D&AD chief needs to help build designers’ confidence

One of the most difficult things to change is perception. Once there is public consensus on an issue it is difficult to shift, regardless of evidence that things have moved on. It’s something that political parties constantly face and even Design Week is subject to jibes from readers in the provinces that it is totally London-centric, despite its representative mix of stories featuring regularly in the news pages and beyond. We do our best.

For designers, one enduring perception is that advertising is more lucrative, more influential and more highly regarded by clients than design. More lucrative, yes, but in terms of influence the idea that ad agencies automatically hold the key to the client’s boardroom is a myth.

That is the view of new British Design & Art Direction chief executive Michael Hockney. Having served his time in advertising, he refutes that notion that advertising is automatically king. Yes, agencies like the old Saatchi & Saatchi in its Tory Party heyday wielded great influence, but few hit these heights.

Significantly, the design interests within a marketing services group often hold their own when their ad agency stablemates hit a serious decline. This, we are told, is happening to Fitch within Cordiant Communications Group while Bates is ailing badly, despite Fitch’s own dramatic management moves.

Another perception easily dismissed is that ad agencies are poised to take on communications across all platforms. By buying or aligning themselves with design groups some have expanded their repertoire, and digital design has long been, literally, a ‘given’. But it has also long been acknowledged that design groups have a broader outlook and use deeper entrepreneurial skills to address communications issues.

These attributes have kept many independent consultancies afloat without the benefit of the referrals which their ‘owned’ counterparts sometimes enjoy. A natural entrepreneurial approach also attracts entrepreneurial clients, as the likes of Williams Murray Hamm and Priestman Goode have discovered.

One of the troubles with design is that even its key players often lack the confidence to push themselves forward. It is no myth that ad agencies can shout louder – and so attract higher fees.

From a design perspective, one of the key contributions self-confessed ‘designophile’ Hockney could make at D&AD is to help build designers’ confidence. If he could work alongside, say, Design Business Association chief executive Deborah Dawton to this end, the creative industries in general would be stronger and the much-vaunted concept of integration between advertising and design closer to becoming a reality.

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