The bigger your company, the more this applies to design.

You have departments. Each with its own voice.
You have department heads. Each with her own goals.
You have diverse publics. Each with its own vision of you.

Each department and each department head creates a different brand in a different verbal and visual style. So does each ad agency, each freelance designer, each graphic design firm, each desktop publisher or in-house designer or proofreader or editor or copywriter.

If so, you got you a mess.

There is only one — repeat: only one — way to solve this mess in visual communication, and it's not top-down dictation. It's not a "corporate graphics manual" that can stifle marketing innovation and hamstring creativity or advertising design.

Every unit of visual communication that emerges from your company in print or tv or video or online or tradeshow has to be coordinated, in some way, with every other piece of visual communication that emerges from or that represents your company.

You want reinforcement. Not cement. Not fragmentation.

Here are four ways to fix this problem up
(hint: pick FixUp #4 and skip our preamble).

FixUp #1: Use one ad agency to handle everything. Everything means, not only national ads and television commercials, but also sales literature to the public and the trade. It includes your collateral, sales pro, social media, direct, posters, annual report, packaging, Web site, and employee communications.

However, it will be very difficult to locate an ad agency which will handle and coordinate all these different elements and media. And if you do find one, that agency may be so large that it too is departmentalized and the guy or gal or group handling your full-page national magazine ad may have no coordination with whoever is writing and designing your brochure for a trade show. Or your Facebook page. So good luck. Might work. It's a crapshoot.

FixUp #2: Commission a corporate design firm to create a visual identity program (or they may call it visual branding). These programs put all your design elements into a comprehensive, powerful, but rigid system that guarantees visual coordination. Visual constipation. Big bucks.

However, Larry Miller, founder of Listen, Write, Design, a former big ad agency art director and longterm freelance designer, knows that a logo positioning and color scheme that may work well on an annual report or on the side of a truck, may simply weaken or dilute or misdirect a crucial advertising or marketing campaign. (Pet peeve #1: Logos at the top of an ad.) (Pet Peeve #2: Company slogans set off in quotation marks.)


The more rigid the system, the better.
The more rigid the system, the worse.

Better because it guarantees visual continuity.
Worse because it hamstrings the creative freedom that print, tv, and online media demand to build timely messages, each with its own visual energy.

That approach could be a good start, but is not an end solution.

FixUp #3: Hire an internal Design Director who is at the level of EVP (so he or she has power and muscle). Let it be known that this person has the support of your CEO. He or she will demand creative — which means copywriting and art direction — and disciplined visual freedom and will overpower un-disciplined visual freedom to create a corporate style that balances creativity with order.

However, people such as this design EVP, who are willing to work in a corporation, may prefer the higher salary scales of an ad agency, are likely to be more in the "art" and creative camp than in the executive–suite camp, may be too independent of mind and spirit and may thus eventually make too many waves, forcing them to swim or be paddled to another shore in another company. Leaving your company back where it started. Equal and opposite, this person may be a passive "team player," too willing to please and make no waves, thus neutralizing his or her purpose.

If you think you and your company can finesse these problems, this can be an excellent way to go.
It is how CBS and Dorfsman did it.

FixUp #4: Hire a consulting design director or creative director.
Consider this trial prescription by Listen, Write, Design, .

Hire Larry Miller for your consulting design matador or demi-Dorfsman.
We call it Design Doctor.

Here are the benefits. We'll work with you to develop a style, mood, flavor, aura, visual or brand identity, for your company and its products and services. Top management must be involved in our indoctrination and must stay involved. We need your muscular support or we will be eviscerated.

We'll develop a design guide, a visual protocol, for those elements that can be set in cement (but OK, we'll keep the mortar wet and malleable).

We'll work with your creative writer or designer, whether in-house or outsourced, to develop an approach that has a consistent branding sensibility unique to your company, and right for your company.

We'll work with your various marketing departments, their heads and, more important, with the people in those departments who carry out these ideas, to ensure a healthy spirit of cooperation.

We're impatient. So we'll be efficient. But not officious.
We're also funny and good–natured.

You have to approve the process and let the staff know you support it.

The ultimate benefit: your company will have a more consistent, powerful and persuasive visual brand identity to reach staff, stockholders, customers, prospects, the trade. Consistent. Not rigid.

Here are the pitfalls.
It ain't cheap.
It ain't easy.

Ain't cheap because you have to pay us, which costs more, short term, than having no one doing the coordinating. Hiring us is cheaper, long term, than doing nothing or than hiring a fulltime executive for this set of functions. After the first few weeks, you'll probably need us only occasionally. As mentioned, we're impatient. However our company name ends with a comma, implying that when the job is done there is still some followup work needed.

Ain't easy because we're outsiders and some noses may be a little out of joint. Because every company has a corporate culture and this may feel invasive. But we know, you do not set policy by fiat. You have lunch and schmooze with anyone and everyone sooner or later who you can help and who can hinder the process. You involve them and incorporate their ideas. It is critical that we do what the first word in our company name implies, we listen!

Unlike politics, this is just common sense.

And when the finished pieces are available, which go into their portfolio or resumé, they will rhapsodize / kvell / exult / and claim the consulting design doctor was their idea. Will it be yours?

Let Listen, Write, Design, customize a program for you.
Please call Larry Miller, 980.245.2323.

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