Top 100 shows the need for creativity and communication

Congratulations to Imagination for maintaining pole position in the Top 100 this year. The ‘experience design’ specialist may not have made great strides in 2008 (see supplement), but it held its own in difficult times and has yet to meet a serious challenger.

This is no mean feat. For while this year’s Top 100 reflects a period before recession really kicked in in the fourth quarter of 2008, the signs were there earlier in the year, with events and exhibitions likely casualties as clients became hesitant about commissioning new projects.

Imagination’s continuing success suggests that creativity can be a winner in business, however tough times become. Clients still need to communicate with customers and stakeholders and to promote new products and services. The more astute the client, the more likely it is to turn to design for this.

But the Top 100 also shows that well-run design groups can succeed, even in recession. Keeping costs low and maintaining a fees-perhead ratio commensurate with an efficient business helps to guard against the uncertainties recession brings. Those that have done well this year have generally kept things in check.

Relatively few of the Top 100 groups anticipate major growth this year, but the smart ones will no doubt find new avenues for their expertise – witness Navyblue’s foray into Oman (DW 21 May).

We can also expect alternative business models to emerge. This is more likely to emanate from start-ups that are formed as bigger groups trim down, but established consultancies can take a lead in this. In this issue, for example, Landor’s European head Cheryl Giovannoni talks of a new style of leadership required in recession (see Business Insight, page 22).

The key thing is to stay positive, keep abreast of what is going on in the client world and understand the pressures your clients are under. It is also a great time to network within design and share experiences with your peers. Design is a supportive business and it is amazing how much that can help.


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  • Simon Hutton November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Last year was a good year for us at to the point but when filling in this years forms we took a cautious approach to future growth in 2009. All the trademarks of recession were there. Having set up in ’91 we’ve experienced it before, so a great time for start-ups but I was more than surprised that we were one of only two to put forward negative growth. For us this would still see us in profit but realistic about the coming year. We have grown steadily and secured a debt free business with owned premises – in boom times we didn’t over expand, over indulge or rely on one sector or client. With steady growth, a focus on client service, delivery and value for money we have retained a wide client base across a variety of sectors. Budgets have been cut, projects put on hold and long term relationships with individuals ended through redundancy but work is still coming in. We will for now remain focused on helping these existing clients rather than chasing the ever increasing number of unpaid pitches for new business. There may not be the money now but when things do improve these clients will work with the suppliers/partners who have supported them through tough times. The lost colleagues will get new jobs and growth will be on the cards again. So for now its helping some of them make their CVs look more creative and even looking at our own brand and communications. It’s the first time in 18 years that we’ve had the time and with sound investment in the business and our staff we will weather this recession and come out strong on the other side.
    We’ll need to evolve our offer to suit the new landscape, but without jumping on the sustainability band wagon of designers changing the world. I prefer the more modest ‘butterfly effect’ that even small changes we help our clients make will have an impact.

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