How do I choose the right agency?
The difference between success and failure often lies not with the product, but with the brand.
When executed correctly, design can be a driving force in producing significant ROI for businesses. It’s estimated that for every £1 invested in design, business see a net operating profit of £4 returned in revenue (Source: Design Business Association). Customers buy into experiences and purpose as opposed to products, meaning design is now more important than ever before.
With such high stakes resting upon brands’ shoulders, choosing and committing to investing in an agency can be daunting. So, where to even begin? We’ve looked at some of the key challenges businesses face when selecting agencies and given some tips below.
Do your homework
Putting in a bit of ground-work before your agency search kicks off will not only give you a clearer view on what it is you want out of the project, but it will also put you and your agency in better stead in the long-run. Pre-agency selection is the time to get clear on your goals, set budgets and build a strong team to drive the project forward.
Define key objectives and how the project will help achieve them. These don’t need to be fully fleshed out but it’s sensible to have a clear focus as to why you’re doing this in the first place. Keep these key objectives in mind at all times and share them with your selected agencies. They’ll help determine the creative brief and be a point of reference to develop and judge creative against.
Set a realistic budget but prepare to be flexible. Agency costs are dependent on a number of variables, but the majority of what you’ll be paying for is time. The smaller the budget, the less time those brilliant creative minds will have! Going with a budget in mind will allow agencies to be flexible as well; they’ll be able to offer a number of options that work within your budget, but also go beyond it. If you’re totally lost on where to start with costing up a project, check out our other write up on How much does a logo cost? to think about your investment and what you’re trying to achieve.
What you think you want isn’t always what you need. Designers are problem solvers and thrive off challenges. Bringing a problem to the table that’s a blocker to your business achieving its objectives will keep doors, and opportunities, open. And we bet that you’ll end up with some truly creative and innovative solutions.
Define roles and responsibilities internally before briefing an agency. Outlining a core team from the beginning will not only make sure everyone knows what’s expected of them throughout the project but will also build a strong brand ambassador force ready for when the brand rolls out to the rest of the business.
Making a Choice
With hundreds of creative agencies in London alone, it makes choosing the right one for you just that little bit harder. Tempting as it may be to Google ‘design agencies near me’, it’s not always going to give you the best outcome. There are a number of ways you can help narrow your selection down:
- Word of mouth recommendations are the purest form of reviews: 92% of customers trust earned media over any form of paid advertising (Source: “Nielson: Global Consumers’ Trust in Earned Advertising Grows in Importance,” Neilson Press Release 10 April 2012). The same goes for agencies.
- Ask around for recommendations but be wary of the ‘friend of a friend’ referral – you want to make sure you choose agencies based on positive results as opposed to doing someone’s mate a favour.
- Choosing agencies based on proximity, while convenient, might not always work in your favour. Technology advances mean you can choose to work with anyone, anywhere. Although this doesn’t necessarily help narrow down your choices, it certainly opens up opportunities that you might not have thought possible.
- Working with global or local agencies will, as everything does, have pros and cons. It might work in your favour to work across time zones, it might not. The decision ultimately should be based on what’s going to benefit your customer and get you to achieve those project objectives you set out at the start.
Services and Size
- Large or small, size really shouldn’t have too much of an impact on creative output or capabilities of a design studio. Some of the most creative work can come from one-man-bands as well as the big boys.
- Instead of making a decision based on size, speak openly and honestly to agencies about their availability, capacity and skillset. Agencies of all sizes often collaborate with other specialisms – not everyone will have in-house developers, but what they will have is a few select, trusted partners who are experts in their field.
- As mentioned previously, it’s really important to have a realistic budget in mind prior to starting. Agencies vary in cost for a number of reasons (overheads, size, experience etc.), so bear in mind that the cheapest price might not always be the best investment. Equally, the most expensive doesn’t always mean the best quality.
- If costs are coming back more expensive than originally expected, weigh up opportunities the investment will bring. What are you hoping the project will achieve? What are the business’s future plans? Time and money well spent now will reap benefits in the long run, so make sure to think forward instead of being stuck in the present.
Quality of Work
- This is probably one of the most important things you can look for in an agency. Look through case studies and assess previous projects. Does their work excite you? Do they have experience with similar projects/ sectors to yours? And, most importantly, has their work achieved proven results? Beautiful design is nice on the eye but effective, results-driven design is what matters; it’s the difference between a good and a great product.
Chemistry is everything
- The average worker spends 1/3 of their life at work, most of which surrounded by colleagues. Not only are people happier if everyone gets along, but better work is produced because of it. You often can’t choose your colleagues, but you have full control over which agency you choose, so make it count.
- Once you’ve narrowed down your selection, it’s a good idea to visit agencies face-to-face (if you’re able to). ‘Chemistry meetings’ are a great way for you to get to know the core team who’ll potentially be working on the project. It’s likely you’ll be in touch numerous times each week, so making sure you all get along will do wonders. Teams that feel valued and respected on both sides will ultimately produce the best results.
- Pitches provide a lot of insight into the way agencies approach certain projects. They can be a great way to see the inner workings of creative minds before making the big commitment.
- If you’re asking agencies to pitch, make sure you clearly communicate what you’re hoping to see on pitch day. It’ll make it a lot easier for you to compare if those involved have a similar understanding of the task in hand. If you’re wondering whether pitches should be paid for, give this a quick read.
In conclusion, there’s no right or wrong way to narrow down your agencies of choice. It’ll always be tricky but preparation and doing your homework should get you one step closer to selecting the right agency for you.