“How can I have a successful partnership with my agency?”
Lets first define what we mean by ‘successful’ partnership with your agency. Do you want for it to be a very responsive agency, and so that’s key to your success? Is it one that delivers fantastic creative output? Is it one that consistently gives you a ‘great deal’ everytime? It could be any of these, all of these or something else entirely.
At the heart of it — everybody wants something. And often it’s just a matter of figuring what they want and giving it to them, which in turn makes it easier for you to get what you want. The same holds true for your agency.
In this post I’ve listed a few typical roles in an agency setup and the typical concerns/questions each of these people have. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it helps you understand where each person could be coming from.
What do they want / want to know?
- “I want a proper brief”
He/She wants to ideally sit with you and create an iron-clad document. In doing so, you’ll have a time and cost estimate that’s likely 95% accurate. Give them a ‘open brief’ and they take the liberty to come back with ‘broad costs’ through ‘broad assumptions’. Usually much higher than you’d like.
70% accurate leads to problems. That’s when you change requirements, timelines, personnel on your end midway through the project — it creates stress for ‘client servicing’. If you think things are going to change, set expectations at the outset. Better still, go in with everything 98% there — you’ll be delighted with the result, either by way of efficiency or creative output.
- “Will you be available?”
Your agency aren’t magicians, don’t expect them to be. They want to know if you’re going to participate. If you don’t give them regular and prompt feedback, you’ll be disappointed with the output. And that’s mainly because there’s been guesswork in the process. If you want a ‘sure’ result, engage with them assuredly. If you’re going to be traveling regularly, let them factor it into the project plan.
- “Will I have to chase them on payments?”
Client Servicing has to deal with creative, production, their bosses, accounts and their own colleagues. Checking with you on payments is often part of their ‘to do’s’. If you follow a specific timeline and process to clear payments, let them know at the outset. Do this with the large agency and freelancer alike. You’re motivated if things happen on time, it’s the same with them.
- “If you’re not around, who do I call or contact?”
You might give them a name or a number; but your №2 being empowered to make a decision in your absence is important. If they aren’t, this leads to a loss of time, a slowing down of the creative process and more frustration for you. Again — creative individuals aren’t magicians, they won’t just ‘solve it’ without your input.
What do they want / want to know?
- “How creative can I be with this? / How open is the client?”
As ‘creatives’ we’re often told that you the client wants something ‘out of the box’. Help us first understand ‘the box’. And no, you aren’t ‘limiting’ our thinking/creativity if you tell us what’s on your mind — it’ll just help us understand your expectations better. And so define potential opportunities that could be ‘out of the box’.
- “Will they trust our opinion?”
Will the client listen to what we present or just ‘dictate’ what needs to be done? You’ve hired professionals. Trust them to do the best work for you. If you keep second guessing their work, they’ll just give you what you want. Which might not be the best thing for the ‘brand’. (The ‘brand’ is separate from ‘you’)
- “How well informed are they about good campaigns and design in general?”
Creatives want to know if you can engage in a healthy dialogue around the idea. They look for this in work you’ve done with other agencies in the past. If that’s the benchmark tell them. If it isnt’, tell them. They are as invested in creating brilliant work as you are in receiving it. So if you have no points of reference, ask them to share what they have in mind. (I prefer to do ‘moodboards’ at this stage — just references around what we’re all thinking/feeling instinctively about the approach. Before actually creating anything.)
One thing — maybe your previous agency did some brilliant work, but it didn’t translate into sales and so you don’t want to go down that route. If so, tell your agency. They’ll know you appreciate a good idea, but it’s more important that the thought translate into money in the bank. (this is easier in the short term with a tactical campaign)
- “Will they spend on production/media?”
You might want the best creative, but if you aren’t willing to put money behind the fabrication/production or on media to help it reach the right audience — you’ll need to temper your expectations accordingly. This is not to say that you have to spend a LOT on production/media — but it’s best to discuss your media and production budget at the outset with the team so they can give you the best result given the sandbox they’re working in. Great creative is pointless if nobody sees it.
- “Is this brief final?”
Often, clients have a tendency to ‘remember’ or ‘add’ something later. It’s your company/project/service so you have the right to do so. But it can hamper the creative flow. Creative individuals spend a lot of time and energy manifesting this intangible thought into something tangible and quantifiable which you can then measure based on sales performance. For them to have the best chance to create the best work — give them a detailed and finalized brief (signed off by all internal stakeholders) at the outset.
What do they want / want to know?
- “Do we have a fix on the material and the budget?”
Once the creative goes into production, you’re likely to want to see options of materials through different samples. If you’ve gone through this during the design stage, you’ve saved some time. Infact, by this point you should have a broad idea on the material and costs — which makes it easy for the production manager at the agency to get a few samples done and out to you sooner.
- “What’s the timeframe for final production and handover?”
You might want to send something into printing / production / media only after it is ‘100% finished’, and you shouldn’t compromise on that. But know that production takes a certain amount of lead time and that can’t be shortchanged. So if there are dependencies on your end by way of approvals or release of funds before anything can go into final production — plan for this well in advance. Pressuring your agency to deliver in short deadlines right at the end could lead to mistakes when you don’t need them.
What do they want / want to know?
Finance / Legal / Accounts
- “Has the client signed off on the contract and invoice?”
It’s best for both the agency and the client if all paperwork is done at the outset and closed at appropriate times during the project. If you don’t sign off on an invoice, your agency could delay the work. If you haven’t shared approval on an email, the accounts team might hold back your print files till there’s a formal signoff. Likewise you with-holding payment if what’s delivered was different from what you had in mind — but that hasn’t been properly documented. Paperwork being up to date is in everyones’ best interests.
What should you know as the Client?
- “When will I get the output?”
You have discussed the scope and created a timeline for the deliverables. It’s important to then be patient and believe that the agency will work professionally and deliver on time. Don’t assume that they’re ‘creative’ so delays are inevitable — they aren’t. You’re dealing with professionals so it’s their duty to stick to timelines and yours to support them in doing so.
- “How many options will I get?”
Getting the approach and context spot on is more important than seeing the number of ways the approach could be interpreted. The agency is creating something that’ll communicate an intangible idea effectively to the end customer; and they’re the ones with the track record of having done this many times over. Trust them. Focusing on quantity will often lead to more options that are below par than looking at only a few options that are exceptional. Make clear to your agency that you want to see exceptional work and trust they’ll ensure you see that within the 1 or 2 options they put together.
- “How involved will I need to be? I don’t have time for hand-holding.”
You’re justified in believing that you’ve hired professionals and they’re the ones who should provide you with answers. It’s their job to deep-dive into your business and inform themselves of the nuances — but they can do this only if you or someone you assign from your side is there to help them through this process. Additionally, you need to be available for feedback and discussions — they aren’t magicians; so you’ll be disappointed if you expect them to whip up the perfect solution after only one interaction.
- “Who is the actual person working on the creative? Can I interact with him/her?”
Chances are they wouldn’t mind interacting with you too. This could be through client servicing or their creative director — trust that the agency isn’t trying to create unnecessary barriers to communication, instead they’ve found the best way to get feedback to the end designer. Having said that, more designers like interacting with the client directly today, so ask your agency if that’s possible.
- “How are you using your experience to the benefit of my specific project?”
Insist on the agency highlighting the impact it is creating for you. In the originality of the idea or the ROI mechanisms or differentiated delivery etc. Today any agency can create ‘good communication’, few can create something that leaves a lasting impact on your target audience or truly stands out compared to the competition. Insist on this, and give them the time and support to achieve this.
- “How do you ensure deadlines are met? Cost escalation is in check?”
Insist on them being transparent about all stages the creative goes through and if they are facing any challenges at any point. Setup a regular reporting mechanism so you’re always in the know. In making yourself available and ready to pitch in to find the best solution, the agency is likely to see you more as a partner and more likely to share information openly.
So now you see a few different perspectives of the agency from the inside out! To summarise:
- Trust is a key factor in creating great creative communication; trust your agency and treat them like a partner, not a vendor.
- Giving your agency a 98% defined brief will ensure you get a 100% of their creative potential.
- Give them time to give you their best, and insisting on fewer high quality options than many generic ones.
- Keep channels of communication open at all points, having an empowered number 2 will ensure your project is on track.
- Ensure paperwork and expectations around clearing of payments are defined at the outset to avoid hiccups later.
- Chemistry is important. Have lunch with them and their team to gauge if it’s a good fit.
- Look for authenticity; don’t be floored by the ‘pitch’ alone.
- If you’re a small business, don’t rule out the large firms. Yours could be their opportunity to do award winning work. There’s always a tradeoff.
Going through the discipline and hardwork of picking the agency that’s right for you is well worth it. Once that’s done — you can then get down to the fun and excitement of inventing the future together! :D
I hope this post was meaningful in addressing the questions you had in mind about finding and working with the right agency for you. I’ll be happy to have a chat about any other queries you have. Drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org and discover the studios work here: www.exitdesign.in