditton consultancy Nucleus might aim for, having renounced © packaging as one of its core disciplines at the start of this year in favour of identity and multi-media work. However, with more than a third of its 2.4m fee-income generated through identity projects last year it has some way to go.

Another group still to achieve its potential in identity work is Bamber Forsyth. Still better known for print, it too owes about a third of its income to more lucrative identity projects.

The global top ten throws up no real surprises, in that we are looking at groups of international standing, most of which have offices – or owners – overseas. (It’s worth remembering that Siegel & Gale, ranked fourth globally last year before it completed a management buyout from Saatchi & Saatchi, is missing this year, having not completed a survey form.)

One of these is Landor Associates, whose performance from its London office says a lot about the US bias of the business. It is hard for the multinational group to identify where the fees are earned, given that its teams work across national boundaries. But, while it is undoubtedly a giant worldwide – seemingly with a new major corporate identity to unveil most weeks, only a fifth of its income from identity projects was billed through London last year.

Fitch makes no showing in either the UK or the global corporate identity chart. But though it is undoubtedly a global player, it was unable to separate identity from its print work and so doesn’t feature.

It’s good to see UK-based identity specialists making a strong showing in the global charts. Wolff Olins and INS in particular have made the grade among the big boys and girls through largely UK work. It will be interesting to see how both fare over the coming months, given Wolff Olins’ recent expansion to New York and the continuing move by INS to reshape the business following the merger between Interbrand UK and the former Newell and Sorrell and tap into the international contacts of its US parent company Omnicom.

One thing that sets print apart from other disciplines is that it tends not to travel across national boundaries. While Dutch group Una, for example, might win awards here for its stunning print work, it is less likely to win work, except through London colleague Nick Bell. Language and the need for a fast turnaround on projects prohibit it, and while UK groups often draw influences from print designers in the US or on the Continent, they rarely find themselves competing against them for work.

Only Pentagram Design makes a showing in the global charts, without making it into the UK top 20. CGI, owned by French company Havas Advertising Group, appears in the UK top 20, while stablemate Conran Design Group doesn’t. UK billings for CDG amount to only 753 000 for print work, less than a fifth of Havas’ global total.

Pentagram, meanwhile, earned only 577 000 for London-generated print work last year – some 22 per cent of the global total. It will be interesting to see how this position changes following the appointment late last year of graphics great Angus Hyland as a London partner.

Print is a catch-all category, covering everything from annual reports and brochures to direct mail and stamps. The top 20, therefore, includes some odd bedfellows – a motley crew indeed. One or two key players, such as annual reports specialist C&FD and Siegel & Gale, are missing from this year’s survey. Annual reports are heavily represented in the UK chart by Addison Design Company, Radley Yeldar, CLK.MPL, Bamber Forsyth and CGI. But with most of these groups now broadening their offer, other print work is likely to feature in their totals. WPP Group-owned Addison, for example, is making a conscious effort to widen its scope, through collaboration with other specialist groups if necessary. Bamber Forsyth has also fared relatively well in the corporate identity charts.

It is interesting that the big corporate identity players don’t feature much in the print charts. We can only assume that they have included identity-related print work in their figures for that sector.

Surprise omissions this year include Edinburgh conglomerate The Tayburn Group, which ranked 12th globally last year with an income from print of 2m. It reported revenue of 985 000 from print during 1998, which has kept it well outside the charts.

MetaDesign has also slipped off the edge of the global chart – it would have ranked 19th with fee-income of 1.8m had we published a top 20 this year. But most of this was billed through its Berlin and San Francisco offices, with London not figuring at all in the UK listings.

There are few genuine exhibition specialists in this year’s charts – groups whose main business is in interiors or graphics often get involved in this area. But chart-toppers Event Communications and the renamed Firbank Kempster Integrated Communications Partnership do fit that brief.

Last year was particularly good for Event, which has increased its income by almost 80 per cent over 1997’s 1.91m. Commissions for museum work across the globe account for this performance, including the Belgian show In Flanders Field at Ypres, commemorating World War I, and extensive work in Ireland.

Firbank Kempster has meanwhile dropped back by 14 per cent on its fees, from the 2.13m it reported last year. But The Button Communications Group has improved its lot, with global billings up 46 per cent.

Newcomers to the charts include London exhibition specialist Cobalt Consultancy, which bought the former graphics and interiors group The Jenkins Group out of receivership in late 1997 before merging it with its business.

Events giant Imagination doesn’t figure in the charts, though it is ranked third in the Top 100. This is because its accounting system makes it difficult to separate out its design fees from other revenue. But the biggest omission this year – in terms of profile, though not income – is Met Studio, which went into voluntary liquidation early this year, reportedly because of currency problems adversely affecting fees from Far Eastern clients. Met Studio ranked 17th in last year’s chart, reporting 190 000 of fees from exhibition work. We await to see what former managing director Alex McCuaig does over the next few months.

The greatest surprise is the appearance of Din Associates in third position. Better known for its retail and interiors work, the London group made a major inroad into exhibitions last year, completing the permanent Althorp Stable Yard Museum for Earl Spencer to celebrate the life of his sister, Diana, Princess of Wales. The job put Din into the charts – and earned it a Design Week Award into the bargain.

For many groups listed here, exhibitions are a side-line or part of a bigger communications package for clients. Marsteller Giant, Leicester consultancy Checkland Kindleysides, Pentagram Design and CDT Design are among those that fit into this category.

Multimedia is becoming more central to UK design and less of an add-on for most multi disciplinary groups. Clients are now commissioning websites as an integral part of their marketing strategy, and many have matured into their second or third incarnation. E-commerce has meanwhile taken off for commodities as diverse as books, jeans and lava lamps.

Fees are up substantially compared with last year’s listing – indeed, the biggest growth by any Top 100 consultancy is that of multimedia specialist Deepend Design, which reported a massive rise of just over 230 per cent. Set up in 1994 by product designers Gary Lockton and Simon Waterfall, Deepend had initial funding and management links with product design group PDD, but that arrangement ended amicably.

The picture painted by this year’s charts is distorted slightly by the absence of Siegel & Gale, which topped the 1998 charts with global fees of 3.25m. One of the keenest players is Nucleus, which is focusing increasingly on multimedia work, and has more than doubled its fees from multimedia projects.

Few multimedia consultancies are truly international, and for many it is only one of several disciplines offered – hence the relatively small fees earned even by key players in the Top 100 chart. But Cambridge Consultants, MetaDesign (through its London, San Francisco and Berlin offices), French conglomerate Havas Advertising Group, owner of Real Time Studio (and through it AMXstudios), Fitch and Landor Associates can claim some global presence. The uptake is greatest in the US, we are told, and it is therefore inevitable that UK consultancies with offices there have a stronger chance of picking up a lot of multimedia work.

With most UK consultancies though, multimedia has been introduced to extend the offer to existing clients, in the hope that it might one day stand alone as a discipline. Most are traditionally print groups that aim to include digital communications in their repertoire.

Typical of these is WPP Group’s hitherto annual reports specialist Addison Design Company, upping its fees slightly as it moves towards greater diversification. It will be interesting to see how it fares in next year’s multimedia chart, having appointed director of digital media Jeremy Keohane from Bamber Forsyth and director Lois Love from Media Alliance relatively recently to develop its multimedia offer.

There hasn’t been much movement in fees earned through interiors work since last year’s survey, but any significant increases tend to be attributed to retail groups. This is hardly surprising given the buoyancy of the retail market, which is tipped to continue for some time yet.

Anglo-American consultancy Retail Planning Associates, which tops the global chart, reports a 14 per cent increase in fees during 1998. London retail specialist 20/20, meanwhile, saw a healthy 35 per cent rise.

Not everyone has been as successful in this highly competitive market. Retail specialist Checkland Kindleysides, for example, has dropped back a fraction on its 1997 figure of 2.71m. Growth appears to be more assured for groups, like RPA and 20/20, offering a full consultancy service rather than those focusing more on design and implementation.

Newcomers to the charts include Landor and Fitch. Last year Landor, which bills most of its interiors work through offices outside the UK, did not take part in the survey. Fitch, meanwhile, chose last year to lump its interiors revenue together with exhibitions, though interiors yielded some 6.7m of revenue worldwide – two-thirds of which is generated in the UK.

Missing from this year’s table is WPP Group’s interiors arm BDG McColl, ranked seventh in the main Top 100 listing (see page 62). This has been omitted because it was unable to break down its figures to fit our tables this year. Given that interiors are its main business, we might have expected it to make a strong showing, possibly ranking second in the global charts through its outposts in Hong Kong, New York, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

Surprisingly few of the interiors groups appear to be global players, with most reporting billings generated solely in the UK. And those which are, like Fitch and Landor, tend to be part of bigger, multidisciplinary stables. Even Crabtree Hall/Plan Créatif made most of its money in the UK in 1998, and has dropped off the global chart to 12th position despite having Anglo-French connections.

Until the office market picks up big time – if it ever reaches Eighties levels again – retail, museums and leisure look likely to provide the bulk of the interiors work. Consultancies specialising in these areas should have a brighter future, but with competition keen, the financial rewards are no longer what they might once have been.

The huge gap between the 18m UK fee-income reported by Cambridge Consultants and the 3.3m of its nearest rival, Jones Garrard, says more about the diversity of the chart-topper’s work than it does about the performance of the Leicester consultancy.

Cambridge Consultancy is a big business, earning 28m in fees worldwide, employing 180 designers out of 360 staff in the UK alone and boasting a global pay-roll of 710. Its work includes a considerable amount of engineering design and research and development projects, as well as more conventional product design.

Jones Garrard, on the other hand, is a typical UK product group though with a reputation for transport design, 35 of its 45 staff being designers and all billings going through the UK. It built its business successfully during 1998, reporting fees up 32 per cent – well ahead of the 20 per cent growth it projected in last year’s Top 100. It has also shifted the balance of designers within its staff: last year it reported 40 staff, including 26 designers.

There are improvements among several product groups this year. Seymour Powell’s fees are up by 50 per cent and, though it has diversified over recent years to take on multimedia projects and packaging, PSD Associates reports an increase in revenue from product design of 47 per cent.

Missing from the product design charts is © Random Product Design, whose work largely for BT put it in fifth place last year. The group, part of the publicly quoted Random Group, went into receivership earlier this year. Its design team has set up Alloy Total Product Design.

Towards the bottom of the UK top 20 there are a number of groups whose main focus is in other disciplines. Firbank Kempster Integrated Communications Partnership, for example, is largely an exhibitions group; Ergo is involved in new product development and branding; and Elmwood Design is concerned with print and packaging. Product design is probably integrated into these other offers.

On the international front, there are really only two big players recorded here: Cambridge Consultants and Fitch. Unfortunately, global mega-group Ideo did not take part in the survey and we might have expected the Steelcase-backed consultancy to have come in towards the top of the chart.

It is no surprise that the bulk of Fitch’s product design income is generated outside the UK. Its US operation originates from a merger in 1988 between Fitch & Co in London and product group RichardsonSmith in Columbus, Ohio. The integration of product design into the entire culture has yet to happen, according to sources close to the consultancy.

An amazing number of top 20 groups have remained fairly static in terms of fee-income for branding and packaging this year, indicating just how tight competition is. PI Design International, for example, makes a respectable showing in both global and UK charts, even though its fee-income from the sector – all billed through the UK – has remained much the same as last year.

Rosters run by most own-brand clients and an increasing number of big brand-owners contribute to keeping fees on a level. But, as last week’s report on the packaging market showed, designers in this area still feel hard done by with clients which have yet to appreciate the value of good design (DW 19 March). The lack of experience among brand managers is often blamed, but designers share the responsibility, having been keen in the past to work for cut-price fees, particularly on own-brand projects, to achieve a regular cash-flow.

Of course, the more sophisticated groups are generally able to cut across these practices, offering branding consultancy rather than mere pack design and so dealing with more senior people on the client side on bigger projects.

Coley Porter Bell, for example, now offers a Visual Planning service to clients, who work alongside the designers at the consultancy’s London office to distil the essence of a brand. This relatively new facility appears to have paid off in that CPB has made one of the more significant leaps in fee-income this year, reporting a 24 per cent increase.

Landor Associates’ return to the survey has made a big difference to the global charts, where it holds pole position. It takes over from The Coleman Group Worldwide, even though, through acquisitions across Europe, that group boosted its global fees from packaging by 61 per cent. Dragon’s reappearance this year also adds weight to the global charts, in that just over a fifth of its fee-income is generated in the UK.

Given the UK’s reputation for being a world leader in packaging design, it is not surprising to find a few consultancies handling mainly “local” work featuring in the global top ten. Among those breaking the mould are Jones Knowles Ritchie, with fees up 41 per cent, all billed through the UK. Brown Inc has also done exceptionally well, with global billings up 65 per cent, largely through its UK work.

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