As Pearlfisher celebrates a record 22 years of design effectiveness success, Group Chairman, Mike Branson, discusses how a unique formula of consistency and culture creates creative and commercial impact for brands 

Awards have long been an important aspect of the design industry – for agencies and clients alike. Creative awards are special, but there is something even more important about awards that recognize the commercial impact of design – design that increases sales, creates new categories, results in new jobs, makes peoples’ lives better, and in doing so transforms the fortunes of brands and businesses.

The DBA Design Effectiveness Awards, as global leaders in celebrating effective design, represents the pinnacle of recognition, and so our Gold DBA Award last week for the Danish luxury confectionery brand, Lakrids by Bülow, was a very special moment, particularly for our Copenhagen team and client.

It also marks our 22nd year of consecutive wins in this world class awards program, which led me to reflect on some of the highlights and memorable numbers over that time, and what lies behind them.

One of our early wins for Green & Black’s marked the step-change in its journey from niche organic chocolate producer to multi-national ownership (+789% sales over 4 years). Since then, our work on Help Remedies took on the pharma giants with a new language in healthcare (+1000% sales in year 1), our re-interpretation of Lean Cuisine as a modern health brand reversed the decline of an 80’s diet icon (+ 35% sales in year 1) and our design for the world’s first non-alcoholic spirit, Seedlip, reinvented non-alcoholic drinking and created a new global category (+1900% revenue on year 1 target).

In hindsight, success so often looks simple. But what is the blueprint for effective design? And just to raise the stakes, what is the blueprint for effective global design?

Several years ago, a very wise member of our team (who is still with us!) observed that the people who flourish in Pearlfisher are united by a desire to do great work. It’s a comment that has always stayed with me – and, as we have evolved over time from our beginnings in London to a global network with clients around the world, that insight takes on even more significance.

A shared desire to do great work is, of course, an expression of culture. It’s a statement of what is important and why we are here. Culture embodies a shared standard within any organization or community, together with a set of values and beliefs in how to achieve that standard. Every company will have their own interpretation of great work. We believe that ‘great work’ involves designing for the lives we all want to live. And when we achieve that goal, our work will be both creatively and commercially effective.

As we have evolved as a Design Group, spanning different studios in different locations, we have come to appreciate even more the contribution that culture plays in achieving effectiveness. It goes beyond templates, structures and guidelines to act as the driving force in maintaining a shared standard and understanding of what great work really is, that can span geographies, generations and disciplines. It is tempting for clients to look for the reassurance of an ‘A’ Team, a star designer, a lead studio or a trade-marked process, but culture is more powerful and more sustaining – it shapes the all-important collaboration across agency and client teams and ultimately ensures that future generations can push the standard even higher.

Culture is also the route to consistency. Isolated successes are admirable, but consistency provides the best guarantee of the greatest return on investment. Over the years, reflecting on the many talented people across different generations that have spent time within the Pearlfisher world and created outstandingly effective design, it is a constantly dynamic and evolving body of talent. Many of those people will never have actually worked together, never even met, but they have shared a deep commitment to a common ethos and ambition. They have all played or continue to play their part in sustaining a track record of consistently effective design over nearly 3 decades. And that is the power of culture.

Consistency is not the same as sameness. In a global context, a strong culture of excellence creates space for local cultural insight, interpretation and expression. It can embrace diversity as a lifeblood of creativity. It can accommodate disruption. It can be a powerful catalyst for change. But at its best the Group framework provides a foundation for sharing – sharing beliefs, sharing values, sharing standards and sharing ambitions.

So, now that the Pearlfisher team in Copenhagen are celebrating the DBA success of Lakrids by Bülow last week, we will be joining them in celebrating both the great work and a culture that inspires great work across the Pearlfisher Group.