Avoid dis-appointments

By The Drum, Administrator

March 3, 2003 | 7 min read

We live in a world of competing images. Everything – from the logo to the sales brochures, from catalogues to the product packaging, and even the company office itself – is affected by design. Companies rely on good graphic designers to help them recruit, win customers, build sales, and make profits.

In this visual world that we live in, design may be the most potent tool to differentiate your products. And in today’s heavily saturated marketplace, you need a communication strategy that stands out in order to get noticed. The bottom line? Well, good design gets results. But, as many client companies out there already know, it can be one thing to know all this, and another to implement it. Currently, it seems that there are more design consultancies in Scotland than there are hot dinners in India.

With so many to choose from, how does a prospective client find the agency that will help them create the desired image for their company?

As with any job, the first task is to actually decide what it is you want your future design consultancy to do. Is it a complete brand re-haul, or do you just want a new brochure knocked up? Do you have a budget in mind?

“Write a clear brief and set the budget,” says Susan Sneddon, marketing director of the recently launched Bright Grey, a new protection business launched by the Royal London Group.

“The brief should only go to the short-listed agencies but it’s a good starting point for the client because it forces a thought process that drives out the key criteria you need your agency to fit. How important is it that they have experience in your area? Do you want something different? If you do, you might find it’s better to move away from the design agencies that specialise in your area. It’s important to know what you want; the agency shouldn’t have to guess.”

Colin Banks, brand manager for the Scottish Football Association (SFA), agrees: “Essentially, the buck rests with the brief. You have to make sure that you’re targeting an agency that will be able to work closely with you to help develop the brief into a foolproof and focused document – let’s face it, the success of your campaign hangs heavily on it!”

Once there is a clear picture in your head as to what your design agency should achieve, a decision has to be made as to which ones you’ll contact initially. And how many.

This is where past experience helps out many marketing managers. But if you are fresh to the consultancy scene it can be hard to find a starting foot-hole. The method frequently employed by marketing managers is word of mouth. Ask around; who’s got a reputation and how did they get it?

Ellie Newlands, marketing and PR director for First in Glasgow, says: “I’m approached regularly by design companies and I’m always happy to meet and talk to them. However, we have recently undergone a wide-ranging rationalisation process with our agencies, so obviously we have to refer to our list. Still, if we like what we hear we often keep a hold of the name and perhaps they will be able to fill a function that is currently uncatered for in the future. There are a lot of people working with agencies across First, so there’s plenty of people to consult internally. Also, First has a history of working with a lot of agencies, so there’s a lot of names on file. I think that it’s really important to get an overview of what’s out there and how different design consultancies work. You have to know you can work together and develop a relationship.”

Susan Sneddon, who recently pitched her company’s design account for conception, launch and development, says: “Ask for credentials from a broad range of agencies to start with and have exploratory conversations with no more than ten.

“Choosing which agencies to talk to depends on your brief. Past experience is always a good thing to go on but recommendations from other marketers and knowledge of work for other clients you have admired is also useful.

“Initially you want to test the water. Credentials will give you an idea of financial strength, stability and client base. However, this is a good opportunity to ask specific questions that may be important to you but not to every business – for example, staff retention, business culture, most recent account losses/gains.”

However, the SFA’s Colin Banks feels that if you are comfortable with an agency then there is often no need to extend your search any further: “When we picked Curious Oranj to work on our brand identity, they were the first and only agency involved. I like working with one agency on an ongoing basis and as long as their thinking is in line with yours and they are prepared to get to understand your brand and business – not just deliver briefs – this should work. There was an instant chemistry with our consultancy that worked for us and it hasn’t let us down.”

So, after the tender documents have been sent out, and you’ve decided which consultancies that you would like to see more from, what then?

“Once the credentials are received you should go through them and invite a small number to pitch. At Bright Grey it was slightly different as we were recruiting for several areas and rather than put agencies into a box – for example, design agency can only do design work, ad agency can only do ad work – we asked them to tell us which areas they felt they could add most value to and pitch around that.

“It is also important to invest the time with the agencies invited to tender to ensure that they understand the brief and to answer any questions.

“To get to your short list you should be able to identify the attributes that are important to you and you should rank them. Is creativity the most important factor? If so, what is the next most important factor? Score each agency against the criteria you have set.”

“What’s important is getting a strategic overview,” remarks Philip Hogg, divisional marketing director of Miller Homes. “Not just looking at the current project but looking at how the brand can develop over time. Looking at something and saying ‘OK, I’m not briefing you on this now but in six months’ time will the brand be able to grow and adapt?’

“Looking back, the thing that all the design consultancies I’ve ever worked with have in common is that they all have good people that I felt I could work with.”

However, according to marketers in Scotland, the pitch process is important, but it is not always the be-all and end-all. Says Sneddon: “The pitch is very important, but must not be the sole way of judging an agency. Equally important is the relationship you create before the pitch date. The pitch should not be based purely on first impressions; both parties should have had the opportunity to meet prior to the pitch.”

Many marketers suggest that pitching should be a focused process and not dragged out. As the client, you must be willing to put a decision date in place at the start of the process.

Finally, one last piece of advice comes from Banks: “Make sure the agency you select in the end is prepared to do more than just deliver a brief. They have to show that they are really prepared to get to understand your brand or organisation. The thinking behind the output is as important as the final delivery.”


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