Selecting the right branding agency to work with is a process that typically happens before your project starts and is a crucial first step. For some clients, having everything under one roof is desirable but it’s quickly realized that it often comes with a price tag that can cause extreme sticker shock.
The traditional model
The days of genuine full-service design agencies are few and far between. A typical more prominent agency has a lot of top-heavy management that outsources work to smaller shops or contractors who do the job. So you end up paying for margins and overhead at that point. Or the big guys are buying up smaller companies or creating new branches to crush the competition. At that level, you’re often faced with many promises and the good old broken telephone, which can cause tension and politics that slows down any momentum.
Sure, you could try your luck on Fiverr or hire a freelancer. For many that go down this path, they quickly realize that to get the results desired, you have to make a wise decision and invest once into a verified leader in the industry. Because time is money and you don’t want to do the same thing 2 or 3 times before you get it right.
Enter the agile, ‘anti-agency’ that can fulfil your needs with thoughtful planning, strategy and handpicked team members who are specialists in their own right. Refreshing transparency and reasonable budgets to get the same, if not better quality of work complete.
Qualifying an agency is no different from an agency qualifying a client. It’s a relationship like any other and you’re going to be working with each other for the duration of the project and, ideally, well beyond that, so you want to make sure it’s a good fit.
We happily categorize Jackson Wynne as this option.
Things to look for
How they work
You’ll notice a lot of overlap and similarities in processes between branding agencies, depending on what you’re looking for. Having a process in place ensures that a project runs smoothly and it’s not their first rodeo. This provides structure and a formula that can be followed for consistent results. Some agencies get a little carried away, branding and trademarking this and that, which gets to be a bit much – but it speaks to packaging something up that feels more like an exclusive, secret formula. It’s a bit market-y and cheesy, but someone is buying into it. Of course, you need to go off-script for something new or different.
Does the agency offer what you need? Often there is some wiggle room if you require something more specific. Things can be accommodated and brokered or project managed, but make sure the core services offered align with your needs. Occasionally, you are not sure what you need, so that’s where consultation and planning phases help map out insights that are useful to do the work properly.
There are too many “fly by night” companies who won’t be around next year. You want to make sure you hire someone with a well-balanced, seasoned portfolio with specific examples of work via a portfolio or case study format.
Having some experience in your industry is beneficial. Sometimes taking a calculated risk is fine because transferable skills and related projects can apply. Enter the catch-22 – how does one get experience if they are never hired for it?
This is a standard. Most work will speak for itself, but it helps to verify things by a client who worked with the agency. Ask for references if needed.
Things to be cautious of
Companies claiming they can “do it all.”
There are a lot of inexperienced companies that claim to be able to do it all. I would be very suspicious of that claim since diluting your core service offering means you’re spread thin and become a jack-of-all-trades; yes man, “we can do that for you.” But you just have to wonder if they really can do it and how well they can do it, if at all in most instances.
Flash in the pan agencies who are one-trick ponies fill a niche, but you want to be careful about those young companies still figuring things out. The allure of hype and PR only takes you so far. Buying into excitement is fine, but you need to consider your short-term *and* your long-term needs.
Trying too hard
I’ve seen smaller agencies try to look bigger than they are by doing some pretty weird stuff like Photoshopping the same employee 4 or 5 times into a photo to make it seem like there are more people in the office. Overcompensating for lack of warm bodies is embarrassing at best and just comical to see. If the end product you produce speaks for itself, you shouldn’t need to throw smoke and mirrors at clients to feel like a legitimate service provider.
Lots of buzz words
I cannot stress enough how important it is to understand and see through this veil. If the rep you’re talking to throws around many big words, they’re selling hard and don’t know what they’re talking about. Little do they realize that they are probably scaring you off unless they’re speaking your language, then it could be music to your ears?
Things to consider
With the internet, working with companies abroad is becoming standard. Figuring out time zone differences can be tricky to work around but very doable. There is something to be said about face-to-face that is a challenging element you want to try and have if possible but work with what you have.
Building trust and rapport is essential to make sure both sides are committed. Starting on a large project may not be an excellent first step. Perhaps you want to try a smaller project first to test the waters and develop a working relationship before you dive in. That is more than fair.
There are many providers out there that offer similar services. They all have very similar processes and approaches, use the same technologies, etc. Ultimately, develop a relationship with people you think you would enjoy working with! What makes these companies different? It all boils down to that.
Talk to them, meet them, get to know them and trust them to do the job!