Multimedia needs a champion to survive

It’s ironic that an area of design key to the industry’s future should be so treacherous for consultancies trying to do the very best work. I am talking of multimedia, which claimed another top-level victim last week as Malcolm Garrett’s ground-breaking group AMX Digital went into voluntary liquidation (see News, page 3).

There is a happy ending to the AMX story, with Real Time Studio adding the consultancy to its empire within the media stable of French conglomerate Havas. Real Time gains a highly creative team in the vanguard of multimedia design, the staff keep their jobs and AMX its integrity.

Less fortunate were the 17 staff axed by Webmedia Group, as it refocused its offer on providing strategy only (DW 16 January). Smaller specialists such as the burgeoning Deep End Design benefited, picking up jobs and people, but Webmedia’s policy shift shows how hard it is to sustain a sizable design group with multimedia as its main thrust. We can only hope the last of the “big three”, On Line Magic, can avoid a similar fate.

Why is this happening? Multimedia is on a roll, touching all our lives and, by being interactive, potentially surpassing print as a communication network. The reasons are clear: the ad hoc business skills of most specialists; the high investment in kit it takes to stay on the front line; the ignorance of clients of the importance of the media; and their poor treatment of practitioners.

The business skills issue dogs all design groups not at the sharp end. But with multimedia the problem is more acute because it attracts passionate enthusiasts who are relatively young and lack experience. This plays into the hands of clients keen to get into multimedia, without knowing exactly what or why. They aren’t prepared to pay much – the fees cited by the top 20 multimedia groups in Design Week’s 1998 Consultancy Survey compare badly with the figures quoted for print (DW 27 March) – and bad practices such as free-pitching are rife. Only groups offering other disciplines or tiny teams can hope to survive.

It doesn’t help that many multimedia “clients” are other media groups, claiming expertise they haven’t got and bringing in specialists to fill the gap. There’s no certainty, no real respect – they’re just suppliers – and no credit. They’re also last in line for payment.

Multimedia will help determine design’s standing against other creative services. But, unless a champion emerges – ideally through the cross-industry Halifax Initiative – that influence could be lost. We need firm leadership to stop that happening – and soon.

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