A guide to choosing a creative agency

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Choosing a creative agency can be a tricky business. There are so many out there, and in Manchester alone where Think Design are based, potential clients are spoilt for choice.

Whether you want some new business cards or a full rebrand, it can be tricky to get it right - and oh-so-easy to get wrong. We’ve put together our top tips of what to look for – and what to avoid.

Can they do what you need them to do?

Before you even begin your search, make sure you’re clear on exactly what services you need. We’re fine with “we’re not really sure” – but a starter for ten is always helpful. Things to consider are: Do you want a direct marketing campaign? Maybe you need a compelling brand narrative? Perhaps it’s all digital? Or a complete rebrand?

Some agencies may focus solely on graphic design services, while others specialise in marketing and advertising – and there are those that cater for everything in-between. Whatever your initial needs, make sure that you start your search looking for an agency that can actually do the work you need them to do.

It’s pretty common for agencies to bring in creative partners to help with the more complex projects where additional expertise in required. Just make sure you don’t fall in to the trap where Ben is sitting in his bedroom, outsourcing every last job to all and sundry – he’ll quickly loose control of your project operating in this way.

Meet up face to face

Try to meet the prospective agency face to face – ideally at their premises. You have to be confident that they are a legitimate set up with adequate staff, premises and technology for your requirements. Sure, there are some great freelancers out there – but you need to be certain of the level of expertise and capability to carry out your project from the outset. Let’s face it – if the agency can afford a decent office, no matter how – aherm – compact – chances are they are around for the long run.

Good communication

For great working relationships to build, good, clear communication is key. You are going to be dealing with your creative agency a lot, especially during peak times on a project. So, its important that the communication flows freely both ways.

It’s also important to be sure that your agency will listen to you – really listen. Creatives can have a reputation for having diva-like tendencies (we’re not pointing any fingers!). While its essential that your team are passionate about what they do, it’s crucial that they are always working to produce what is right for you as a business – not just them as creatives.

Many agencies operate an Account Handler system. This is something we advise against, on all levels. Ideally, you want to be able to have free access to the creative working on your project, not be relying on the suited and booted exec in the shiny car to correctly convey your vision. Things easily get lost in translation – and chances are you’ll be paying a premium for the privilege of having their Audi on your car park.

Are they the right fit?

Company culture has become a bit of a buzz word over recent years – but let us tell you, it matters. It’s really important to find an agency with a company culture that aligns with your own. If you’re a modern, edgy tech organisation you might find it difficult to work with an old-skool art-working house.

If you’re a suited and booted traditional law firm, meetings with a cutting edge, uber cool studio where it’s all about the teeshirts and beanies could be tricky. Company culture goes beyond the work that the agency produce and sometimes, you just have to go with your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, it usually isn’t.

Do they understand your industry?

It’s pretty essential that your agency not only understands your business – but the industry in which you operate, and the challenge you face in standing out from the competition. Even more important is that they “get” your target audience, and how to effectively communicate with them.

There are specialist agencies out there and if your business is of a more complex nature, it’s probably worth searching them out.

More than pretty pictures

Your agency should be producing top class concepts and creative work that blows your socks off.

That’s a given.

They should also be producing hard-working creative and be able to demonstrate a tangible return on your investment.

Effective design and hitting the target audience with the right messages that result in the desired response should be key elements of the pitch. If this isn’t mentioned, it’s probably time to look elsewhere.

Speak to previous clients

This one’s a no brainer. Find a company with stunning marketing materials and then ask who designed them. Word of mouth and referrals are the way forward in this game.

If you do it the other way round and find your agency first, ask if you can have a chat with one of their customers. Any agency worth their salt will happily oblige, and provide you with a list of happy punters to speak to.

Don’t expect quotes at the intro meeting

We get it. Budgets are tight, and most client want to know from the off if they can actually afford the goods on offer.

But there is nothing worse for a serious creative than being asked for a “ballpark” at the intro meeting. Proposals and concepts need thought, research and a proper brief. Anyone half decent can’t pluck a figure out of thin air, and if they can – well – we’d advise showing them the door.

By the same token, we’d also recommend anyone who splashes special offers, BOGOF or websites for £500 all in.

Your creative is a business asset, as essential as your staff or your technology. Give it the credit it deserves.