The number crunchers

By The Drum, Administrator

March 3, 2003 | 13 min read

Stairway to heaven: 999 Design directors Richard Bissland and Bill Gaughan discuss whose office will be home to the hat stand trophy for the next year.

In this day and age there seems to be a glamorous awards ceremony every week, with girls and guys trying to outdo one another on the red carpet. Therefore, it was only appropriate that this year’s annual Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year lunch was held at the newly launched Radisson SAS Hotel in Glasgow’s city centre.

So, whilst it might not have been the sort of event that had people reaching to the back of their wardrobes to pull out that glorious one-off haute couture piece (designers can take a laid-back approach to their fashion), the good and the glorious gathered for what was to be an interesting, and slightly unexpected day of winners. And, whilst not one winner managed to thank God, or their agent, there were still a few tears (and drinks) shed following the ceremony.

Handing out the prized first places and also the infamous hat stand for design consultancy of the year was Robert Ferguson, regional managing director of the award’s sponsor, Robert Horne paper.

Before the wine started to flow freely, guest speaker Michael Johnson of award-winning design consultancy johnson banks gave us his words of wisdom on problem-solving in the design industry.

The Science Bit

Let the catfight begin. The judging this time around has varied slightly in order to give a more precise and accurate result. All consultancies were invited to send in their financial details and client details, along with work that they had completed in the past year for the creative poll, and their nominations for the peer poll. They were also asked to nominate which heavy hitter they thought was worthy of the accolade of managing director of the year, along with who they would be keeping their eye on in the next 12 months for the One to Watch category. The results were then collated and compiled into three categories – a peer poll, financial poll and a creative poll, with a top 10 being compiled following the first three rounds.

Now, this is where things start to get a little more complicated so please concentrate.

The Drum wanted to know some more information about the consultancy this year and therefore asked each of the companies that entered to supply a top 15 client list to add what is probably the most important aspect – the client relationship – into the mix. Because, as all consultancies will concur, the client truly is king in this day and age.

The client lists were then sent to market research company MRUK, who interviewed each client and polled them in a variety of different areas, in order to ascertain the strength of the consultancy–client relationship. These results were then placed in an overall top ten table and from that we were able to garner who would take home the much coveted hat stand and the mantle of Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year.

Thirty-one portfolios were entered into the Creative Poll, and blood, sweat and tears were shed determining a winner. The judging panel was made up of creatives from the North West of England, and consisted of Dave Palmer at Love Creative, David Wood at Iris Design, Harriet Devoy at The Chase and Ady Bibby of True North.

The final part of the poll was based on financial results and, we can safely say, was not settled by us mere mortals at The Drum. Instead, accountants Baker Tilly whipped out their calculators and blinded us with their mathematical wizardry, coming up with a top 10 of finalists. Thanks in particular to Richard Gibson for all the results.

Robert Horne Scottish Design

Consultancy of the Year 2003

It may have come as a little surprise that there was no out-and-out winner when it came to deciding which Scottish design consultancy would have its name engraved on the prestigious hat stand trophy this year.

With a different company topping each of our four main polls, the winner was only discovered after crunching the numbers. But having topped the financial poll, along with featuring in the top 10 in two of the other key polls, along with being named runner-up last year, 999 Design was awarded the hotly contested title of Robert Horne Scottish Design Consultancy of the Year.

999 Design, the design firm founded by Richard Bissland and Bill Gaughan in 1982, has a variety of clients that include high-profile companies such as Orange, Reebok and Warburton’s. The company, which has offices in London, Manchester and Glasgow, has made a sharp impact in the design community as a whole in the past year.

Accepting the award, creative director Keith Forbes made a somewhat hasty speech saying: “We are really surprised by this, but we are also really happy to have won this award. It really is quite a surprise. Thank you.”

newton.eh6 was ranked in joint second place, improving on its ranking of seventh in the previous year, alongside relative newcomers Hookson, who managed to storm into second place, following their impressive performance in the client poll.

The Peer Poll

Everyone wants to be the crème de la crème of their peer group. Last year’s winner, Graphic Partners, was the gang that everyone wanted to be part of, but was unable to sustain this winning streak for a second year. Instead, newton.eh6 managed to grab the crown and be named winner of this year’s Peer Poll. The Edinburgh-based design consultancy has experienced some upheaval over the past 12 months – most notably its chief designer, Graham Walker, leaving the fold and going over to last year’s winner, Graphic Partners. Perhaps The Drum’s Peer Poll will start a new employment trend amongst designers. If so, can we have 20 per cent commission? Joking aside, the newton.eh6 team has managed to fight back from this and in doing so has earned the respect of all within the industry.

BD-TANK has come second in this poll, even though it too has gone through a radical change and overhaul, following the loss of five of its key design team. But more about them later.

In third place this year is Graphic Partners, which has slipped down two places from last year.

navyblue was ranked fourth, while overall winners on the day, 999 Design, came fifth. Tying for sixth place was a veritable mix of designers, with Graven Images and Teviot filling the spaces.

The final three for the top 10 were Chunk, Pointsize and Revolver, all of whom managed to fill eighth place.

Client Satisfaction Poll

Successful companies are often rated on one main criterion – what their clients think of them. Therefore, with this in mind, The Drum decided to add this additional poll into the mix in order to give a fair assessment of what clients are actually doing at the moment.

Top of this particular chart might come as a surprise to some, especially as they have only been up and running for the past 18 months. But Bryan Hook’s determination has paid off and, following his departure from Tayburn, he has gone from strength to strength.

Hookson’s client list comprises both national and multinational companies, including Wedgewood, Kyndal, Scottish Courage and the Royal Bank of Scotland. The company scored top marks in a variety of research categories, including understanding of business, provision of practical ideas, rating of creativity, overall service, and value for money.

Coming second in this particular category was Teviot, with a client list that includes Scottish Enterprise, Malmaison Hotels and Cruden Homes.

Overall winner on the day, 999 Design, was placed in third position in this poll, whilst Tayburn was ranked fourth.

Joint fifth place winners were newton.eh6 and Shaw Marketing and Design.

Graphic Partners, Pure, The Big Picture and navyblue were polled on places seven to 10 respectively.

The Financial Poll

Of the 31 agencies that provided figures for the league table, we have had various results with firms’ revenue starting at £285,000 and increasing to almost £6.5m. However, these figures should not be the sole factor in analysing an agency’s financial prowess.

As well as looking at revenue performance in the league table we have looked at revenue growth, revenue per direct marketing staff employed, revenue per direct marketing client and also design fee income and growth compared to the previous year.

Top of the table this year is 999, which was not a leader in any of the specific categories but has performed well across the board, proving that financial strength cannot be measured on year factor alone. It had the highest revenue, of £3.6m (a 6 per cent increase on last year and second highest revenue at £133,000).

Runner-up this year is Shaw Marketing and Design, which, like 999, was not out-and-out leader in any of the categories but again had strong results in all but one field. If they can strengthen their revenue per client then they will be serious contenders for the top spot next year.

The Big Picture has secured third spot, which is impressive when you compare their revenue of £937,000 against some of the heavy hitters who are bringing in six times that amount. Good revenue and fee growth have helped them gain this position, and by increasing revenue per member of staff they too will be challenging top spot next year.

The agency with the highest revenue was Tayburn, which also won the accolade last year, its revenue being down 6 per cent on last year, however. If it’s any consolation to Tayburn it is not alone in suffering decreasing revenues; indeed, more than half of the firms have seen their revenues decrease in the last year.

Two firms bucking the trends this time are Nevis, which has enjoyed an impressive revenue of 210 per cent (fee growth of 243 per cent), and also Freight, which has the second highest revenue growth, coming in at 107 per cent (fee growth 119 per cent).

newton.eh6, who say their direct marketing staff bring in £417k each on average in the last year, achieves the highest revenue per member of staff. The next closest is Redpath, with its direct marketing staff bringing in £320k in the year.

Tayburn gets a mention again, with the highest revenue per client of £142k. The top three should be keeping an eye on Tayburn; if it can stop its revenue and fee income from decreasing over the next year and get it going in a more positive direction then it will be the one to beat next year.

The Creative Poll

A total of 31 portfolios were entered into the competition, with the judging panel having the arduous task of attempting to find the best creative work in the land. The decision was not easily made, with a high quality of work being submitted by the majority of consultancies.

The judges, however, believed that one portfolio of work stood out head and shoulders above the rest – and the winner of this category goes to none other than BD–Tank.

The portfolio was praised by all four of our judges, with Harriet Devoy saying of the work, “It was an outstanding portfolio with some really well designed and beautifully crafted pieces of work.”

Both the Activity Book and BD-Tank’s work for Tower 464 were singled out for considerable praise by all the judges.

Pure came in second place in the creative poll, newcomers to the poll from last year, closely followed by Glasgow-based design consultancy Locofoco, which again was a new entry from last year’s poll. Third Eye Design managed to hold on to its fourth place spot, whilst newcomers Elmwood made a respectable debut in fifth place.

Best Piece of Work

This year’s best piece of work came as a unanimous decision by all the judges, with praise being lavished on BD-Tank’s Activity Book. Ady Bibby of True North said that the book was “a beautifully handled piece of work, desperately simple yet bang on the mark. Typography, stock, illustration all added to an endearing result”.

David Wood added that it was a “nice idea communicated with fun and interest – this made the judges keep coming back to it and liking it”, whilst Harriet Devoy said, quite simply, of the book, “Great, I want a copy.” Judge Dave Palmer summed up all the work from BD-Tank saying: “They demonstrated a varied, crafted vocabulary that placed them head and shoulders above their competition.”

Managing Director of the Year

Ken Cassidy has been at the helm of Pointsize for the past 17 years, and with over 30 years’ experience in design he is well respected by all of his peers in the industry.

Prior to setting up Pointsize he was employed at the College of Building and Printing as a teacher in Graphic Design. He still maintains links with many colleges in the Central Belt, advising students on graphic design, and assessing current work.

The decision to set up on his own came from an offer from the private sector that was too good to refuse, namely an offer of a contract from the National Museum of Scotland.

Pointsize has been independent since separating from Tayburn three years ago, and the company has gone from strength to strength since.

Cassidy currently employs 10 staff and is based in the south side of Glasgow, just minutes away from Glasgow's city centre. Whilst he admits that the past 12 months have not been the easiest, he does believe that things are moving on and to highlight this has been involved in over seven pitches already this year, and is currently recruiting for another member of staff.

He is keen to stress that work to him is not an arduous task. “I love what I do. There are a hell of a lot of other jobs out in the world that I would hate to have to do, and I find myself privileged to be doing a job that I am so passionate about.”

One to Watch

The past year has been relatively quiet in terms of start-ups and breakaways within the design community. That was, until Christmas.

Stand is undoubtedly the one company within the design community that others will be keeping a close eye on over the next 12 months and it is therefore the winner in this category.

With a winning creative team including Stuart Gilmour, Maggie Murray, Tom Maitland, Tim Wilcox and Emlyn Firth, and with the addition of Mark Stephenson from The Leith Advertising Agency, the force is undoubtedly strong in this young company.


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