A word in your designer ear

Design groups have much to gain by linking with writing agencies. Martin Hennessey outlines the mutual benefits of sharing work

If I were the managing partner or director of a design consultancy ambitious for sales and profit growth, I’d be extremely intrigued by the increasing talk of ‘brand language’ and ‘tone of voice’. I’d also be extremely interested in the growth of writing and content-heavy digital media marketing spend.

And, of course, I’d be thinking, ‘How can I build writing into my team’s offer, so I can win larger, writing-heavy projects?’ Because the truth is, with the proliferation of communication channels – both on-line and print – and greater reporting demands and corporate responsibility issues, writing and corporate tone of voice have never been more important to clients’ communications than now.

Clients now spend so much time managing tone of voice, brand language and writing that they function almost like publishing houses. Which means a heavy demand for words.

There are three ways for design consultancies to meet this challenge. One, beef up your in-house writing team – but this requires considerable overhead costs as well as presenting a management risk. Two, continue ‘white-labelling’ freelance writers – although the best freelances are becoming increasingly busy. Option three is to build a strategic partnership with a writing consultancy.

In 2000, The Writer was launched as a way of building exactly this kind of alliance with design consultancies.

Over the past year, we have seen a dramatic increase in enquiries from design consultancies that are interested in picking the third option. This is great news for us both.

Why? There are three major benefits for design groups and writing agencies by working in an open and equal partnership.

Increasing revenue opportunities without increasing overheads is the first. This is clearly the killer benefit. When designers and writers pitch together, they can pitch for different types of projects. Projects that are led equally by design and by words. And pure writing agencies are never going to compete head on with design consultancies.

Sharing business development activity and marketing costs is the second benefit. It can be an expensive business pitching for work. Two companies can share the cost of producing a proposal. And, when a successful project is complete, they can share the costs of telling the world about their great success.

One simple example is that writing and design groups can run ‘guru seminars’ together – actively promoting their joint services to new and existing clients.

Sharing knowledge is the third benefit. If a writing agency has expert corporate responsibility writers, for example, but no designers on its team, then it makes sense for a design consultancy that is less strong on CR issues to work with it.

Equally, a writing agency may have experience with big brands like Nike, experience that will look reassuring to a design consultancy when it is pitching for new communication projects.

Some of the fastest-growing design consultancies have already built writing into their offer – they include Elmwood and Start Creative, to name just two. But, the flip side is that we are seeing a growing number of writing agencies morphing into design consultancies.

Jupiter Copy in Nottingham, for example, is now Jupiter Design – one of the UK’s top ten print design specialists, according to the Design Week Top 100 consultancy survey (DW 31 May).

Of course, for two consultancies to strike up an alliance is never an easy thing to do. It takes time and commitment on both sides. And patience. It’s no good entering into an alliance on a job-by-job basis. It’s far better to pick an agency that you like and build up a relationship with it.

With goodwill, time and creative effort from both sides, design and writing partnerships really can be more valuable than the sum of their parts.

Martin Hennessey is managing director of The Writer

Ways to create a workable partnership

• Shop around. There are more writing agencies than there used to be. Meet the whole team. Visit its offices. Pick one you like

• Be open about new ways of winning business together

• Agree revenue splits up front, and in writing

• Share business development activity

• A partnership isn’t just for one job – it’s for (business) life

• Don’t leave the key relationships to project managers. Build strategic relationships with the senior management of the writing company

• Be open – share skills and expertise. Writing agencies have some useful stuff to share

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