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Future Agency Interview With Dan Walton

Expert Interviews

What is the future for the Public Relations Agency industry?  The debate started across on Forbes, continued on FIR and we add our own suggestions from an interview taken for the source material for our book, “The Creative Agency of the Future“, being written now.

What is the future for the PR industry? We asked Dan Walton of Wright Design, a man who strives to find the “balance of both form and function.”

Questions: What are you doing differently in the past 2 years in….

Human resources

We are slow to recruit – we wait until we find someone who really fits the bill.  We took a punt on someone – needing to invest time in them to make them what we wanted.  Once we invest in someone they are in and part of the team – we see it like a co-operative in that everyone has an equal say to a large degree.  They are fully empowered and part of the team – they run their own projects.
Personal development is difficult for a small company, it’s not like a career path in a big firm.  We have good work that’s interesting for us to do – we design things that actually get made.

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Lifestyle is an important factor too. We all cycle to work and are free to take longer lunch breaks for exercise etc. As long as the work gets done we are flexible.
We worked with a freelancer last year who was an ex-colleague and he’s settled in Basingstoke, too far to commute more than once a week. He works from home – we Skype and share screens to look at CAD engineering work.  We use eDrawings where you can send out a 2d or 3d file independent of the software you can view it, section it and measure it.

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Client management

We do virtual presentations on Skype or GoToMeeting – we email files that they can interrogate (without software) and so we don’t always need to visit them.
We have to do more for the money now – doing the extra little bit to keep them happy.  Some have used the economy as an excuse to squeeze us a bit harder while others need extra input but can’t afford it.  We understand there’s a bit of give and take.

Campaign organisation (job bags / project management)

We have got a low tech solution – some clients have project managers and organise us and for other customers we run the project management, but using their systems.

Operations management

We are starting to invest a little in some marketing – we have toyed with this before but when we were busy we didn’t need to (nor did we have the time).  We are going ahead with a 6 month trial. We’ll refresh the website and our branding.

Finance

Pay hasn’t changed greatly – a little bonus here and there if we can afford it.

We use Sage software and I do half a day a week on that.  We have a work in progress sheet with all the clients, projects, status on each discussed each Monday.  It includes notes on expenses.  The work in progress figure gets plugged back into the finances and indicates our P&L situation.  I keep track of the monthly overheads from mortgage to wages, software licenses etc.  Everyone can see how many months we have left with cash in the bank.  This is job security for everyone.

Matt and I founded the company with Richard and after he retired we bought him out and gave two long term staff option to buy 10% each.  Sharing how well the company is doing gives staff a feeling of security.

Real estate

We bought our building 3 years ago 2009 and that was a great move – the mortgage repayments are pretty much the same as the rent used to be.

IT infrastructure

We run networked PCs.
Mostly we just get by without needing to buy expert support.  We do data management manually.  Checking documents in and out the whole time takes a long time.  We prefer to operate outside our client’s data management environment for speed / turn over of work.

Internal communications

We have a weekly team brief, with written minutes detailing targets, on Monday mornings discussing all projects in quite a lot of detail for the whole team.  So everyone is aware of what others are working on

Contracts

We check them when we take on new staff to ensure they are all up to date.
We have an operating company that manages the premises and a separate one that runs the design business – this protects the building from a client who might sue the design firm from having that asset in its ownership.  We set up a new operating company and VAT number and so had to change some contracts to reflect this.

Business development

We will be using a marketing company, Stratix, to do some appointment setting, sending out newsletters and emails to get us new pitching projects.  We are doing it jointly with our sub-contractor a local model-making studio to see how we go.

Knowledge management

We are open and share knowledge around the team.

Where do you go for information about how to improve the way you run your business?

We speak to other people with networking.  We do get invited to seminars but to be brutally honest in recent years that sort of thing gets pushed to the back.  Trial and error isn’t very professional but it’s where we are at.

We joined the BDI – British Designer Innovation professional body for product design.  The networking side has been good and we got a couple of job opportunities from prospects contacting the BDI with their job specs.

We were members of the DBA (design business association – I became disillusioned as it wasn’t well suited to product design agencies).

We occasionally network with other local design agencies.

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