I’ve been in the design business my whole career; owned a design firm for 9 years, been a corporate design and creative director for 11, a visiting professor in design management for 3, and a design association president for 5. Last year I made a career change to become a retained recruiter, focused exclusively on design and innovation leadership. With this new perspective I can see several attributes of retained recruiting that I think would benefit design firms. Here are five of them.
1. Understand corporate culture.
Who hasn’t noticed how often design firms complain about the “client” or the “corporate culture”. It’s as if the client doesn’t get it. Well, what if the design firm is the one who doesn’t get it? Realize that you can’t change corporate culture, but you can learn to understand it and then do great work within it. Seek to raise your awareness and understanding of corporate culture and you will find your effectiveness improves.
2. Have empathy for your customer.
Design firms like to talk about having empathy for the end user, but what about having empathy for the client? The best way to have empathy is to have been in their shoes, to have been a corporate design director, and then focus on recruiting in this job function, for example. Have you been the client yet?
3. Realize it not about your process.
I’m as big a fan as anyone about design processes, methods and design thinking. And most design firms pitch their “unique” process of problem solving. But really, it is people who make process work, so you might as well admit; your people, not your process and methods, are the real differentiators of your business.
4. Don’t compete on price.
Unfortunately most design firms tend to submit hefty proposals, leaving room to scale back, and then cut price to get new business. An interesting thing about the retained recruiting industry is that all the good firms charge the same fee; one-third of the annual compensation for the position. That’s it. So the differentiation is in their research, their network, their recruiting expertise, and their knowledge of a niche category, not price. That would be a refreshing change for design firms.
5. Say no to spec work.
We all know that the best value comes out of partnership relations, so only work on a retained or project basis. Too many creative firms jump at RFP opportunities only to make spec concepts that are off target; so too with contingent, or spec, recruiting. The higher success rates come from retained firms. So just say not to spec or contingent work, develop better relations with the right clients, and invest the time to do the best work possible for them, for a fair fee.