Links between groups add up to better offer

So, “collaboration” has entered into the parlance of annual report design. Last month annual report specialist Addison repositioned itself, broadening its offer by forming partnerships with other corporate communications groups. Now Pauffley tells us it has been forging links with other agencies for some time (see News, page 5), and other consultancies for which annual reports form a key part of the workload are rumoured to be following suit.

The one-time elite of print design are finding that their world is changing fast and unless they change accordingly, they could be overtaken by other communications specialists. Just as deregulation of the Stock Exchange in the Eighties turned annual reports into promotional documents and a lucrative outlet for creativity for designers, so the boom in communications media has made it desirable for company data to be broadcast in various forms.

A short summary of financial data, for example, is enough for stakeholders and most shareholders these days, so why not for the City types? After all, the annual report started life as a simple agenda for a public company’s agm, so, in an extreme scenario, why shouldn’t it go back to its origins? Media such as the Internet, CD-ROMs and brochures, meanwhile, might well be the best way to interpret the company’s message for other audiences.

The upshot for specialist design groups could be a loss of income as finance-related publications shrink, or losing out to the printers they use for reports which are smart enough to bring a bit of design in-house. We’ve already seen a bit of that in the economic downturn of the early-Nineties. Then there’s the threat of losing position with the client to other marketing services businesses offering broad communications packages.

In the Eighties, when annual reports took off as a design discipline, multidisciplinary consultancies such as the former Michael Peters Group added them to their stable. Since then more specialist groups have emerged – Addison, CGI and C&FD, for example – though it hasn’t stopped creative hothouses such as The Partners, CDT Design and Johnson Banks getting in on the act.

All have cracked it with the client, getting more direct access to a company’s board directors than through most other design jobs. How much more sensible, therefore, to collaborate with other teams with similar clout to engineer the client’s entire corporate marketing strategy. The client gets a better, more integrated deal; the design group emerges as a mature business player in business and learns more about communications into the bargain.

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