FOCUS: DESIGN AND PRINT - Catching the eye of the market/Designers and PR people have had to overcome their natural suspicion of each other to adopt the ad agency ethos and develop an integrated approach to design and copy. Wendy Smith reports

One is in love with the words and the other with the pictures - and never the twain shall meet. That is the familiar stereotype which divides PR people and designers. Each battles it out in their own corner of the communications industry and there’s not a lot they can learn from each, or so the story goes.

One is in love with the words and the other with the pictures - and

never the twain shall meet. That is the familiar stereotype which

divides PR people and designers. Each battles it out in their own corner

of the communications industry and there’s not a lot they can learn from

each, or so the story goes.

But while the unhappy bedfellows routine may have been true a decade

ago, when budgets were elastic and business was booming for everyone, it

doesn’t necessarily hold true today. In the 1980s, PR firms expanded

their horizons and were predatory towards design skills, keen to offer

design as part of their portfolio. Design consultancies meanwhile

believed that big was beautiful and headed for stock market flotation

where PR would play a part. Strained relations were often evident

between the two camps.

Today, however, the mood is more cautious and conciliatory. Both

industries have witnessed the survival of the fittest - and the

survivors know that servicing the client in the most effective way

possible is what matters, not fighting over creative territory. There is

even animated talk of overcoming text-versus-image prejudices and

joining forces to produce the most effective message.

But problems cannot be resolved overnight, tensions inevitably remain

and invite certain questions. Just how much effort has each side made to

come to grips with each other’s skillbase? How much does the PR

executive know or need to know about the design industry? Indeed, is it

even possible for PR companies to learn from designers and art directors

and improve their own working practices?

The advertising agency model of copywriter and art director working side

by side on communication projects has a lot to offer PR, believes Guy

Lane, former copywriter and now design director with College Design,

part of the College Hill PR group. Lane contrasts this approach with

designers who find copy a nuisance. He maintains that College Hill has

borrowed from the ad agency ethos to develop an integrated approach to

design and copy.

’We have had in-house design for the last ten years and it is now an

integral part of our culture,’ he says. ’College Design account people

work in the same open-plan office as the PR executives which really does

help communications.’

This communication process is not confined to the office. Lane and his

team will go out with the PR people and pitch for business: ’That way we

can make a proper integrated presentation,’ says Lane. ’Sometimes the PR

executives find it useful to flesh out their argument with visuals and I

can design an ad or a board to make the argument that much more


College Hill director Dick Millard supports this integrated


’The designers are much more au fait with the client and the brief - and

the whole thing provides a much more holistic approach to the client’s

problem,’ he says.

His agency is not alone in favouring an in-house approach to design and

PR. Burson-Marsteller has an established ten-strong design team working

for both B-M’s and its own clients.

B-M production manager, Steve Vaughan believes it is important for PR

staff to be design literate - and attempts to make sure they are, by

giving newcomers their own induction sessions. ’We try to explain to the

PR executives that all these design jobs take time,’ he says. ’We work

through a brief with them and explain what they can or can’t do.’

As for the benefits of having a design studio bolted on to the PR

business, Terry Hill, chief executive officer for Marsteller Advertising

Europe, is nothing short of emphatic. ’I don’t know how you could

operate without in-house facilities, particularly with the volume of

design work we have,’ he says. ’If we sent it out of house it would be

such a waste of time.’

Apart from the time-saving element of having design work done on site,

there is also cost to take into consideration. ’Our goal is that we will

come in 18 to 25 per cent under the going rate for a design job,’ says

Hill, insisting that this cost margin will not be to the detriment of

creativity. ’We have some excellent designers here and a track record to

prove it. We feel that that we know our clients’ house styles - our

designers don’t have that learning curve to tackle.’

Dewe Rogerson set up its design group, Dewe Rogerson Corporate Design,

in 1987. This now has a team of ten and is regarded as a separate

business within Dewe Rogerson. ’My teeth grind when we are described as

in-house,’ says Stuart Miller, head of Corporate Design. ’Each aspect of

the company stands alone according to the client’s needs.’

Miller believes that having design skills within the company fosters a

greater understanding of client needs. ’I feel that our account

executives are better educated about design,’ he says. ’After all, they

can wander in here when they need to without having to make an

appointment. I would like to think that the PR executive sees the need

for words and pictures to make good music and the designers, in turn,

have a greater understanding of the strategic rationales.’

But despite all the acclaimed benefits to PR in terms of cost, speed of

operation, and focus on client objectives, more cynical observers have

been heard to say that adding design to a PR consultancy is simply

another way of adding a mark-up.

Nigel Forsyth of Bamber Forsyth Design took a conscious decision for a

number of years not to work with PR consultancies. ’In the past I don’t

think that PR account people understood the design process. They found

it difficult to handle,’ says Forsyth. ’Design is not a thing you can

agree a fee on and then do as much as the client is happy with. You

can’t go out and buy two bags of design.’

Forsyth also maintains that ineptitude in design briefing on the part of

the PR executive leads to increased costs for the client: ’If the PR

intermediary doesn’t understand the brief, the friction builds up and

you can waste the budget because the right questions haven’t been asked

in the first place.’

He suggests that, in the past, so great was the PR’s desire to cream off

the money for handling the design service that insufficient milk was

left in the saucer for the designer to do a good job. There is better

news today, however. Forsyth has noticed an improvement - the PR

companies he is now working with have had a dramatic change in attitude.

Good practitioners today, he believes, are strategists who work with the

client to address a given problem, they get the chosen designer in, and

after that it is a direct relationship between design firm and the


Despite these improvements, the two disciplines still sit uncomfortably

together, as far as Forsyth is concerned. ’Design and PR are still vying

with each other,’ he believes. ’What we need is honesty on both


PR people should be big enough to let the designers excel in their own

field and vice versa.’

According to Gordon Murray, sales director of Facade Design, PR people

should have more confidence in their own abilities and draw added

strength from those of the designer. ’Design skills complement the PR

executive’s, so I can’t see why they see us as a threat. We don’t want

to offer their services,’ he says.

But if the design industry still views the PR business as having

problems with the two dimensional design world of corporate brochures

and annual reports, what hope is there for PR when design comes off the

printed page and leaps into multimedia? New media opens up a host of new

design dimensions, including sound, moving image and interactivity, all

of which suggests that the scope for misunderstanding between PR and

design folk in briefing and project-management will become even more


However Miles Johnson, managing director of multimedia group The

Presentation Company, believes that consultants have nothing to fear -

they don’t need to know how the new design technology works, just what

it can achieve in communication terms. ’It is too complicated. We don’t

discuss the mechanics with PR people, we just talk about the end

result,’ he says.

Johnson believes we will soon see the day when the two-and-a-quarter

inch computer disk replaces the press release. ’It is much more visual,

more state-of-the-art, and holds more data. Information on a disk is

more compelling than giving the journalist a piece of paper.’ Already

there are signs on big car or product launches, for example, of press

packs which include CD-ROMs and disks as well as slides, stills and


As more clients switch on to the opportunities of a well-designed

multimedia communication package, PR people and designers are likely to

be bedfellows more often in the future. Perhaps new technology will

create a happier partnership than in the past.


With 1,200 stores around the UK, Boots the Chemist is the epitomy of a

household name, with a vast range of products from medicines to babyfood

and cosmetics. So much so that the Nottingham headquarters of Boots not

only has its own in-house PR department but a design studio equivalent

in scale to a medium-sized design consultancy to service all Boots’

design and print needs.

One of Boots’ biggest marketing success stories has been its Soltan sun

protection range. Soltan is the number one brand in the UK in terms of

sales and value with 25 per cent of the market. Not only does Boots

handle the brand’s research and development (including the formulation

technology) in-house, but the company also manufactures it for sale

exclusively in Boots the Chemist stores nationwide.

A Boots spokesperson comments: ’People either think of us as

manufacturers or retailers. In this case, we are both. This gives us

tremendous knowledge in the suncare field and we wanted to get this

point across.’

The PR department was well aware that keeping any product in the busy

journalist’s mind’s eye would be a difficult task given the


’We wanted to give the journalists a rich souce of continuing

information so they could write responsibly about suncare,’ explains the


To do this the PR department came up with the simple idea of sending out

a binder. ’I know it doesn’t sound a lot but it hadn’t been done

before,’ the spokesperson explains.

’We thought that by putting the information in something accessible and

easy to use like this, the journalists would have a rich souce of

information they could check. There have been a lot of erroneous media

stories about sun tanning.’

The binder was produced by Boots’ own design services department.’It was

a challenge to describe in words what we wanted from our designer

Brendan McElroy because we didn’t have an example to give to himso he

could visualise what we wanted,’ says the spokesperson.

McElroy admits it was not a straightforward job: ’Our brief was to come

up with something that looked authoritative, striking and was easy to

use. This job was particularly complex.’ But the combination of PR

expertise, design interpretaion and creativity did the trick.

’Together we came up with a document that has impressed our journalist

contacts. The quality of enquiries is up and the number of enquiries has

increased this year by 12 per cent - and we’ve not even entered the

suncare season yet,’ says Boots.


The need to enhance the communications message with good creative design

should be a well-recognised skill within the PR community. But how do

you go about learning how to tell your pantones from your point sizes?

Once college days are behind you, where do you go to top up your design

and print knowledge?

According to Jeremy Weinberg, PR and marketing officer at the Institute

of Public Relations, PR people are well aware of the need to further

their knowledge: ’Print is an industry that is always evolving

technologically so it is imperative nowadays to have a good knowledge of

how design and print work together - and get them to work for you.’

Weinberg contends that a solid background knowledge is especially

important at account executive level where so much of the work will be

involved with production of slides, brochures and internal documents.

The IPR has been running its own two-day workshop covering design,

briefing and proofing since the 1980s. It is called Getting It Right In

Print and runs about three times a year.

The British Printing Industries Federation runs print and design-buying

courses in both Birmingham and London. These are aimed at executives

responsible for buying print and design services where cost and quality

are critical.

PR people can learn how to set design objectives and choose a designer,

the legal implications of print and the technical options.

The London College of Printing provides a whole raft of print-oriented

training courses covering everything from appreciation of printing

processes to an introduction to multimedia. And training company Popular

Communications offers courses on print at both beginners and

intermediate level.

There is, however, much more to the whole process of design than


For the really conscientious PR executive who wants to get to grips with

the ways of the design industry, the Design Business Association - the

national trade body for design firms - runs a professional practice

course which is open to marketing, management and PR people, as well as


This course has sessions on the commercial and legal frameworks within

which design operates; on communication, time and design management

skills; and on understanding the client - all useful topics for the

practitioner working with designers, as well as for those inside


The DBA’s professional practice course leader Liz Lydiate acknowledges

that ’design is an integrative discipline that constantly interacts with

other disciplines. It is important for other communication professionals

to understand how design works - and why it works the way it does.’


Thomson Electronics lays claim to being the fourth largest player in the

global consumer electronics market and is the number two in Europe.

It trades under a variety of names, including its own. But in the UK its

profile has been lower because it is the name behind the Ferguson


When Thomson decided to make a direct assault on the UK market with its

own brand name and state-of-the-art designer electronics, it took steps

to give that profile a lift.

PR consultancy Edelman Worldwide was charged with the responsibility of

the UK part of the European roll-out. Its brief was to co-ordinate a

three-fold launch to the trade, business and consumer press - each with

a very different level of understanding and information needs.

Not only was the Edelman team confronted with a relatively short time

scale but Thomson - whose creative director is the legendary French

designer Philippe Starck - had very definite ideas about the design of

their product literature and spelled these out in its corporate design

guidelines. ’It was a huge job for us,’ recalls Edelman’s Juliet

Harbottle. ’There was loads of literature which we either had to create

or rework - all following quite exacting guidelines.’

The trade and the business press launches were by and large

straightforward in comparison to the consumer launch. ’We had to make

that as stylish as possible,’ says Harbottle. ’After all, to many people

a TV set is a TV set and it may not have come over as terribly

interesting.’ Edelman elected to call in Colin Hall and Partners. ’We

had worked with Colin many times before. He is just around the corner

from us. We knew we needed someone we were comfortable with, and who

would be realistic and truthful about the design possibilities and

limitations,’ says Harbottle.

What the PR and design teams had in their favour was the renowned Starck

style associated with the Thomson range. Harbottle explains: ’We created

the invitation by sending it out to the consumer press with the

Starck-designed TV remote control. We had to source the exact blue for

the ribbon and corrugated card for the box in which the remote


Hall adds: ’We came up with three different design options for the


It was a nightmare of a research job to source the materials and get it

done on time.’ However he believes the creative pressures of the brief

and of the time constraints brought the design and PR teams to a closer

level of understanding in terms of shared working practices. ’We had to

work much closer with the team from Edelman,’ says Hall. ’In fact we

were in touch virtually every day. On other jobs we would normally see

them at the beginning and at the end.’

Edelman’s Juliet Harbottle believes that the job opened up a new vista

of just what good quality creative design could do to add PR impact.

’The packaging and presentation was so beautiful we had immediate

response from the press. On the day it got us the media bums on seats -

and very good ones at that.’

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in