Choosing a Design Agency: 6 Things Marketing Teams Need to Think About

In-house marketing departments have a very unique set of responsibilities and challenges; both in their creative endeavours and in the unique role they play within a business. They have to take charge of demanding (yet inventive) tasks like promotional strategy, brand awareness, managing campaigns, and much more.

It’s natural that a successful marketing department will eventually need additional support to meet goals and deadlines. (Sometimes it seems that good work is only rewarded with more work!)

But rather than adding to in-house human resources, many marketing departments choose to team up with external graphic design agencies for additional support and creative brain-power.

But just what do marketing teams need to consider when selecting a graphic design agency? How do you make sure that an agency is aligned with your team and your goals from day one? Let’s find out.

What do Marketing Teams Have to Consider When Working with a Design Agency?

Does The Agency Fundamentally Understand the Department’s Wider Context?

For this first point, we’ll need to flip our million-dollar question on its head for a moment – What do design agencies need to consider when working with a marketing department?

When comparing the design needs of a small or micro business client to those of a larger company with in-house marketing talent, the main point of differentiation is usually one of hierarchy and context.

Working with smaller businesses is (usually) quite straightforward – the agency meets with the company’s managers or directors who simply don’t have the available talent or capacity to design things in-house. An agency like ours can come in and take all of the design, web, and printing work off their hands.

However, larger organisations with their own marketing departments generally have some kind of in-house design talent and need an external agency to generally help lighten the load. Alternatively, these firms may simply handle strategies and briefing in-house, and look to an agency to “do all the legwork” and bring their ideas into fruition.

Other times, big companies refer to agencies when they need extra creative minds for new, exciting ideas for campaigns and announcements. Yet, larger organisations have a wider reaching chain of command; marketing is just one department and it has its own higher-ups to impress and lower-level employees to support.

So let’s flip the question back the right way around. Marketing teams need to select an agency who fundamentally understands their needs and pain points, the needs and pain points of other departments, and the team’s context within the company as a whole. This way, the agency can “hit the ground running” and start doing good work for the benefit of the whole organisation. The right agency for you will approach any project in far more depth than merely “churning out designs” – they’ll consider your organisation’s wider context and make strategic, tailored marketing suggestions.

Good agencies recognise the gravity and responsibility of supporting a larger company’s marketing department. If a marketing campaign flops, the effects could be felt company-wide, potentially dragging livelihoods and bottom lines along too.

What Can Each Agency Bring to the Table Creatively?

Not all designers – or agencies – are created equal. We’re not just talking about skill level here; some agencies specialise in certain industries, some specialise in providing certain kinds of deliverables, some specialise in strategy, and some are great at simply delivering exactly to spec.

Working with an agency that has rich, deep experience in your line of work can be beneficial, but working with a generalist can be just as enlightening. Generalists have seen all kinds of different marketing campaigns and approaches in their time, so it’s likely that they can bring something new to the table. They may even be able to adapt methods and strategies that are unusual within your industry and craft something that really performs!

But whichever path you take, always ask to see agency portfolios and testimonials before you get too taken in by a slick sales pitch. If possible, ask the agency’s previous clients for a personal recommendation – any worthwhile agency would be happy to personally introduce you to satisfied customers.

Related Reading: Why Choose a Design Agency Over a Freelance Graphic Designer

How Seamlessly Can Your In-House and Outsourced Creatives Collaborate?

Any agency you work with will need to act as a natural, fluid extension of your marketing department.

It’s likely that marketing departments will carry out some design work in-house. It’s therefore essential that there’s no discernible difference between the design, tone of voice, and overall feel of the deliverables created by the company and those created by the agency.

To achieve this, communication is key. Both parties need to maintain an open, two-way flow of information in order to stay on the same page creatively. Marketing departments not only need designers who are good at what they do but ones that can immediately grasp the company’s unique creative style and implement it straight away.

But this relationship doesn’t begin and end with design deliverables. To get the most out of working with an agency (and the skilled marketing minds therein) it makes sense to welcome new, fresh ideas from them as you would from your in-house team, and even have the two groups bouncing ideas around between them.

It will help greatly if your agency gets on well with your team interpersonally too. Sharing your own unique flavour of professional camaraderie will make working together all the more enjoyable.

How Compatible Are Each Agency’s Creative Processes with Your Own?

There’s more than one way to skin a proverbial cat when it comes to anything creative. Most creatives – both company side and agency side – develop set processes to get the best out of their teams.

If it’s likely that designs will pass to and fro between both parties on their track to completion, your ideation, creation, and sign off processes need to be compatible. These processes don’t have to be exactly the same, but your journey from inception to completion should at least be similar.

If your creative processes are totally different, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s game over between the two of you. As long as the agency are good at communicating progress and they bring creative and strategic excellence to the relationship, things can still work out well. Some agencies may even be open to changing the way they do things to better fit in with your ways of working.

Why is this important? You can be totally compatible professionally and interpersonally, but if you’re at loggerheads in terms of the way things are done, this can cause friction.

How Well Does Each Agency Deal with Unexpected Change?

An unexpected need for change can arise internally or externally – markets adjust, minds change, plans get scrapped, and oars get stuck in.

In terms of external factors, marketing departments will sometimes need to down tools and focus on something completely out of left field in order to maximise on a new potential news item (or minimise the impact of a PR crisis).

Other times, marketing departments receive unforeseen demands from other departments as those teams’ needs, deadlines, and goals change. In either case, having an agency to act as an overflow can be invaluable.

Speed, responsiveness, and an ability to roll with the punches are essential qualities for all agencies (and good marketers) to have. The right agency for you should be able to cope with short-notice changes and sudden, quick-turnaround requests – instantly manoeuvring current workloads towards your new plans with a “can do” attitude.

If the agency has come to know your organisation particularly well, they may even be able to creatively second-guess where a change of attention or pace will be needed, say in response to a PR event or interdepartmental requirement.

Related Reading: Who Works with Graphic Design Agencies and Why?

The Age Old Question of Pricing and Billing

Internal budgeting processes can make sourcing an agency very awkward for a marketing team. Departments are sometimes given quite rigid, set budgets with no wiggle-room above that figure. Occasionally departments have the opposite problem, having to spend a certain amount in order to secure the same level of funding the year after.

Though there are pros and cons to most pricing methods, we find that a retainer pricing model can be particularly useful to marketing teams – that’s where the agency reserves an agreed amount of hours in their schedule every month for a regular, prearranged fee.

Retainers benefit in-house marketing departments because they know that the agency will block that time out for them every single month, come rain or shine, and it’s there to use however they wish. The regular fees and reliable throughput of work make forecasting and ROI (Return on Investment) calculations easy.

Retainers are also favourable to the agency as it’s guaranteed regular income and work, making their own accounting and ROI calculations simple too.

Need a reliable, creative design agency who understand the unique pressures of in-house marketers? Give the experts at OLCO Design a call today! Simply book your free consultation call with our management team and we’ll take away the strain of those pesky overflow tasks.

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