Design and advertising come together

What do ad agencies hope to get from having design arms?, asks Camilla Palmer

It makes sense to team up with people who understand you and want to help you. That's presumably why two former design agency whizzkids have come together with Mother to form the latest agency offshoot.

Saturday was founded as a collaboration between Mother and Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson, two creatives who worked at Winkreative, the consultancy set up by Wallpaper's Tyler Brule. They bring a wealth of experience to what Mother intends as a design-oriented offshoot specialising in fashion and luxury brands. They will also supply Mother with another string to an increasingly integrated offering.

Its founders hope Saturday's focus on fashion and luxury brands will bring it rich pickings. "We bring a degree of specialism that Mother might find hard to develop on its own," Torstensson says. Fashion expertise will also come from Harriet Quick, the fashion features editor at Vogue, who will be a special advisor to the venture and takes a minority share in the company.

And while Saturday is claimed to be much more than just a design consultancy - the founders want to develop advertising too - its conception is a clear sign to others in the industry that bringing together designers and ad agencies is an attractive option.

Interbrand's chief executive, Rita Clifton, thinks agencies investing in their own design product works because clients like the concept. "It makes communicating an idea and a brand much easier when designers and ad agencies work together," she says.

Apart from Mother, other agencies have also cottoned on to the benefit of adding a dedicated design arm. WCRS has just backed a Wolff Olins breakaway, called Dave, that has Orange as a client, and BDH/TBWA is thought to be planning a deal with the design company The Chase.

More established examples include Fallon, which has run its own design company, Duffy, alongside the main agency since early 2001. The Duffy concept originated from the formation of Fallon, when Pat Fallon and Jo Duffy set up their respective agencies - advertising and design - back in Minneapolis. The two companies were soon collaborating on projects, and now each of Fallon's offices has a Duffy working alongside it. Although cross-pollination is rife, and promoted, Duffy operates separately from Fallon, and reports to Fallon HQ, and then to its parent company, Publicis. It hopes to make £1.5 million in fees this year.

Duffy's managing director, Tim Watson, says the design arm enables Fallon's clients to see how campaigns might appear if they were extended to other media. It works side-by-side with Fallon's planners and creatives on Skoda, Starbucks and Innocent Smoothies, turning out point-of-sale, brochures and books as well as packaging. Skoda's head of marketing, Mary Newcombe, feels she gets a better deal on the creative product when two closely linked agencies are working on it. That said, if Duffy didn't cut the mustard, she says she would look elsewhere for the brand's design needs.

HHCL/Red Cell helped its former head of graphics, Simon Manchipp, and partner, David Law, set up its design arm, No-One. This effectively keeps talent in-house and provided an extra dimension to its then-flagging above-the-line fortunes. Now, the design arm, which is thought to have made the agency around £1 million in fees, works for many of the agency's clients, including Go, Iceland and Birds Eye.

Manchipp claims design and advertising are the perfect partners: "We're infatuated with each other. Designers love advertising's exposure and money, and ad people love the beauty involved in good design." He agrees with the Fallon partner Michael Wall that a cross-pollination of not just clients but ideas gives clients a good creative stew. "On their own, design companies can get a bit blinkered. Here, we're able to work with those who see the big idea and help them get down to the nitty-gritty in the work," Manchipp says.

While bringing in new clients on the strength of these design credentials is clearly the aim for agencies, the Fallon partner Robert Senior is sanguine about the financial rewards of such ventures. "The very nature of a design brief - you design it, it's done, end of job - means that on-going, retainer-based relationships are quite rare, and that means that although there are financial benefits, they are not significant," he explains. But however honourable the sentiment of merely wanting to unite design and advertising in the spirit of creative harmony, it is unlikely that these agencies would be prepared to invest unless there was a good chance of growth and profit.

Although Saturday's core expertise is design, just like Duffy and No-One, the Mother partner Mark Waites claims Saturday is not just another add-on design shop. "We've always worked with the best designers here. Saturday is about applying those skills to an area ripe for innovation - fashion advertising." He counters that Leo Burnett's Made offshoot makes a more appropriate comparison.

As well as Grede and Torstensson and Quick, Mother also takes a share of the venture's profits from its significant minority stake, and has a say in how the company is run. It seems like the perfect deal for an agency well known for its wariness about expanding. Mother's joint ventures with Naked and the digital agency Poke show it is committed to extending into other markets and backing what it considers to be best-in-breed, all without adding what it sees as dangerous bulk to its core ad agency.