On your marks

As a start-up you have to be confident about what makes your company different, and convey this clearly to potential clients in order to grow. Suzanne Hinchliffe sees how three new consultancies are looking to position themselves and achieve stand-out

_The Clearing

This breakaway, comprising four senior figures from Interbrand, has not been resting on its design laurels since launching on 1 March. In its first six months, The Clearing has built an impressive client list that includes McLaren, Yodel and HSBC.

It is ’a brand marketing consultancy with a few subtle differences’, according to director of consulting Richard Buchanan. The group engages with its clients by offering a ’valuably different experience’, contributing marketing plans and communication strategies to branding design.

’It is important for the next generation of brand consultancies to show they are commercially driven,’ says Buchanan. ’We aim to create a clear defendable territory around brands so they can not only grow their business but also increase revenue.’

Buchanan, along with co-founders Andy Howell and Jonathan Hubbard (both creative directors) and director of brand language Pete Duwar, were all frustrated at branding consultancies’ lack of commerciality while at Interbrand. After several clients suggested a preference for working with people who had a more passionate, innovative and commercial approach, they set up on their own. Building on its ’clear defendable territory’ proposition, the consultancy chose The Clearing as its name and adopted a stag logo. ’It not only shows a thing of beauty,’ Buchanan explains, ’but shows competitiveness in an aggressive market.’

This balance of creativity and commercial reality focuses on three levels/ the product, the service experience and the brand. ’Rather than focusing on logos and identity systems, we help clients to sharpen their proposition, deliver memorable service experiences and create distinctive brands,’ says Buchanan.

’Our work is special in the way it delivers conviction to a client, helping staff believe in their work and develop the brand to better connect with customers.’

The London-based group drew on its many contacts when it set up – most of its work has so far come via referrals. The challenge now is not only to maintain business momentum – The Clearing has exceeded its target in its first six months – but also to maintain brand excellence.

Top tip
Start a business for the right reasons, because you want to create a great culture and, most important of all, do it because you know that your shared expertise can deliver something truly special to the market. Understand the client’s business and understand its problems.

_Utile & Beau

Pepsi used to spend $13m (£8.3m) on advertisements during the US Superbowl. Last year, however, it used social media as a tool to interact with its consumers – asking them how they would spend that money to improve their local environment. The soft drinks brand not only showed it was being socially and environmentally aware, but also greatly enhanced its brand reputation.

This notion of corporate social responsibility is growing and recent start-up Utile & Beau is keen to tap in to it. The consultancy wanted to explore the possibilities of digital design to create benefits and make a positive impact on people and the planet, while also boosting profits.
Taking the idea of ’making a difference by thinking differently’, the group developed a business model that would help clients think in terms of three ’bottom lines’ – social, environmental and economical – rather than just considering profit.

Trading began in April this year, with founders Mickey Stretton, formerly with All of Us, and Bradley Cho-Smith, from Digit, using their digital expertise, supported by strategic director Malou Bramstrup, who is developing the company’s sustainability offer.

Stretton and Cho-Smith previously worked together on Marks & Spencer’s Plan A sustainability campaign – an experience they’re keen to bring to the table with other clients.

’For commercial clients, we look at what they are doing as a socially aware business and help them leverage that through digital marketing. Meanwhile, for not-for-profit clients, we explore how digital technologies and platforms such as social networking can deliver their goals,’ says Stretton.

The consultancy’s clients so far include a hotel and leisure chain, a start-up ad agency, a financial group, plus a couple of not-for-profits.
As the digital sector is constantly evolving, just like the whole concept of sustainability, it is difficult to pin down the shape of things to come, but Stretton believes that ’as a framework for a business and an emerging trend, [their joint ] potential is broad and far-reaching’.

Top tip
Have a vision, and don’t be afraid to be bold or ambitious. It may be a very long-term vision,but it should ultimately define the path that you need to follow to achieve your goals.

_Mill Co

Imagine a one-stop creative shop, not only brimming with ideas and new projects, but with access to some of the finest emerging and established creative talent in the industry.

Natural connectors and creative enthusiasts Claire Martin and Liz Birkbeck, both originally from the old mill-town of Rochdale, noticed a gap in the market for a business to work as a focal point for masterminding projects, understanding potential creative needs and sourcing the right people for each job.

Using this ethos, Mill Co (the name derives from the duo’s home town and community) launched in October 2009 as ’a new kind of creative co-operative – with integral, honest, ethical thinking at its heart’, says Martin.

Creative director Martin has a background in marketing at Manchester’s Grand Central Records and retail giant Topshop, while managing director Birkbeck has ten years experience at the pioneering moving image agency Bubble.

’The beauty of this business is meeting client needs by tailoring a bespoke team of people from our virtual community of freelances,’ says Martin.

’Not many consultancies can offer two project managers who can present strategic and marketing initiatives and source the right people according to clients’ requirements,’ says Birkbeck.

With their knowledge and intuition for connecting people, they are good at attracting freelances – such as digital artist Suzie Webb, illustrator Darren Newman and photographer Kevin Cummins.

Martin and Birkbeck found starting up relatively easy. They have grown the business organically by contacting previous clients, which include Oasis, JD Sports and Topshop.

The pair took advantage of the Web to keep overheads low, using Skype to conduct business meetings, for example – Birkbeck is based in Manchester while Martin looks after the London ties. They regularly use London’s Russian Club as a space for round-table discussions and to promote freelance work through exhibitions.

Mill Co’s portfolio now includes clothing brand Canterbury, Blue Energy Company and Oasis’ new consumer magazine, created by community members We Are Laura and due to be rolled out in two months’ time.

The consultancy is also launching the Mill Co Project, a social enterprise for commerce. The creatives are hoping to rescue a character building in London’s Hackney, to bring to life an affordable members’ club that houses dark rooms, print studios, art shops, café bars and much more.

Top tip

Be realistic about finance. Save some money to start you off for essentials such as a website and business cards, but don’t get carried away with expensive premises or taking on staff too early. Start off small and expand when you can afford to.

_ Start-up advice

  • Good networking skills are essential to achieve business success – forging contacts can leverage your position and expand your market
  • Appoint a financial director from the start, not just an accountant or book-keeper, but someone who can keep you on the straight and narrow from day one and help you realise your commercial ambition
  • Don’t forget about the little things that keep the business running – the list is endless, but includes registering the company, securing a URL, finding premises, dealing with phone companies and buying or leasing kit
Hide Comments (3)Show Comments (3)
  • Gordon Haxton November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    As an accountant with clients in the design industry I concur with the advice that the finance team should be in place as soon as possible. A good financial director can consider finance at both the strategic level and also at the operational level

    Strategic (to include)

    -plan ahead
    -increase shareholder value
    -identify business goals

    Operational (to include)

    -ensure the provision of management information
    -introduce project management systems
    -monitor cash flow

  • James Kessell November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Utile & Beau – just looked at their website. Do they really mean ‘economical benefits’ or ‘economic benefits’?

  • Mickey Stretton November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    You’re absolutely correct.. A glaring typo that should have been spotted before now!
    Thanks for bringing it to our attention. 🙂

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