DW in the DomPost!
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Advertising is bottom of the to-do list at designworks, a major shift since the company began in the 1980s.

Having started with the company straight out of design school 23 years ago, managing director Sven Baker can attest to the shift in focus.

Mr Baker defers to a general theme when asked what designworks does. Brand consultancy is as close as he gets to a definitive description. Only part of their out-put is what people think he does. We are not an advertising company."

AMI's smile campaign, Comvita's Huni skin care range, and B-E-E enviro-friendly cleaning products have all come through designworks and won awards for their look, message or packaging.

But the firm does not highlight its skill at winning awards, largely because clients don't pay for awards. A brand is what a brand does, Mr Baker says. At the heart of how we think is engineering thinking within the business. The last thing you come to is the advertising.

AMI Insurance's smile ads went to air only after every person in the company was in on the message. Taking two years from conception to execution was important because if AMI cannot deliver the smile it promises, there's no point advertising it, Mr Baker says.

Mr Baker has all the industry speak. It's reconnection, re-engaging, but in a real way, he says. You need attitude and irreverence. But he admits that is simply the industry now.

Five years ago designworks was a different company. There are now fewer designers and more analysts. Part of the change has been the explosion in media devices: cellphones, social media, Bluetooth and Blackberrys.

But while technology is fragmenting the media message, Mr Baker says it is also making it easier to deliver. Consumers can see through the bullshit. People can flick through the ads. It means you are judged on what you do, not just what you say.

With a sizeable 55 employees in New Zealand and about 70 in its Australian joint venture Yello, designworks is not concerned about competition from other brand agencies. Our margins have been healthy for 10 years and we are happy with the size we are. We don't worry much about competition.

The business is about the talent within, and what Mr Baker does worry about is losing the passion. The most important thing is that they love what they do. Once they stop loving it, you notice.

NB: This article featured in the Dominion Post, Business Day section, on Monday August 24th 2009.