How to choose your first brand agency. Advice for when you are starting out, you've got some budget and you need to start building relationships with brand agencies and designers.
How to choose your first brand agency is a huge decision for any founder or head of marketing. In this blog I have summarised my experiences and the lessons I’ve learnt along the way to help you make the right decisions for your business.
When money is tight, and you are counting every penny, spending money on a brand agency can seem daunting. The budget can prove hard to justify. Particularly to other areas of your business, those competing to get money allocated for different projects (usually the tech team). This blog will help you make that decision. I will give you a process and the resources to help you find the right agency and to start a long term relationship with them.
Whether you already have a DIY brand or you are completely starting from scratch step one is to create a long list of creative and design agencies you could work with. If you’ve been through all this before then maybe you have something to add. Be sure to reach out firstname.lastname@example.org.
Start by reading some blogs, (including this one). Doing so will help you to scope out the choices available to you. You will begin to get a sense of what you like, and to be honest also what you don’t like. It is good to ask yourself how your favourite brands are adapting to their markets in 2018. Is it by rebranding, or maybe engaging different groups of users. There are tons of great blogs out there but here’s our favourite 8:
Take to Google. Google your favourite brands. Look at their logos, their brand identity.
Do the have a word-mark (the brand-name as a stylised word), a logo, or a mixture of the two? How do they communicate their tone of voice?
How do they match their brand to their market?
Is their brand a niche brand or a mass market brand?
These are some questions to get you started with Google search when researching.
If an agency can rank well on Google it’s a good sign! If you want to meet your designer face-to-face you may need to consider how local an agency is based to you. It’s perfectly ok to hold video calls but that’s a personal preference.
Join relevant slack communities. There are plenty of really active and engaged communities on slack. Slack communities have people who are both very well informed and genuinely willing to help you. Be careful though. Watch out for time-wasters or people who are just self promoting without giving you an objective view.
The great thing about branding is that there is a rich awards scene. The latest work gets entered and showcased. This is such a great way to do research as the awards will do tons of work for you. Each different awards finds you the best designers, the best agencies agencies. And even categorises them for you. Here are a couple of sites to get you started
Try to find someone in your network who works in branding. Try to find another who has had some branding work done for their business or a startup they work for. It’s good to get a point of view from both sides. There’s the client side, and the agency/designer point of view. The best creative work is done when clients and designers work well together. So, it’s good to ask questions. Don’t just them about where to find the best designers. Ask them as well how you should behave to get the maximum out of the design process. Be sure to ask them probing questions such as
“what was the process like”?,
“how has it added value to your business”? and
“how did you do your agency selection process”?
By now you are starting to build up a list of agencies and designers, which is an exciting step to be at. Now you need to keep up to date with each of them. It’s super exciting to see what they’re working on. To do so is easy. Follow them on dribble, twitter, pinterest etc. This is such a great step because you get to know your favourite designers on a day-to-day basis. The added benefit is that you’re social feeds get covered in the latest and greatest designs. win-win.
Time is the most precious commodity of all and the last thing you want to do is waste your own time, or the time of others for that matter. Sometimes you just know when something isn’t a fit. Remember to make a note of these agencies so you don’t repeat well trodden ground.
Well done for completing your research. Clearly there are too many agencies out there for you to speak to them all. The best approach is to make a shortlist of 4-5 designer and agencies. Reach out and start a conversation with each of them.
I would recommended meeting with any potential new client before going ahead with a project and having a phone call really early on to discuss brief and objectives.
That way you get a really good feel for the client’s vibe, ideas and direction and vice versa. You can also cover a lot of ground in a meeting or a video call and build stronger relationships too, which is super important for us at Studio Macki.
Emma Maconie of Studio Macki
Whether you work with a large or small agency is an interesting and extremely important consideration for you. Working with a big agency can be great. On the flip side, you are unlikely to be a significant part of their business. Unlike a small agency, you might get an added amount of professionalism and process. On the other hand, you maybe get overlooked, or you project might even get delayed, if one of their larger clients is making demands of them. With a smaller agency you might get a bespoke treatment, you may find yourself closer to the creative team who actually do the branding work. There’s other side to this coin as well. If you are their biggest client, you don’t want to end up effectively supporting their other, smaller clients. The question to ask yourself is
“Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a bigger pond”?
If you find you are trying to choose between a large and small agency it is important to consider how much each can spend on their pitch. The best way to work around this is to agree, in advance, to pay a small fee for the pitch work. Often an agency will do some of the branding work at the pitch stage. This is to win you over and give you a clear idea of the direction they’re heading. Large agencies have the capacity to go much further with their pitches. This doesn’t necessarily mean the end product will be any better or worse though. You are looking to build a long term relationship so rewarding the work people put into pitching can make a great starting point and produce the best end product.
Ask yourself, have any of the agencies done particularly good work in your target market or vertical. Perhaps they specialise in setting up brands in your particular niche.
Finally, this is a sense check really. Who did your competitor’s brand. Maybe they already did all this work for you and found a great fit for you niche market.
You don’t want to lead discussions with the financials, but, it’s always a good idea to make sure beforehand of the minimum and maximum amount you are prepared to spend. Sometimes agencies will publish their client spend brackets, otherwise you can just ask. Follow their lead on this one.
Be sure to find out what their process is. Does this fit in with your expectations and timelines? Will you be able to give up the resources of you company to support the process in full to get the maximum value? Be sure to ask these questions. While you don’t want to impact too heavily on their design process, you also want to make sure that you can support them where it is required for you to do so.
It is really important to find out if you will be working directly with the designer or if there will be an account manager, or others involved. Equally important, who from your side will be leading this project. The best situation is to find that all the personalities match up. And to see that there is an excitement and buzz around the project group. The best creative work normally starts with a certain amount of excitement, even hysteria.
The worst case for a creative is to demand the world, on a small budget without any ongoing relationship. Try to find the people who you will go back to time and again.
It’s decision time. You’ve collected all the information you need. You’ve had your initial discussions and seen a few pitches. I will end with a bullet list to help you make the perfect choice.
Find the right fit
Go with your gut instincts
Build lasting relationships
Reward the work that people put in