You can no longer pretend that design is a purely UK business. So many of the players who shaped the industry in the mid- to late-Eighties now have strong global ties. Take the publicly quoted Fitch, in at third place in our global Top 20, based on fees earned by overseas offices, with its strong US presence and growing European business. Then there’s Davies Baron, born of the demised David Davies Associates and now trading as Diefenbach Elkins Davies Baron following its acquisition by the Interpublic-owned New York group, ranked fourth in our charts. Both say something of the way the business has gone.
Other evidence comes through the deals last year between Interpublic’s other global design arm, The Coleman Group Worldwide, and UK branding consultancy Planet. Then there’s the Interbrand Newell and Sorrell takeover. Though the former Newell and Sorrell was merged with Interbrand UK after its acquisition by the global parent Interbrand Group, INS chairman John Sorrell has said that extending his consultancy’s global reach beyond Newell and Sorrell’s existing Amsterdam office was a significant factor in the deal.
INS doesn’t figure in this year’s global chart, so we’ll have to wait a year to see if the Interbrand deal has an impact on its status as a global player. But The Coleman Group ranks sixth worldwide, opening up potential new alliances for Planet.
Conran Design Group, ranked fifth globally, appears to be thriving. Yet despite what appears to be an ever so English name, it is French-owned, by Havas Advertising which is part of a utilities-to-marketing services conglomerate. The hands-off approach of its parent has © allowed CDG managing director David Worthington to build the multidisciplinary business born of the merger between his own consultancy, Worthington & Co, and Havas stablemate RSCG Conran Design in 1996.
The latest hint of his expansionist plans was the takeover last month by CDG of another Havas consultancy, literature design group Interface RSCG. At the time of that deal, Worthington said he had plans in the pipeline to develop global muscle and to add product design to CDG’s current mix of retail, graphics and multimedia design. There were also hints of a longer global reach. Watch this space.
Another one to watch is Rodney Fitch & Co/ Wickens Tutt Southgate. Much of Rodney Fitch’s work has been in the Far East. With that market in decline, he is likely to shift the balance, possibly courting more UK clients.
One of the biggest marketing services conglomerates in the design sector has to be UK-based WPP Group, whose global Enterprise Identity Group tops our global listing, with a massive 35.2m fee-income reported for last year. With interests in London (Sampson Tyrrell Enterprise), East and West Coast America and the Far East, Martin Sorrell’s identity empire covers some very lucrative ground in terms of client bases. With the expectation that the five consultancies currently carrying the Enterprise tag will give up their individual identities this year, it will amount to a sizable global business.
Another global WPP consultancy is interiors group BDG McColl, in at 18th with 0.6m fee-income. This too is benefiting from being part of the international WPP network, with referrals for work across the world. BDG McColl operates from London, Bristol, Edinburgh and Manchester in the UK, but has outposts in New York, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and has just opened an office in Hong Kong.
But you don’t have to be part of a big international group to feature in the Top 20 listings. Groups such as branding specialist Design Bridge and Wolff Olins, subject to a management buyout last year, manage it despite being independent and firmly rooted in the UK though with overseas outposts.
Indeed, Wolff Olins is one to watch, judging by its performance in a number of our charts this year. It is among the groups that are repositioning themselves to meet new demands from clients and taking a more proactive stance that are likely to take the industry forward.
So what’s in it for the tiny specialist design groups, which operate locally and have no expectation of direct global influence? The answer is clear. The big players are carving out a name for design across national frontiers and blurring the boundaries between the disciplines in the marketing services fields. Their endeavours can only benefit the whole sector as they steer governments, the financial world and multinational clients towards a more positive attitude to design and the strength of creative thinking that exists within the industry.