DESIGN: THE DESIGN FACTOR - Advertising agencies are increasingly getting involved with the design side of the business. Lucy Aitken and Wendy Smith look at their design credentials

When Rover uses M&C Saatchi, it doesn't just tap into the agency's advertising skills to convey its message. The client can select a range of services through what M&C Saatchi calls its "village

of companies. And one of its recent acquisitions to the village has been its partnership with the design agency Smith & Milton.

The joint chief executive, Nick Hurrell, believes there are considerable creative advantages to be gained from this approach. "We feel we can control the strategy of communications in one place and therefore avoid any conflict of loyalty. All our village ventures are either 100 per cent owned by partnerships or us. That means that there is no profit and loss rivalry."

However, setting up your own operations and growing the various different media disciplines organically to service and satisfy a client's potential needs is not the only approach. In some instances ad agencies and branding agencies work side by side on the same account to bring about a unified message for their clients.

This was the scenario with one of Grey's flagship clients, Mars, when the chocolate brand wanted to rebrand. Grey came up with the curvier font and a design agency, Jones Knowles Ritchie, implemented it.

Tim Mellors, the chairman, chief creative officer and managing partner at Grey, says: "Research done by Mars indicated it needed a lighter, more modern feel. So the strategy was worked out and given to a design group.

It came out really well as we worked hand in hand with them. I wouldn't say that was the norm, though, as outside design groups have sometimes taken the campaign idea and bastardised it."

Mellors is critical of the role of brand consultants and what they can bring to the marketing function. "If an ad agency doesn't understand the component elements which go to make the strength of the brand, what are they going to do? It's nonsense to believe that ad agencies can't provide the kind of expertise that design consultants can."

John Hall, the senior vice-president at the international strategic branding consultancy Siegelgale, couldn't disagree more. He says: "In the current uncertain economic conditions, it is unsurprising that many advertising agencies are offering a one-stop shop that includes strategic brand development."

Siegelgale claims to have adopted a holistic approach to brand and internet strategy and provides a suite of services from e-business strategies to corporate identity and design. Hall explains: "What we do is evaluate and analyse a brand across the entire marketing mix - offering a one-stop shop for the brand strategy - and then we work closely with the advertising agencies to provide guidance on the implementation."

Hall is adamant that Siegelgale's role is to stick to what it does best, the branding, and leave the other disciplines to the respective experts. "To build a successful partnership it is important to respect and understand each agency's core competencies. However we are realistic enough to understand that trespassing on the territory of ad agencies is counter-productive."

In the long term, Hall thinks clients will not benefit from the one-stop approach that ad agencies purport to offer. "Ad agencies do not focus on building brands across the entire customer lifecycle but on building brands for the short-term proposition of an advertising campaign."

Someone else who has seen the one-stop shop approach in action is Rita Clifton. Ex-Saatchi & Saatchi, today she is the chairman of Interbrand.

"All the major agencies tried to make it work in the 80s but the problem was with integration. Agencies found themselves with operational as well as ego problems. If the star of the design consultancy was working for the ad agencies where the star discipline was not his or hers, it could cause some problems along the way."

She continues:

The one-stop shop is a nice idea. It would be lovely to be able to have the most brilliant ad director or brilliant strategist offering a genuine equal partnership but that is a bit Utopian. I have seen ad agencies that can design and designers who can do ads but the real issue is that the craft skills lie a bit deeper on both sides than either of them imagine."

One agency which is making a determined effort to be "Utopian

is the five-year-old branding agency Banc. Robert Bean, the chairman, believes that the agency's centre of gravity is the branding process but they have worked with clients to manage brand definition, corporate identity and advertising. As he explains: "If you set out to be a branding business you can't help but be a one-stop shop. It is not possible to do this work properly without joined-up writing."

Bean agrees with Clifton about the problems of egos and personalities, as he used to work on the client side. "When I was a client I couldn't find two companies to work side by side properly. However, to execute the branding process you need more than two companies on board."

Yet some agencies insist that they are working hard to understand the branding process. One of the ways in which Young & Rubicam is investing in building and improving its clients' brands is in a new development system called Y&Rchetypes, which it has created with the WPP sister branding consultancy Landor. The agency already has in place a system called BrandAsset Valuator which builds brands; Y&Rchetypes aims to develop differentiation in the marketplace.

Using a series of characters from folklore and myth such as the Hero, the Guardian, the Earth Mother and the Maiden, the Y&Rchetypes assist the agency in positioning brands and what they mean. For example, Nike is an "Explorer

brand, with self-discovery being the brand promise. Meanwhile, Evian is a "Maiden

brand, selling the concept of purity.

A huge benefit is that the Y&Rchetypes provide a simple frame of reference so that clients, account managers, creatives and focus groups sing from the same songsheet.

Such a system is likely to cut through a lot of the clutter which is spoken about brands, which in turn will aid the processes of branding and advertising. As Jim Edwards, the director of strategy and research at Y&R EMEA, confirms: "Consistency does pay. The more consistent brands are the most successful because they know who they are."