The ebb and flow of design consultancy expansions into and out of France has been rather erratic over the past few years. Anglo-French design operations, from Habitat to Landor Associates, have toyed with French headquarters, not all of which have stayed the course. On the other hand, French group CarrÃ© Noir has retracted its UK presence in the past 12 months, putting paid to the Paris London New York strapline on its website. Perhaps if industry reports that French advertising group Publicis is poised to buy CarrÃ© Noir are true, its list of offices in Germany, Tokyo and New York will soon change again.
The international branding fraternity is there, of course. After the recent economic dip of the past few years, France is now seeing an increase in spending by large government-backed companies. Big names such as Air France are repositioning themselves and UK design consultancies are on the pitch lists for this work.
Design consultancies making it work in France include Landor Associates, FutureBrand Worldwide and Fitch, though Enterprise IG and Interbrand have not set up camp here. Syzygy is there now and digital media rivals are also looking at the lay of the land.
The size of the these consultancies is a major factor in successfully securing big contracts in France. UK consultancies are able to provide a level of expertise that French groups find very difficult to match, and a lot of the work is in areas where UK consultancies have been traditionally strong – in packaging, retail interiors and corporate branding.
But, according to Mark Pinder, UK business development director at FutureBrand Worldwide, France is the most difficult market in Europe to crack in terms of winning new business.
“The market can be a problem and you have to have that French presence if you want to do well out there. Their culture is very different and you need to have an understanding of that,” he says.
Pinder points to advertising agency McCann Erickson as an example of what happens to a foreign company that doesn’t easily integrate itself into French culture.
“McCann Erickson came into France and was seen to be an American company and so French clients would not work with it on that basis. They eventually bought a French company and the name McCann Erickson was not mentioned again,” he says.
Landor Associates heads its European operations from here, according to a UK spokeswoman for the group, although this is not a factor which is often highlighted by Landor. Jean-Louis Dumeu, president, Europe, is based at the Paris offices.
Nicolas Chomette, development director for Landor Associates in France, believes French client companies are still quite traditional in the way they respond to design consultancies.
“The clients appreciate that UK companies are more experienced in design terms, but the French market is not developed enough to accept strategic solutions. They see it as an advertising discipline,” says Chomette.
Chomette believes the way forward for English consultancies in France is to build a strong strategy for the client and communicate that strategy effectively. But to put the solutions across in a way that French client companies are going to accept, there needs to be strong French presence on the ground.
“English people are not credible in front of French clients because of the language barrier and the cultural differences,” explains Chomette.
“You can have an English creative director, but you need a French face to establish relationships. Design is a very cultural product and the French are not ready to accept a relationship with the English,” explains Chomette.
Fitch established a presence in France when it bought Peclers Paris for £2.2m from French advertising and communications group Euro RSCG. John Harrison, chief executive officer of Fitch Europe, believes there is a change in the way design is perceived by French client companies, particularly by those positioned in major industries such as telecoms, financial services and the car industry.
“We are seeing a different breed of management nowadays who are younger, have travelled wider and so understand design and the importance of design as we know it in the UK,” he explains.
The French design market is fragmented, with the majority of standalone consultancies offering a single design service rather than bringing to the table a range of disciplines, says Harrison. He believes that French clients have traditionally seen the design business as a series of specialist craft professions and have bought design services on that basis.
“There is now a recognition among clients that there is a need for a holistic approach to design and design companies are going to have to react to compete,” he adds.
Chomette says Landor is successful because the company is big enough and is able to communicate its ideas effectively. “You have to manage the product very differently in France. The project we have done with France Telecom saw us build its business strategy and communicate it through design. French companies are going to have to match that in order to compete,” he says.
On the digital media front, UK-founded Syzygy established a Paris presence in the past 12 months, having merged with and renamed the French digital media group NetForce.
UK consultancies are bringing to France a way of approaching design that does not conform to the traditional approach of French design consultancies. UK companies are able to offer a broad range of services, such as strategic services in addition to the creative product. It is opening up French client companies to a new way of looking at design, and its effectiveness.