Friday, September 19, 2008

Achieve Better Value From Your Design Spend

In today's market conditions, organisations need to achieve maximum value from their creative agencies. By investigating cost over-runs on design projects, I have identified opportunities for efficiencies and savings. Internal practices and behaviours can add inefficiencies and costs to the relationship between you and your creative agencies. Putting these suggestions into practice may result in superior outcomes for less expense.

Assess current design investment
Review where your resources are being spent on design today. Are all of your current communications materials required? Have any recurring design projects outlasted their usefulness? Evaluate all outputs of those projects and consider which you can abandon.

Rationalise brand identity
Many organisations still use redundant variations within their brand identity, with non-standard variations of logos and symbols developing over time and replication of effort in designed materials; from low-cost items such as business cards, to high-cost investments like websites. Standardise the design and centralise the production of your communications collateral.

Rationalise sub-brands
Organisations succumb to logo-creep, whereby individual units, departments and projects develop their own identities. How much is it costing you to maintain these? Are they detracting from your core brand identity? Which can you dispose of? Of those remaining, have you clarified and standardised their relationship with your core brand identity to manage them most efficiently?

Standardise core design decisions
If you do not have identity management usage guidelines, now is the time to invest in this essential management tool. Think of a concise, relevant document bringing tangible benefits; not a massive folder taking six months to produce. Many organisations constantly re-invent the wheel when using the core elements of their brand identity. Make fundamental decisions about how your brand identity is to be used and then record them. The instant benefit is that this allows your people to concentrate on important decisions about content, rather than discussing logo sizes.

Clarify project objectives
In my experience the single greatest cause of cost over-runs on design projects is additional chargeable hours being added when briefs change mid-stream, often due to differences of opinion within the client organisation. ‘Ready, Fire, Aim’ is too often the mantra. Take extra time at the beginning to organise your thinking and clarify your project’s objectives with all relevant parties. Doing so ensures you get best value from your agency’s time.

Pursue value-added creative services
Are your creative agencies merely delivering on what you asked for, or are they truly adding value? Does their business insight help you to achieve your communication goals? Successful creative relationships are those where the client has the most trust in their agency. Seek out agencies who give you the full benefit of their thinking and experience and offer a useful external perspective that challenges your preconceptions.

Set realistic time-lines
Project time-lines often over-run without planning for internal decision-making requirements. Always factor in your internal reviews, particularly for executive sign-offs. Will your project need board approval? If so, then integrate upcoming board meetings into your schedule. Often an eight-week project can stop dead for weeks awaiting the next monthly board meeting.

Maintain momentum
Review internal decision-making practices. How many layers are in place? Are there any you can bypass? Design projects benefit from focus and clarity in decision-making. Drawn-out review processes can create more heat than light. If a project disappears into a maze of sub-committees, the creative impetus may have dissipated when work restarts months later.

Have your agencies only do things once
Certain definable tasks, such as typesetting, always take a certain number of man-hours. Who gains if your agency has to charge for typesetting a second time because of a rewrite? If people within your organisation will not review text until they see a fully typeset layout, perhaps it is time they review their own practices.

My article was originally published in the September 2008 edition of
Business Plus magazine.