Strategic Design | marketing & branding thoughts by Nick Rice

Dynamic marketing, branding & design strategies that span the gap between business & creative.

Choosing the right agency/design firm

The good folks at the Small Agency Diary have a new post on choosing the wrong client. I thought I'd flip it around and talk a little about choosing the right agency/design firm.

You flip open the latest issue of AdAge or the Yellow pages and see a list of agencies so long your eyes cross. Some you may have heard of but most you have not. Some look like legal firms (partner + partner + partner + partner & assoc) and some look a little funny (watermelon toad, autonomy, or similar). All of their websites look similar (client list, portfolio, why we're different - which doesn't look that different after all). How do you pick?

Here are the highlights - in no particular order...
  1. Obviously you have to have some type of immediate connection w/ their account team. If you do not like them, there's no way you're going to be happy doing business with them.

  2. Check out their work, but don't get too caught up in it. Any agency worth their salt puts a lot of thought into new ideas for a particular client & project. You're looking for a consistent new-thought-generation process. You may or may not like their work for other clients, but that really doesn't matter if the work was effective at meeting the goal for that particular client. The agency should be able to generate work that suits your organization, customers, and business objectives.

  3. Talk about budget early and often. Talk about how the agency will scope out the level of effort required to meet your goals. Doesn't matter whether you're buying months of international TV spots with a lot of high-end digital effects or just a local newspaper ad - talk about how they come up with their bid.

  4. Most importantly, you probably have an idea of what you're looking for. TELL THEM! Don't expect their account or creative team to be mind readers. I know you're looking for new ideas and a fresh perspective, but tell them what you're thinking. The last thing you want is for them go off on some tangent that you know the President will hate. If you are one of the very few people that really doesn't have any idea what you're looking for; then you have to be open to their suggestions when they come back. It's a waste of your time & money to have something in mind and not discuss it. A test of their creativity is how well they function within boundaries - budget, timeframe, brand guidelines, etc... They are working from your direction, be sure to give it.

  5. And for pete's sake, write everything up! Whether it's your creative brief or theirs, make sure that both parties are working towards the same goal. You need to have detailed information on deliverables, scope, timeframes, and budget - and agree to all of it before work is started. I know you're busy. I know this project has to be finished on time. But trust me, if it's not written down and agreed upon, it will become a point of contention. Projects tend to show signs of success or failure within the initial 13% of the project. You have to have everything lined up before you begin. Otherwise you put a lot at risk - including your next promotion if not your career.

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