This year’s Love: Consultancy of the Year

The Best 25 Design Agencies outside of London

Man has always struggled when it comes to defining Love. Is it a design agency? Is it an ad agency? Is it both or something different? Much like the Love Lionel Ritchie sings about, it means something different to everyone.

Despite the agency’s proficiency across the board - most notably in advertising and, since 2007, digital - there are many that still regard Love as a design agency. Not because their other offerings don’t cut the cloth, but because year on year the Manchester team have been competing with the very best in the design community - be it for new business or awards.

At this year’s Design Lunch, held at Castlefield Rooms in Manchester, the agency once again cemented its design credentials with another accolade. Love won the Design Consultancy of the Year award in 2007, taking the honour from the event’s most successful ever agency, Elmwood, but retaining the accolade this year was always going to be tough.

Elmwood’s consistency for delivering high-profile and award-winning work meant they were always going to be a fierce competitor, while Thompson’s unassuming approach and highly creative style is enduringly popular among clients and peers alike. Add to that, newer consultancies like Glorious and Mark Studio - both climbing in stature and reputation - and this year was always going to be a close run thing.

But in the end, Love proved to be the most outstanding design consultancy of the last twelve months. It ranked highly for client satisfaction, came top in the peer and creative polls and co-founder Alistair Sim was voted Managing Director of the Year.

But as the polls that follow suggest, there were other agencies that were rewarded for impressive performances this year.

Hemisphere’s ability to collect new business and maximising the potential of existing relationships saw the firm collect the top spot in the Financial Poll. Previous One to Watch, Mark Studio, featured in both the Financial and Peer Polls, and came out number one for client satisfaction. While Overall Thompson and Elmwood’s success across the board meant they pushed Love all the way, coming in at number two and three overall, respectively. Meanwhile, Glorious and Mark Studio completed the top five.

HOW IT ALL WORKS

Professionals working in the industry and those that the industry serves have been polled to judge who is outperforming the competition. The results fall into four key polls - financial, creative, peer and client satisfaction.

First up is the Financial Poll. All entering agencies were asked to fill in detailed financial results for their agency, which were then compiled by accountants WDM to produce a league table of financial performance.

Secondly, there’s the Client Satisfaction Poll. As part of the research, 115 clients ranked the agencies they work with in terms of account handling, creativity, strategic thinking, value for money and overall professionalism.

Up next is the Peer Poll, where agencies and individuals working in the industry were invited to name the firm they considered to be the outstanding design agency of the last twelve months.

The fourth and final poll is creative. Entrants were asked to submit a portfolio of work and this year we added in scores from awards won from Design Week, the Roses Design Awards and DBA.

In addition, two special awards come in the form of the One to Watch and MD of the Year. Both accolades are decided by nominations made by all of the surveyed companies. The research demonstrated that competition is as tough as ever, especially when chasing new business. Agencies are constantly working to improve levels of service as they aim to make sure design - or, more accurately, good design - is at the heart of every client’s strategy.

Hemisphere’s financial success comes after a year of organic client growth, winning roster-based pitches held by existing clients, as well as a steady flow of new business success. Place branding has always been a key strength of the agency and the last year has been indicative of this, with the launch of branding for the town of Oldham and Manchester’s Greengate Embankment area. In addition, Hemisphere has retained its place on the NWDA design roster for up to four years and continued to handle briefs for the Imperial War Museum North.

An Agency Called England

What are your recent major achievements?

We have worked hard to overcome hostile challenges from former members of staff leaving the business. At the same time we have been bedding in a completely new management structure while continuing to win new business and retain our established clients.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Cartridge World, Burgess Supafeeds, Lambs Navy Rum, Tsingtao, VHEY (Visit Hull and East Yorkshire), World Trade Centre and Samantha Bond Models.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Yes, a new MD and restructured client services.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

The biggest challenge has been maintaining the integrity of the work when budgets are under pressure.

What opportunities do you see for the future?

The best ideas and cleverest agencies will come through the difficult patches ahead.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

There has been no obvious change in clients’ spend.

ATTIK

What are your recent major achievements?

The last year has been pretty hectic for us. Major milestones include another book that marks our first 20 years, Noise Five. We’ve gone back to our roots – it’s all home grown, designed at ATTIK in Leeds, New York and San Francisco, printed in Sheffield. We also sold ATTIK. Selling a business is not an overnight task, but the outcome is unbelievable and the experience gained through that process is invaluable.

What new business have you won in the last year?

We continue to work with The Coca-Cola Company on a number of EU and global projects; in addition we are working with Heineken, adidas and Sheraton Hotels & Resorts. In the US we have continued success with Scion, more recent clients include Lexus and AOL.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Becoming part of Dentsu, who are the world’s largest advertising agency brand, has meant a number of structural changes. This mostly involves adapting alongside their global reporting processes and procedures. From a creative point of view, they don’t want to mess with our product – nor do we want them to. They have the foresight to see that’s what they bought into and leave that entirely to us.

What opportunities do you see for the future?

The BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are hot for great design right now, and they all appear to have money to spend on it, which is a bonus. We are pursuing these markets hand-in-hand with our new parent company. Obvious cultural differences mean it can be slow burn, but it will grow in years to come.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

In the UK clients are spending less. Although we don’t have many UK clients (for that very reason), certain markets around the world seem to be spending more.

B&W Studio

What are your recent major achievements?

Winnings three Roses Design Awards, one Design Week Award, two McNaughton Review Awards and inclusion in the Creative Review Photography Annual.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Urban Splash/Amec Developments, Sevenhr, Vanguard, Clarendons Heath Spa, Rent Inc, Simon Fenton Partnership, Stickyetes.com, Business Mortgages, Lifetime Financial Management, Showing: Expectations, CityRed Properties.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

This year will be hard, especially for the larger agencies. Maybe expect one or two smaller companies to go under - I think we are in for a bad year! The more established consultancies will always withstand the economic pressures

Are clients spending more or less on design?

I think they are spending less, in a more specific way. They used to spend more to manage their brands better. Smaller business to business clients don’t want to part with their money and find it harder to justify what they are spending. Retail/consumer brands will always spend lots of money.

Checkland Kindleyside

What are your recent major achievements?

We’ve had our most successful year ever, with the highest turnover in our 29 year history. We’ve also won numerous awards for our work confirming our No.1 spot in the Retail Interiors league tables.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Significant new accounts in a variety of industries from fashion to DIY, cosmetics to charity and technology.

Have there been any changes in structure?

No. But we have continued to expand what we do, with ‘Strategy and Insight’ now a major part of our offer.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

The continuing economic climate is affecting everyone similarly and, as every year, the industry will face new challenges of new briefs and new clients often with reduced budgets. As an industry we need to ensure that we never stand still and continue to explore new ways to communicate with consumers in an ever changing landscape. The issues surrounding the environment and sustainability are laying down new challenges for designers, how to balance the desire of a greener ethic with the challenges of client’s commercial expectations

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Clients are spending more on design, but it is far more connected; from physical store to every level of communication. This, from the client viewpoint, represents a more potent use of budget. From a consumer point of view it is creating simplicity and demystification. For the design consultancy it means a larger proportion and control of the clients overall activity.

Different Ltd.

What are your recent major achievements?

Being appointed to lead the inaugural Dott 07 by the Design Council and One NorthEast, increasing our team headcount and extending our client list against a backdrop of industry uncertainty.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Commissions from Superdrug, Sainsbury’s, Indesit, P&G, Greggs, North East England Tourism, Taste North East England Regional Food & Drink Group, Dott 07 Designs Of The Times, Bramall Construction.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Impact of credit crunch – protecting client investment in design budgets, showing ROI

What opportunities do you see for the future?

Integration – with digital and other disciplines.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

More.

Dinosaur

What are your recent major achievements?

We’ve appointed a CEO. Grown the agency to 21 people. Been retained as one of The Co-operative’s roster agencies after they reduced the number of agencies from 45 to just 10.

What new business have you won in the last year?

npower, REALM, Gola and Urbis.

Have there been any changes in structure?

We’ve seriously re-structured at the top, bringing in Grant Mercer as our new CEO. Grant brings with him a wealth of knowledge, experience and strategic thinking to help attract clients that our size and structure wouldn’t have previously allowed. This frees our two creative directors Mark Beaumont and Chris Lloyd to do what they do best – creating challenging, surprising, cutting-edge work.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

To place more emphasis on problem solving rather than aesthetics.

What opportunities do you see for the future?

To attract more people with more problems that need solving.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

More. More or less.

Elmwood

What are your recent major achievements?

Launched own tea brand make mine a builders.

What new business have you won in the last year?

PZ Cussons for Carex, Morning Fresh, Original Source. The Met office, AG Barr, British Chambers of Commerce, Park Cake Bakeries.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Implemented new three year business plan. Introduced chapters in the business discipline-led teams that work across all our offices to ensure everything we do is stunningly effective. New MDs in each office now working even more closely together.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

General economic climate, finding the best young talent, proving our worth to clients in terms of ROI and effectiveness, maintaining positions of brand specialists and fending off integrated agencies, fulfilling potential of design and to move further up the food chain.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Most clients are spending at least as much as before, if not more. In the current economic conditions it’s more important than ever before to get value for money.

Glorious

What are your recent major achievements?

Tate Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Exhibition – exhibition graphics, 100 page and seven metre timeline for Tate Liverpool’s largest ever exhibition over three floors. Working with Carlisle Airport to relaunch the ‘airport for the Lakes’. Appointed to the IoD to redeisgn its marketing material in the north west. Appointed to Arts Council to launch its largest event in the NW - art07.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Made the design panel of the NWDA – beating 60 agencies. Zig Zag Papers appointed us to the relaunch of Job papers. Carlisle Airport, lots of fast growth SME rebrands, including steel company Mayflower Technology to the MTL Group and Salford Uni.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Free pitching - same old story.

What opportunities do you see for the future?

Good brands in the north, pulling more back home.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Some. No sign of recession as yet that’s for sure.

Hemisphere

What are your recent major achievements?

Manchester Art Treasures 150th anniversary exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery; production of new culture magazine for the NWDA; Renaming and rebranding of G-Mex as Manchester Central; New tram livery for Manchester’s metrolink; Animals War exhibition at Imperial War Museum.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Rebranding of Oldham; Greengate Embankment for Ask Developments; Preston Museums Family Campaign; Magnum War Photographer’s exhibition at Imperial War Museum North; Identity and website design for Staying Cool - hip/boutique apartment company.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Increase in staff numbers from 8-10

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Tightening up of clients budgets overall and the forecasted reduction in consumer spending. The increasing role of the procurement pedants in any public sector contracts. Another public sector issue is finding a feasible creative route through the DDA minefield and the creeping assertion that everything has to be in 14pt Arial to be accessible.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Less, as the argument about the value of design is still not getting through. Most councils treat design as if they were procuring nuts and bolts, not something that has a fundamental impact on how they communicate with their communities.

Home

What are your recent major achievements?

Driving all three trading divisions into profit, two of which (sports marketing and online marketing) were in their first year of trading.

What new business have you won in the last year?

William Hill, Jet2holidays, Grand Central Railway, Deva Taps, Iberostar Hotels, Speakout, The Comparisons.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Maintaining workable margins in a slow down economy.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

More payment by results opportunities.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

About the same.

Like A River

What are your recent major achievements?

Our focus is the creativity, so sustaining our creative credentials nationally (top 20 for all awards!) is fantastic for such a small staff.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Lancashire & Blackpool; Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust; Mybeau. Plus two/ongoing branding reviews which should feed work in for around six to nine months.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Not really. A little bit smaller staff wise.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Promoting ‘Good design sells more’. I believe that electricians have just got themselves 12% over two years. I suppose as design will be helping to save costs and sell more at the same time, then 15% raise over two years would be reasonable?

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

Just get stuck in. Don’t get sucked into discounting, but do show flexibility and a willingness to do business.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

We haven’t seen any significant change. The current ‘climate of uncertainty’ in reality just brings out the bargain hunters. I think that people who understand creativity are still prepared to spend the right amount.

Love

What are your recent major achievements?

Awards success – leading the field at Roses and Fresh, plus two Design Week awards. Integrating digital offer.

What new business have you won in the last year

Dr Martens, Nandos, MBNA, Microsft, V Festival, James, STA Travel, Christian Aid, National Year of Reading, Taylors of Harrogate

Have there been any changes in structure?

Cofounder David Simpson left the business returning his shares to the company’s three other founders. Integrated a digital offer within the company.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Budgets tightening. Continued decline of high-end print production. Rise of procurement departments

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

Embrace digital or be left behind.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

More but only as a result of moving marketing budget out of advertising and not because of a new found respect for or love of design.

Mark Studio

What are your recent major achievements?

Nine new clients, Agency of The Year one to watch, D&AD book entry.

What new business have you won in the last year?

NWDA, Manchester City Council, Manchester City Football Club, Carr-Gomm, City & Guilds, EMI, Hope Property Development, Manchester Literature Festival.

Have there been any changes in structure?

A new designer, found new premises in city centre.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

To realise value design adds at boardroom level.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

To regulate agencies separating wheat from chaff.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Difficult to say, depends on the client.

NE6

What are your recent major achievements?

Turning the tanker around and making a profit. Achieving a DBA design effectiveness award.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Retail, tourism property, public sector, educational, professional, rural diversification.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Economic downturn.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

Increasing awareness of design effectiveness and the return on investments therein.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

It’s less hard for them to justify expenditure and there’s less evident returns as a result.

Peter & Paul

What are your recent major achievements?

Increasing turnover, profit and client wins. Developing a marketing and new business strategy for 2008. Creating a new portfolio of projects.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Six new clients who need identity/rebranding projects.

Have there been any changes in structure?

New business director. Full time senior designer.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Staying in business during impending economic decline.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

Squeezing more out the property development boom.

Purple Circle

What are your recent major achievements?

The huge amount of recognition with Bewilderwood has been amazing. It has been a great year overall, by far the most creative of the past 17 years.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Foxfield Hotel & Spa; The Burley rebrand. It’s been the relationships that we have maintained with our clients that have been the most successful.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Yes, we brought in two new young directors which has already shown to be a positive move.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Competing with freelancers is one. Everyone is meeting at the brand, the merge in disciplines and trying to control your costs. Also, there is a corporate backlash forming; people are starting to go against big brands.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

Maintaining brilliant brands on and offline. Making mass markets feel like they’re the only market.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Both. What clients are doing is demanding better service for their money and more consistently great service.

Red Design

What are your recent major achievements?

Designing and art directing international fashion campaigns, several major album campaigns including the Girls Aloud album, and making lots of great videos for Sony Playstation. Winning Grand Prix at Roses Awards, being shortlisted for European design awards and Design Week awards, and featuring in Creative Review’s annual. We also nearly doubled our turnover.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Highlights include: securing one of a select few places on both design and video rosters for Playstation Europe, which has led to several high profile design and motion graphic/video commissions; we also secured several major album campaigns, a big installation project for Emap; and several major fashion advertising, print, identity and online commissions.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Not really, just expanded core team in all areas, design, sales/marketing and account management.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Fees – under constant pressure from competition, procurement departments, budget cuts, technology, etc – the only way to resist and retain value is to offer premium ideas, craft and service to premium clients who recognize the value of that and are prepared to pay accordingly. Free pitching – doing work for free sucks, and should be made illegal (seriously!). Agencies do it because they have to; clients do it because they can. Working across different media – unless you see this as an opportunity rather than a threat you are going to be in serious trouble. And it’s not just print and online, moving image is also becoming key.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

It sounds perverse, but I think a downturn in the economy will be a good thing for our business. Quality companies will always get work and survive, but it will get rid of the dross, making for a cleaner, leaner, meaner, higher quality and more professional industry.Are clients spending more or less on design?

They’re spending the same. The only issue is that it’s the same value as a few years ago, and not keeping up with wages/costs (and they are expecting more for it).

SUMO

What are your recent major achievements?

Development of our interactive service from a loss making department to a rapidly growing, profitable and important section of the company working for high profile clients like the BBC.

What new business have you won in the last year?

In the UK we have added Arts Council England, BBC, The National Trust, Brighton & Hove Museums to our client list, whilst further afield we are working with Russian State Museums and the Egyptian Tourist Board.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

With the slowdown in the British economy, agencies need to look to opportunities abroad; this isn’t something which most agencies know how to do.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

In 2008 roughly 30% of our turnover will come from clients overseas, we see this as a big growth area. British design has a great reputation overseas and it’s worth overcoming the language and cultural barriers to pitch for high value contracts abroad.

Taxi Studio

What are your recent major achievements?

Being ranked 5th in the UK for branding/packing and 7th in the UK for creativity by Design Week. We were recently voted the best design studio in the south west by The Drum. It was also our most successful financial year to date with a growth in business of 39 percent.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Argos consumer facing brands. Diageo brand education tool. Dove Spa instore communications and seasonal activity. Nickelodeon, MTV, Paramount, Comedy, Brand unification related projects, sidcot school rebrand. Bristol Metropolitan college rebrand. Unilver branding and communications. Tesco own brand packaging and strategy alignment.

Have there been any changes in structure?

We have appointed an associate director. We have also taken on new employees taking the total to 12.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

The recession, if it happens. General eco-awareness and the challenges it creates regarding packaging design.

The Chase

The Chase is arguably Manchester’s best known design agency. Launched in 1986 by Ben Casey, the firm built an enviable reputation by consistently producing award-winning work year-on-year.

It now has an office in London, as well as a Satellite base in Preston. Combined staff numbers are thought to be around 50, while it has a turnover of £5.6m. In 2006, the agency was snapped up by the fledging communications group Hasgrove, which has announced plans to relocate its group of agencies - believed to include The Chase - out of the city centre and under one roof.

The Chase may not court the publicity of its counterparts but its approach and craft has appealed to a wide range of major clients, including The Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencers, Schwan’s, John West, Fujitsu, Land Securities and Royal Doulton UK. Hasgrove’s acquisition of Brussels-based agency Interel in 2006 has also opened the door for The Chase to handle a number of briefs throughout Europe.

The Designers Republic

What are your recent major achievements?

Attracting the best designers, doing the best work. Having our best year ever creatively and commercially.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Electronic Arts, Coca Cola, NHS, LDA Design, MTV.

Have there been any changes in structure?

We have extensively restructured over the past twelve months. The business is five times bigger than it was four years ago and we’ve had to manage that. Richard Wright became managing director, founder Ian Anderson became creative director, Rob Brearley joined as creative director in March 2008. Steve McKevitt remains on board as non-executive director

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Keeping a smile on your face.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

To work with people with money and vision who trust us and challenge us because they have money and vision and because they trust us and provide us with a challenge.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Our clients are happy to spend more on great design.

Thompson Brand Partners Ltd

What are your recent major achievements?

Retaining existing business, winning exciting new accounts, building a great team.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Leeds Trinity All Saints, National Railway Museum, Science Museum, Symphony Gallery.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Appointed a marketing director in January 2008. Expanding the Thompson offer.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

The economy. The credit crunch belt tightening and general nervousness from clients on spend.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

If things are tight that means clients will be looking for as much added value as possible. North west agencies are great value compared to London.

True North

What are your recent major achievements?

New business wins from Bristol Museums Service, British Library, National Portrait Gallery and Royal Mail. The appointment of Mike Rigby as senior designer. Top five ranking for visual identity in Design Week’s annual creativity survey.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Making sure clients recognise the value of design.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

For us, continuing to work with more clients who expect a measurable return from design.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

The same.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

I think they are spending about the same but looking for their pound of flesh - value every time is required.

Uber

What are your recent major achievements?

New account wins with Setanta Sports, Ignition Entertainment and Sega. Expanding to 18 Staff. Achieving 29th out of 100 nationally and second out of 50 regionally in Campaign’s “Top Agencies”, Fresh Digital award for Lord of the Rings for Codemasters. Most successful financial year in our four-year history.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Setanta Sport, Ignition, Entertainment and Sega.

Have there been any changes in structure?

New creative director relocated from London and fresh artwork talent in studio and finally, a receptionist.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

To overcome the negativity being hurled at the creative industries in light of predicited recession and budget cuts – it will only happen if the media continue to bang on about it and scare consumers/marketing departments.

What opportunities do you see for 2008?

Ride the above wave and come out on top. When times are hard, creativity and talent shine through. Also the north has never had is so good, with general opinion, word of mouth and coverage of northern creative in the south stronger than ever.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

After a few years of growth it’s levelled out slightly due to shaky economy egged on by pessimistic predictors.

Vivid

What are your recent major achievements?

Turnover and profit increase, focus on strengths – deselecting clients and achieving repeat business and new client wins in target markets. Strong team spirit and commitment.

What new business have you won in the last year?

Environment Agency, NWDA, Slendertone, Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust, Visit Chester & Cheshire.

Have there been any changes in structure?

Launching our new branding. Working on international campaigns, Being more cohesive in approach to ideas-based design through strategic thinking. Structured as one team not separated into design and marketing.

Biggest challenges for the design industry?

Tupe rules and regulations. Continued fragmentation of industry leading to client confusion.

Are clients spending more or less on design?

Less due to industry fragmentation, agencies undercutting, printers designing and a lack of understanding of strategic design and the value of good design. That said, more is being spent on design for packaging and advertising where clients still place value.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.