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Commissioning Design

By The Drum | Administrator

April 10, 2002 | 7 min read

Design is important. It's no surprise, or at least it shouldn't be, certainly to readers of The Marketeer. The right corporate identity provides the cornerstone for a company's image, portrays (or at least should portray) the style and personality of the company and sends out a message to clients/customers/consumers about exactly what kind of company it is.

As an extension, marketing literature, annual reports, even office interiors, are all influenced, helping to convey not just the look and nature of a company but its feel as well.

But, as many client companies out there will no doubt have experienced, it can be one thing to know all this and quite another to know how to implement it.

Currently, it seems that there are more design consultancies in the North than there are pebbles on Blackpool beach. With so many to choose from, how does a prospective client find the one that will help them create the desired image for their company?

As with any job, the first task is to actually decide what it is you want your future design consultancy to do. Is it a complete brand makeover or do you just want a new brochure knocking up? Do you have a budget in mind?

"Having a design background myself I'm only too aware of the differences a well-prepared, informative brief can make," says Susan Nield, design officer at CIS. "The whole job hinges itself on the brief you give to the consultancy, therefore it's in your own interests to make it informative and motivational. As the saying goes: 'You only get back what you put in.'"

Carol Mathews, director of operations at the Glasgow Science Centre, agrees. She says: "Start with a brief. Until you know what you want you don't know which type of consultancy you're looking for. You also have to think about the purpose of any project you're going to commission. How's it going to be used, what's the schedule, the budget etc?"

Jonathan Falkingham is the chief executive of Urban Splash, he advises: "I think you should always have a budget in mind, but I don't think you should close your mind. Someone might come up with a fantastic idea, but it's outwith your price range, so you should always keep an open mind, although some people in the company may disagree."

Once there's a clear picture in your head as to what your design consultancy should achieve, a decision obviously has to be made as to which ones you'll contact. And how many. This is where past experience helps out many marketing managers. But if you're a first-timer in the business it can be tricky (the aforementioned pebble on the beach situation). The method most frequently employed by marketing managers seems to be word of mouth. Ask around; who's got a reputation? How did they get it? Who's hitting the headlines in The Marketeer magazine?

"Communication and experience are the key points here," says Nield at CIS. "I've built up a good relationship with a number of consultancies over the years and I make sure that I keep up to date with their developments by maintaining contact with them, looking at their websites and reading industry publications."

"Richard Emmott, the head of communications at Yorkshire Water, advises taking the time to go out and meet designers face to face, even when you might not be looking to appoint one right away. He says: "Choosing which agencies to approach is actually harder than managing the pitch process. When I kicked off our design process I knew roughly who in the North I wanted to work with. It's always worth, in between issuing briefs, spending time actually getting to know people."

Another piece of advice commonly issued by marketing managers is to keep your list as small as possible. Contacting every single design consultancy in the country might seem like a good idea at first, but it'll get overwhelming quickly.

Clare Forster, design manager at Glenmorangie, comments: "We just try to keep it small. If there's too many it can just get out of hand and you can't manage it."

Forster is backed up by Mathews at the Glasgow Science Centre: "I don't like to waste people's time, so I think you should have an idea of what companies you're looking at beforehand. I wouldn't go to more than three companies. It gives you a chance to compare creative, suitability and, of course, budget."

"You can definitely have too many on your pitch list," states Rachel Wakeman, marketing manager at Bostik. "We recently had a pitch and we saw six agencies - it was too many. You tend to think the bigger the project the more agencies you need to see, but I don't think that's necessarily right, it's just a human nature thing."

Philip Hogg, the divisional marketing director of Miller Homes, advises that when you're approaching agencies do not just go down the tried and tested route of going with consultancies who specialise in your specific sector.

He says: "I think it's important not just to look at agencies with specific industry experience. You get agencies that have specialised in one sector for years and have worked on loads of companies in that sector, but I think it's better to draw parallels between experience in different agency sectors, so you get them looking at it with fresh eyes. Sometimes over-familiarity can breed complacency."

So, after the tender documents have been sent out, and you've decided which consultancies you'd like to see more of, what then?

Emmott again brings some invaluable advice: "One thing I do is have the other external suppliers, i.e your ad agency, PR guys etc, there as well because they have to be able to work together as a team. They have to be able to work together, understand each other and not always try to steal work off each other."

Agency rivalries aside, a clear goal has to be kept in sight. What are you actually looking for in your consultancy? Most marketing managers seem to advise thinking long-term.

Wakeman says: "When you get to the end of the pitch, ask how the agency is structured, who does what? Who will be working on my account? You've got to meet the person who will be working on your account day to day. If you don't that's when things can start to go wrong - it's about thinking long-term, is this someone you can develop a relationship with?"

"What's important is getting a strategic overview," remarks Hogg at Miller Homes. "Not just looking at the current project, but looking at how the brand can develop over time. Looking at something and saying 'OK, I'm not briefing you on this now, but in six months time will the brand be able to adapt and grow?'"

Falkingham at Urban Splash is optimistic about the state of the design industry in the North. He says: "I think a few years ago there were very few design consultancies that were very aspirational so there were only a few to go to, but that's changed now, there are loads of talented designers out there. I think you just have to probe them. As long as you take reasonable precautions you should end up with a good design consultancy."

In the end, appointing a design consultancy is a lot about trust. Trust in the consultancy to be able to follow through on their promises, trust in the designers to be able to handle your brand in the best way for your company and trust in yourself to be able to let them. Take it from those with experience: appoint someone you feel you can work with, as opposed to just working for you. If you don't you might not just be wasting their time but, more importantly, yours as well.


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