The dot com crash and 11th September 2001 are just two examples of crises that have hit UK and global businesses hard over recent times. And of those sectors reeling from the blows the design industry is no exception.
However, a handful of companies managed to stay afloat. One in particular, Attik, has shown that with a solid foundation, a well developed brand, taking a few opportunistic risks, it is possible to combine these elements to form a successful company.
Formed in 1986 by two 19 year-olds, a £1000 Prince’s Trust business grant, some practical advice and a mentor, James Sommerville and Simon Needham opened their first office in Sommerville’s grandmother’s attic, hence the name.
Today, the company is a complete ‘brand communications group’, designing and implementing creative design solutions for a host of large companies such as BT and Infogrames. Attik has grown to such a level that it has five offices in three different countries including the UK (London and Huddersfield), Australia (Sydney) and the US (San Francisco and New York). But even though the company is one of the most recognised in its field, Needham believes that the same principles apply today as to when it was a small business with only a few employees.
“In essence, nothing has changed. If you lose £100 on a job when you’re a small company or £10,000 when you’re a larger business things stay constant. The only factor that alters is that the stakes get higher.”
Keeping your feet on the ground and maintaining the basic principles of business has been one of the reasons why Attik has succeeded so rapidly. However, Needham also cites self-promotion and a ‘no holds barred’ approach to selling themselves ‘in the early days’ as a crucial factor.
“We tried PR companies to see if they suited our needs and shared our vision but it didn’t work so we took on an internal PR person who understood our way of thinking and working. When we first started we also had quite aggressive marketing campaigns such as going around the streets and sticking flyers on walls and buildings, and we’d also do this to recruit people – something no one was doing at the time. We’ve even got a six by four metre poster on the wall next to our Sydney office. We didn’t ask, we just put it there.”
This may not be an everyday method to establish brand recognition but it ties in neatly with Needham’s fearlessly opportunist nature. He comments: “Taking risks is all part of the game. You can be comfortable and run a business with ten people and not aspire to grow any further but you can also be prepared to take a gamble, though you should always have a plan in place in case it doesn’t work.”
To increase brand recognition as well as revenue, Needham created a separate concept entitled Noise seven years ago. Billed as a design bible, Noise is an annual publication containing the creative thoughts of all five Attik studios and sells thousands of copies each year. Needham explains: “The industry needed something more ballsy instead of a standard brochure. We gave it away to begin with but when people actually came to us and asked if they could buy it, we stood back and let them do it.”
What the future holds, no one can say, but Needham offers some advice. “We have consolidated over the past year and got rid of unnecessary expenses and overheads but there is no instant cure. You have to sit tight and make the best of what you’ve got with the main emphasis being survival.”
Simon Needham's top five tips: