Finding the right design partner to communicate your vision can be daunting –so here are some points to consider when seeking out agency partners to bring design expertise to your brand.
Know What You Want
It sounds obvious, but the answer may surprise you. Are you looking for an agency to deliver on a specific project or are you looking for a long term partner? The key to finding the right design partner for you and your brand is to seek out agencies that have a proven ability to deliver on your brief.
If you’re aiming to get expertise on a one-off project, like a limited edition pack or a product video, it’s smart to look to agencies that specialize in the exact work you have in mind—especially if you already have a very clear idea of the specific visual feel you want to achieve.
But if you’re looking for a long-term creative partnership that will evolve with your product over time, seek out a full-service agency that’s able to work across branding, digital touchpoints, and experiential so you have the most flexibility and growth potential.
Do Your Research
Next, collect examples of work you like – from competitors, but also from other industries, and from the world around you. Spend time getting to know your own creative approach so you can confidently articulate it to potential design partners. Clear communication on both sides will help you choose an agency that suits you and really understands your ask.
They need a good understanding of what you need and the ability to offer it, so review a range of their projects, in and out of category. Ask for examples of how they’ve worked in the past, but also ask how they’d solve your particular problem with their resources and experience.
Seek Out Added Value
While it’s important to be able to communicate what you want, don’t forget that partnering with a design agency is about elevating your brand beyond where it is now. Keeping your brand relevant today and for tomorrow is the crux of the creative challenge you’ll be working on, so look for a partner that can surprise you, and ultimately push your brand towards new levels of success.
Be aware of your company’s tolerance for excitement. Do you want an agency that’s brave and may push you out of your comfort zone? Or do you seek a team that plays it a little safe? This balance is a natural part of the relationship, a key aspect of creative satisfaction for all sides. A healthy process of pushing and reigning-in will result in the best outcome for your brand. Whether bold or safe, you want to work with a team that will offer insights you haven’t thought of before and, ideally, one that can dial up the category disruption or fit into norms as needed.
Avoid Middle Men
The agency you hire should not be a middle man. The truth is that many agencies do work this way, hiring on additional agencies or freelancers to own and run each project. Not only are you paying for their management time, but this practice often leads to competing ideas and, ultimately, a disconnected overall campaign. The agency you choose should lead every single output and only bring in specialists as an extension to the team.
Some may argue that it’s great to bring together the best of the best from various offices. But the reality is that 10 brilliant but disconnected assets and executions won’t build strong brand equity or further the message of your brand. For the long-term, you’ll want cohesion and a single-minded underpinning that allows for your brand to have the greatest stretch across applications, while ensuring visual integrity of the campaign.
Look for an agency that is flexible enough to approach everything you’re aiming for in your brief – that can take ownership and work closely with you for connected work that represents your brand holistically.
Put Chemistry Over Credentials
Don’t rely just on case studies and credentials – the right design agency for you is more than what they’ve done for someone else. They need to be able to take brand challenges and create unique solutions, not copy cat what has been done before. They need passion to develop a well-rounded understanding of your brand and category in order to deliver compelling ideas. They may be impressive on Instagram, but are you going to get what you need?
More than an agency with big credits, you need an agency that is going to be a credit to you—one that makes sense for your brand from a cultural angle as much as from a visual one.
To do that, and to make sure they meet your other requirements, it’s important to invest time in getting to know an agency before you hire them. Going out for lunch isn’t enough. In addition, visit their studio. Meet in person if possible. See their work in various contexts. Talk to other clients.
As one example: At Vault49, we often do immersion workshops with potential clients—we bring them into the studio to get to know us, our process, and give them a chance to see hands-on how we might work on a project together. It’s a great way to test personality and cultural fit on both sides, while also giving a real sense of the quality and attention we put into our work.
A Beautiful Friendship
When looking for the right design agency for you, remember this above everything else: any good agency should feel like an extension of your team. A sense of trust and open-mindedness is essential on both sides. The more you get to know the agency before you work together, the more you can ensure a healthy and fruitful relationship.
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Paul Woodvine, Managing Creative Director & Partner