Being straightforward is how I operate as a managing and creative director – I try to see through all the BS to do what is right and I try to stay very down to earth. It is a value I instil in all our designers.
Even though I had the opportunity to work with some of the best designers in Europe in the seventies, design stopped giving me answers to questions I had about the business of design. So, when I came to Australia, rather than getting a job as a designer, I joined the ad agency Clemenger, where I worked as an art director and creative director from 1979 to 1985.
I consider my time at Clemenger to be extremely valuable, as people in advertising have a depth of knowledge that designers are not always exposed to if they work in small companies or in companies with a pure design focus.
Working in collaboration with the very best art directors, writers and account directors, I learned to write and dissect a brief, think ‘big picture’ and communicate with clients.
I observed, questioned and annoyed talented people who taught me about their processes and helped me recognise and address the clients’ business objectives. I learned how chief executive officers operate and what they expect.
In short, I learned the language of business.
By the eighties, I began to feel that advertising agencies needed to think more strategically about brands and to position themselves as brand custodians. I suggested that Clemenger open a design arm – but this was rejected on the grounds that, ‘design doesn’t make money’. I knew, however, that if I could apply the commercialism of advertising with design, I would be onto a winner. So in 1982 I went out on my own, founding Hulsbosch as a design and advertising agency.
By the mid-eighties, we had secured a number of large mainstream accounts, including P&O Cruises and Qantas – brands I am very proud to have been associated with for more than 20 years – and we worked on everything from beer labels to advertising campaigns, corporate logos to exhibition displays, and packaging to way-finding systems.
And today, we are involved in virtually everything a brand does, from the initial positioning strategy via corporate and consumer design to the implementation of multidisciplinary projects.
If I had to explain the secret to our success, I would probably begin by stating the obvious: that we are a strategic agency run by a group of talented designers and account managers. But there are a lot of talented people in this business; talent is not enough.
The real key to our success is that we focus on cultivating and maintaining long-term business partnerships. In order to transform business relationships into true and equal business partnerships, you have to know the language of business and you have to build trust and mutual respect.
To build this trust, you have to immerse yourself in your client’s business and learn everything there is to know: their values, positioning, products, services, competitors and target market.
Clients come to us with problems, but sometimes the solution is not in the brief. To find the solution, you have to look at the problem from all sides.
It sounds very logical and old-fashioned – and I’m sure you’ve heard it all before – but good listening is an art. To find the solution, you need to be able to read between the lines to gain invaluable insights and clarity.
While everyone claims to do their homework, I really do believe we go deeper into our client’s business than any other agency ever would or could and it is one of the keys to our success. To build trust, you also have to be honest – radically honest at times.
To do what is right for the brand, sometimes you need to say that the product or service is not as good as it should be and that the only way your client will gain the trust of consumers is by innovating and delivering a higher quality product or service.
If both sides are passionately committed to the outcome, uncomfortable truths can be discussed in a constructive and respectful way. To establish mutual respect, you really have to listen to your clients’ opinions and take them on board.
Going back to the Dutch thing, we remain a very straightforward, common sense agency. While we are strategic, we don’t believe that trademarked processes, teams of planners or PowerPoint presentations with flashy diagrams showing how the brand is a certain colour or how a celebrity will necessarily solve the problem – they can actually create mediocrity.
Having worked alongside many leading chief executive officers and marketing directors, I can tell you categorically that all they want to see is a single PowerPoint slide that tells them how you intend to answer the business objective.
You need to be passionate and single-minded about solving your client’s business objective – I cannot reiterate this strongly enough.
It’s how we get to work with Australia’s biggest brands. We become so involved, so interested and so knowledgeable that we become part of their business and their trusted ally.
Having answered the business objective, you will have delivered solutions that positively impact the bottom line. This is how you retain clients, by delivering over and over again.
A lot of what I’m talking about is common sense, and is really about good old-fashioned service.
But, having been in this business for almost 30 years now, I can tell you that being a great designer is one small part of running a successful design agency.
This article is an extract of a speech given as part of AGDA New South Wales’ speaker series as seen in desktop magazine.