Getting the balance right

They live and breathe the rarefied atmosphere of the creative process. For them the challenge is creating unique pieces of work that adhere to brand identities and client expectations using concepts, imagery, emotions, etc and then transforming them into a single grand idea.  Such ideas must flow through an entire brand and its products and services to ensure a cohesive, coherent, captivating message to the consumer.

Through years of consulting owner managed design consultancies, I have discovered three key owner/manager types:

  • Type 1: The Creative Star (Think Ronaldo) – They focus on the creative process itself and are results      focused. For them, the aim is to generate great work that their peers can      only aspire to. They are dynamic, fast paced and flamboyant risk takers. The clients love their work because it is unconventional, maverick, novel, ground breaking, unique. They win awards for the big ideas that they generate
  • Type 2: The Creative Supporter (Think Scholes) – They focus on client satisfaction and are driven to satisfy their client’s expectations. Great work satisfies the client, not their      peers. They are considerate, steady, constant and stable. Clients love them because they are capable of working to the clients stated needs rather than the creative output.
  • Type 3: The Commercial Manager (think Karren Brady, vice chairman of West Ham United and former MD of Birmingham City) -They focus on the commercial reality of running a business. They are often driven, single minded, tough but fair. They know how to make the  founders vision and mission a reality. They build and make happen strategic and tactical business plans, make tough decisions and understand the realities of balancing client expectations with commercial reality.


The best agencies recognise their limitations and work within them. They work with clients that accept them for what they are and what they offer.  They build their reputation on the style of their creativity being either led by the process or by the client. It is true that this theoretical view is tempered with a heavy dose of reality. We recognise that design agencies do offer an amalgam of services and support that falls somewhere between these two styles, the inevitable result of chasing the elusive dollar.  But in the main, they remain true to their vision.

Sadly, many design consultancies fail not because of their preferred creativity style but because they have little understanding of the commercial realities of running an agency.

The most successful agencies recognise the need to balance their creativity by employing good business practices to enhance the creative process. They equally need great commercial leaders to provide them with the support and back up facilities that they desperately need, i.e. The commercial manager

All agencies have potential. Accepting that no one style is perfect or that there is always room for improvement is the key to greater growth and the generation of respect from your staff. Review yourselves, your styles and your team dynamics. Work out what and how to evolve, plan it and then follow it through and you will be amazed at the results.

Remember Karren Brady turned round Birmingham City attendance from 6,000 to 25,000 in just eight years and in the mean time went on to float her club for £25,000,000 in 1997. What could you do if you got the balance right?