A roundup of industry expertise, exclusive resources, business support and tools for your design business.
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February found me in Bath having breakfast with half a dozen members from the area. I was presenting a look at financial benchmarks for South West agencies compared to the UK as a whole, but the biggest surprise for some of the agencies present was how much they enjoyed meeting with and learning directly from each other. The DBA is a community, and sharing for the benefit of all is a key aspect of belonging to the Association.
In March we ran a couple of workshops, in Leeds and London, on succession planning. The key idea I took away from the sessions was that you do not have to carve your future in stone, but you do need some sort of plan to both manage the surprises that life throws at you and drive the business forward in the right direction. As DBA Expert Jack O’Hern says “You will leave your business at some point. You’ll either go bust, die or sell – ideally the latter.”
Why not search for and download our Succession Planning Guide in Resources to find out more?
During April every year I meet with many DBA members who are looking to write case studies to enter the DBA Design Effectiveness Awards.
The biggest barrier is always the agency’s access to data – which is why I wrote this article The Secret to Capturing Data on Design Effectiveness. (Spoiler alert – it’s all about that dreaded “P” word – process).
The agency Member that left me with the biggest smile on my face was The Clearing who had a Road to Damascus moment of clarity and then changed the way they thought about what they did, and the value they bring to their clients. They explain their change of approach here.
May always sees the launch of our Annual Survey – a call for members to share their financial data to enable us to produce our Annual Survey Report later in the year. The survey can be intimidating for some of the smaller agencies but those that do complete it benefit from developing the financial rigour that is required to grow a profitable business.
During conversations on finances I am always asked about the ratio between income, staff costs, studio costs and promotional costs. DBA Expert Gary Baxter wrote the ultimate paper on this – all on just 1 side of A4.
Late spring and early summer was an ideal time for the DBA to go on the road organising member events on the subject of “business growth” and what it meant to our members. The series of case studies from members illustrating the highs and lows of growing a business received a fantastic response from those that attended.
In Edinburgh, Steve Pearce from Skyscanner talked about the challenges of recruiting a new person every week and how interviewing and on-boarding take up so much of his time.
In Bristol Kinneir Dufort, Taxi Studios and Workbrands told their stories, while in Manchester Love Creative and Uniform took the stage. The stories were different, but the themes of having a strong plan, recruiting wisely and maintaining your culture ran through them all. Read more here
During August it seemed like the design industry shut down for a bit. Are we going a bit French? Well, maybe we should be.
David C. Baker and Blair Enns, in their fantastic 2Bobs podcast series talk about the importance of taking time off – and switching off. You should not be working yourself into the ground trying to earn some time off – which you then spend checking your email everyday anyway. Your downtime is the period where your batteries get re-charged. To paraphrase David, if you cannot take the time off (and cut yourself off) you are either not charging enough, not good enough, or you are more interested in your job as a hobby than as a means to having a better life. Listen to 2Bobs here.
What is it about September that highlights the financial issues in a business? Is it the reforecast with only four months of the year left? Was it the lack of a holiday during the summer? Either way, this is the time of year when I seem to have the most conversations with agencies that are struggling.
My advice would be that early action is always the best course of action. Health check your business regularly and if you have concerns on any areas of your business, contact us and we can put you in touch with someone who can help you address the issues before they become entrenched.
In October we explored an issue affecting many of our corporate members – how to embed design throughout an organisation. Design leaders from global businesses such as GE Healthcare, PepsiCo, Heineken, The Hershey Company, and Fjord shared their thoughts along side those of our agency members, resulting in 100 attendees, like StudioLR’s Andy Gray, taking much food for thought away.
“A high quality event, of real value to members and in fuelling the DBA’s work of highlighting the value of investment in good design.” Michael Taite, MD, Blue Moon Creative.
In October we also launched the 2017 Annual Survey Report to a packed room at Kingston Smith. The drinks went down far quicker that at other events this year – something about having to deal with excel on an endless basis maybe?
Two of the most popular consultants in the design sector made a joint trip to the UK in November to record a couple of episodes of their 2Bobs podcast live with the DBA.
Both Blair Enns and David C. Baker have new books out and the event gave us a fascinating insight into their new thinking. Both are expert at distilling ideas into short sentences. Here are a few of my favourites:
“We can’t read our own label from the inside of the jar” – David on understanding your agency positioning.
“Value, like beauty, is entirely in the eye of the beholder” – Blair on value pricing.
“Expertise renders your work less interchangeable” – David on how a specialist can charge more for their expertise.
“It’s not the price you charge, it’s how people feel about the price they pay” – Blair quoting Reed Holden
And so to December. This is a busy time for everyone. So many people have Christmas as a project deadline (for no other reason that they want it to be done and dusted). The world tries to fit four weeks of work into the first three – before eating themselves into a sugar coma for a couple of weeks, then starting all over again.
So lets break the cycle. Join us if you can on Thursday, 14 December for a chat and a drink at DBA HQ – maybe even a game of ping pong. Talk to some of your fellow members. Share and learn. If you can’t make it, pick up the phone. A conversation is always better than an email, and you never know where it may take you.
So, we decided to change that. We analysed how more than 200 of the leading agencies – drawn from the Design Week Top 100, the Campaign Top 100, as well as agencies from the global groups not represented in those lists – are using social media. We looked at which platforms they use, how frequently they post, how many connections or followers they have on each platform, and how much that network engages with them. We also spoke to 50 agency leaders to get their views – what they do on it, what they hope to achieve from it, how well they achieve those objectives, and what, if anything stops them being more successful.
Some of the responses were as we expected. It came as little surprise, for instance, that almost all agencies are on Twitter and LinkedIn, or that there is a wide range in performance, from the likes of BBH with its 100k+ Twitter followers, highly active and engaged pages on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, and nascent YouTube presence – right through to many agencies with barely any presence at all.
Some, though, were more surprising. Perhaps the most striking finding was that whilst half are not getting what they want out of social media and the greatest obstacle for them is time (68%) rather than budget (20%), only 4% employ a specialist social media team member, and not one works with an external partner on social media.
It is not that agency leaders see no potential benefit here. The agencies we spoke to clearly understand this. Five or ten years ago there were still many agency bosses who saw social media as a distraction, an amusement for Millennials, or a passing fad. Now, there is a widespread recognition of it as a space to communicate market positioning, to make connections, and to grow a business.
Everyone you want to influence, from new business prospects to potential hires, will look at your social media presence. Agencies are using it to recognise and publicise the best work their team is doing. Others use it to get noticed by influencers like journalists. Those at the cutting-edge are actively engaged in social selling.
There is much that social media can do to aid agency growth and it is not that creative agencies see no potential here. It is simply that they lack time. More specifically it is time in two areas.
Firstly, they lack time to work out the precise mechanics of engaging on all the different channels (36%). This is about getting answers to all those nitty-gritty questions like are tweets with images better, or should my LinkedIn posts have links, or how do I use hashtags on Facebook, or how often should I post, or is it ok to retweet or does that just look spammy, or when is the best time to post, or what about image rights on social media?
Secondly, they lack time to create the content to post on social media (34%). This is getting an answer to the simple question: what am I going to say?
So, we’ve produced the Red Setter Guide to Social Media, which concludes by offering a seven-step process for creating your agency’s social media strategy. Our report on social media is aimed specifically at creative agencies – it offers facts not hype, and it offers straightforward practical advice to help you overcome those obstacles, and to maximise the potential of social media as a tool for your agency’s growth.
Leading PR and new business agency for the creative industries, Red Setter is based in Brighton’s North Laine. Its team of 20 senior marketers, journalists and PR professionals work with some of the world’s best creative agencies helping them grow their reputations and win major new accounts with global brands.
Its writers work with clients to create high quality thought leadership, and it then ensures widespread distribution of that content across a wide range of channels – from coverage in national newspapers and leading sector press, right through to practical workshops for clients on mastering the practicalities of social media.
Image credit: William Iven | Unsplash
No one needs to tell you that the design consulting industry is over-proliferated and under-differentiated. There are too many design firms in every area of expertise, on both sides of the pond, who use the same process, who have a great portfolio of relevant work and who work hard every day in getting their message in front of prospective clients. And yet, our industry’s hyper proliferation – combined with our clients’ ever tightening ‘blood from a stone’ squeeze on our fees – has much of our industry in ‘a race to the bottom’. Agree?
The question remains, how do you meaningfully differentiate your firm, justify your fees, increase your influence and optimise your profitability?
One exceptionally successful way to create meaningful and disruptive differentiation is to quantify the value you generate through winning DBA Design Effectiveness Awards. Nothing is more powerful than proving your value.
Another successful strategy is hyper specialisation. Some firms, like Stranger & Stranger, have focused exclusively in one category, e.g. wine and spirits. Others have expanded internationally, specifically in Asia to better address these emerging markets. Still others have joined large management consultancies, like McKinsey’s partnership with Lunar. However, most of us remain independent, unchanged and under-valued.
There are a growing number of consultancies forming strategic alliances with other independent firms of complementing expertise. Together they offer truly synthesised, omni-channel communications. Together, they integrate insights, innovation, strategy, naming, product design, structure design, graphic design, web site design, social media, advertising, merchandising, etc, all coming from allied experts in each of these deliverables. This is what I believe will define ‘the next-generation design consultancy’.
Be well aware that building effective strategic alliances is not easy. You will need to embrace synthesis in its every manner. If you simply claim integration as a ‘sales tactic’, you will surely fail. Clients will actively challenge you, looking for the chinks in the armour, wanting to expose the chain’s weakest link.
To become truly allied you will need to think and behave differently (checking your ego at the door). You will need to find the overlap in your and your partners’ processes and eliminate these inefficiencies (passing the savings on to your client). You will need to become more strategic so that you can contribute to the clear and actionable direction you and your allied partners will generate at the onset of every project. You will have to act on your partners’ direction on your work – knowing that you have as much influence on their deliverables as they have on yours. You will need to embrace mutual accountability for each other’s work. And again, that takes a full commitment to change.
In the design industry, success is now defined as ‘the survival of the fastest’, meaning the fastest to adapt to change. International expansion and truly synthesised omni-channel strategic alliances may be the change your agency needs.
R&D tax credits are a valuable government tax incentive that reward UK companies for investing in innovation.
– Whatever size or sector, if your company is taking a risk by attempting to ‘resolve scientific or technological uncertainties’ then you may be carrying out qualifying activity.
– R&D tax credit rates are the equivalent of up to 33p for every £1 of qualifying expenditure.
– They can be used as an alternative to innovation grants for research and development funding.
R&D is done by real businesses developing new, better ways of doing things. To understand if your design business could be eligible, ask yourself three questions:
For design businesses, your R&D could be:
ForrestBrown has put together a helpful video to answer the question ‘Am I eligible?’.
If a project meets the government’s definition of R&D, you can recoup a percentage of your qualifying costs – up to 33p for every £1 spent.
“The money we have recouped through R&D tax credits, with the help of ForrestBrown, has allowed us to continue investing heavily in the business, and has enabled us to double our revenue, head count and profitability over a three year period.”
Nick Howe, Managing Director, Uniform
You have two years from the end of your accounting period to submit an R&D tax credit claim. If your accounting year-end is 31 March, you should act now so that you don’t miss out on the money you spent on qualifying activities between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 20116.
ForrestBrown’s strong technical expertise means that they can maximise the value of your R&D claim, while ensuring the claim is robust and uses a rigorous methodology. ForrestBrown has a strong reputation with HMRC and has won numerous awards for their work.
Contact Eleanor Singh at the DBA, who can set up an initial discussion with ForrestBrown to see if you are eligible.