The definitive guide to choosing the right branding agency
Choosing the right branding agency for your project can be a challenge when faced with what appears to be an endless array of options. However, understanding some key differences between the different types of agencies, asking the right questions and having a clearly defined goal, along with this guide, will help make the process significantly less daunting.
Are you really looking for a branding and design agency?
The first thing you must understand when embarking on your search for a branding and design partner, is exactly what type of agency you need. There are many different types of agencies functioning within this sector but not all will have the skill set to effectively deliver on both strategy and design.
Your goal is to identify exactly what your needs are from the start. For example, if you have developed a cohesive brand strategy internally, which will form the foundation for all your brand-building initiatives, you may simply need a design agency that can bring that strategy to life with an overarching visual identity. The challenge here is that, not having developed the strategy, it can be difficult for a design firm to fully understand the essence of the brand.
Alternatively, firms operating as a strategic consultancy may often outsource the creative component. This can often create a disconnect between your vision as articulated in the strategy and the final visual execution—simply because the creative team is not immersed in the initial development of the brand strategy.
A good branding and design agency will effectively develop both the brand strategy and the visual language. The creative team will be involved from the outset in helping craft the strategy, as will the strategists be actively involved in assisting the design team to articulate the strategy
With strategy and creative working seamlessly together from the beginning of the project, there is no disconnect in the visual articulation of your new brand.
TIP: It is important to remember that your branding agency should give you an actionable brand strategy document for approval before creative begins.
Save time in real time and have a call.
When researching agencies you can save a lot of time, and simplify the process, by arranging a conference call first. A lot of time is often spent with back and forth emails which can be cut out entirely with an initial call. A real-time call will give you a first hand feel for the agency.
To make the most of the call, and everyone’s time, have a list of questions prepared which outline the criteria you will use when selecting an agency.
Also take note: Are they talking about themselves more than they are talking about your business? Are they talking about design solutions or business solutions? Are they listening? Are they trying too hard to sell themselves? Do they sound like people you would want to work with? Are they clear and transparent about whether or not they are the right fit?
The answers to these questions could raise red flags or be positive indicators as to whether or not they are the right agency for you. This will help you dismiss or shortlist a potential agency partner.
One quick note about RFPs. If you are planning to employ an RFP process, or an RFP is required by your company, you may be unintentionally excluding the perfect agency partner. Many reputable branding agencies do not respond to RFPs. There are many reasons for this, which will be outlined in a subsequent post, however, it is good to know that an impersonal, time-consuming RFP process sent out to a handful of random agencies may not be the most efficient way to yield a viable shortlist of suitable partners.
TIP: If you are going to email an agency to gauge interest and schedule a call, it is important to make your email personal. Target it specifically to the agency as opposed to sending a generic, blanket, form email to several agencies. Include a brief synopsis of your company and the project. Many reputable firms will not respond to emails which lack sufficient information and appear to have clearly been sent to several other firms to save time.
Every branding project is unique. Your potential new agency partner will need to have the flexibility to develop a solution that is tailor-made for your company. Many agencies operate within a specific niche so it is not ideal to target one of these agencies unless you are in that niche and they have a proven track record of success. However, that is not to say that an agency that doesn’t have a portfolio piece in your exact sector should be discounted. Quite the opposite—range is good. You will want to select an agency who can display a wide variety of work, diversity and adaptability. This proves that they will be able to tailor a solution specifically to you needs. Most importantly, your agency must thoroughly understand your brand and your goals.
TIP: The agency you are considering should be able to demonstrate how they have built brands from the ground up—beginning with a cohesive brand strategy, messaging and displaying consistent brand alignment across all touch points in both print and digital.
A detailed process for any new branding and design project must have a clearly defined scope of work including deliverables, timelines and fee structure. Your potential new branding agency should be able to provide clear and unambiguous dates and fees.
It is important to understand how they articulate each phase of a project. What is involved in developing their strategic framework? How do they get to the heart of your business? How will they differentiate you from your competition? Are they developing a strategic framework before beginning creative? Do they work collaboratively with their clients? Are they responsive?
Their process should be clear and transparent and you should know exactly what to expect and when to expect it.
TIP: Collaboration or, more specifically, the level of collaboration you expect from your branding agency should be something you are clear on from the outset of the project. It is important to make your expectations clear up front. Are you expecting to lead the project and inject significant input throughout the strategic and creative development processes? If so you need an agency who will be very collaborative. Alternatively, will you trust the agency, as professionals in their field, to do what is in your best interest? If so, know that you have selected the agency for their expertise and that tactical input may be all that is required.
Size does matter. You need to be confident that you are selecting the right size agency for your branding project. Some projects will require an agency with a multi-faceted team comprised of strategists, an account team, creative directors, art directors, writers and a full production studio capable of producing art for both print, digital and broadcast. There is certainly a great deal of comfort in working with a large team. There is also less risk inherent in the outcome. Arguably, there is a significant cost, and longer timelines associated with engaging a large agency.
The alternative is working with a boutique firm that has a proven track record and a portfolio that matches your requirements, Often a boutique firm will be more responsive, less expensive and just as capable as a firm significantly larger.
Another note of importance when determining how much size matters is, who will be working on your project? A large firm will often have many layers between you and the team working for you. When a boutique agency is employed, you generally have a closer working relationship with senior partners and the people actually doing the work. Budget is always a factor but it doesn’t have to limit the quality of the end result.
TIP: Don’t be hesitant to employ a boutique firm. There are many smaller firms that can, and have, developed large scale branding projects with the same degree of excellence as agencies ten times their size. Let their experience, references and process guide your decision.
Dollars and sense
Discussing fees and budgets with your potential agency partner can be a seamless process if both parties use common sense and transparency. This is a two-way process that needs transparency—this can not be stressed enough. As the project lead you must be clear on what your budget is and as the potential agency, they must be able to provide you with a realistic price bracket up front.
As an experienced VP of marketing or business owner, your potential agency’s client list and the size of their team, should give you a good idea of whether or not they will fit within your financial parameters. Be realistic.
Reputable agencies will not post their fees online, and fees for strategy and creative are almost always value-based—meaning the larger the client, the larger the project, the more potential risk – the higher the project fees.
It can be daunting to commit to the fees involved in a branding project but it has to be viewed as a long-term investment as opposed to a single outgoing cost.
It is also worth noting that projects are often billed in phases or milestones. Ask your potential agency partner if their proposals include an exit clause should you feel the project is not unfolding as expected.
TIP:If you are uncertain about a realistic budget for your branding project, consult with the people in your network to see if they can give you comparable examples of past projects and fees.
We live in a world of reviews
References. References. References. You’ve narrowed down your list of potential agencies and it’s time for the final step—references. You should always check references and referrals. Ask your potential branding and design agency partner to provide references and be sure to follow up on them.
First hand accounts of what it is like to work with any potential partner is invaluable information which will help mitigate risk in the long term.
There are several online resources you can check in addition to contacting references—Google your potential partners to see what comes up, check clutch.co to see if they have a profile along with themanifest.com and upcity.com. Lastly, you may want to check glassdoor.com to see if their work culture aligns with your company’s values.
Enjoy the process
Building a new brand or evolving an existing brand goes well beyond a simple transaction—it’s a strategic and creative partnership and an exciting time in any companies evolution. The right branding and design agency should ideally feel as though they are part of your internal team and just as invested in the brand’s success as you are. Choose the right agency partner and you will build something great together.
Strano + Pettigrew Design Associates is an award-winning branding and design agency based in Toronto Canada serving clients nationally and abroad. For new business enquiries contact us at: firstname.lastname@example.org