Working with Creative Agencies
This article is here to help you understand agencies a bit better, we will give you some insight into what they can help you with, and how to best work with them.get in touch
Never worked with an agency? Here are some insights.
Creative agencies can help out with a variety of tasks and problems.
However, reaching out to an agency can seem somewhat daunting if you lack the previous experience.
Maybe you are not sure what they can help you with, and what to expect generally and in terms of expenses.
This article is here to help you understand agencies a bit better, we will give you some insight into what they can help you with, and how to best work with them, touching on the following topics:
Agency versus freelancers – How to choose?
Small versus big agencies – What’s the best fit for you?
Services – What can a creative agency help you with?
The Expertise of an agency.
Team and different roles in agencies.
Working with an agency – reliability and timelines.
The process of working with an agency.
About briefs and reverse briefs.
The Lingo of a creative agency.
Expenses – The cost of working with an agency.
Agencies versus freelancers - How to choose?
When making this decision, you should consider the importance of getting it right the first time, and the complexity of the project.
There are a lot of talented freelancers out there that do a great, astonishing job – but can you be sure you have found that exceptional talent to work on your project?
When hiring and working with a freelancer, it is a matter of luck as well as doing thorough research.
In more unfortunate cases, you will start to realise deeper into the project, that there is an issue with a language barrier or attention to detail, or that the quality of work is lacking as you are receiving sloppy drafts. It is easy to create an illusion of being more experienced than you are in an online environment.
If dealing with an inexperienced freelancer, they may not have established a reliable work process yet. The lack of the process may lead to misunderstanding your brief, or ineffective project management, confusion about the rounds of revisions, extra costs, etc. which will all add up, making your life more difficult.
With an established agency, such inefficiencies can not happen as strict processes are in place to handle each aspect of the project.
Each project is handled by an experienced project/account manager, who will ensure that the brief is understood correctly and that all the grey areas are clarified.
Each draft will go through internal revisions and checks before it comes back to you. Many eyes have seen it, approved it, made sure it meets the brief and is up to a high standard.
After all, in agencies, they have “top of their game” experienced creatives running things, with an expert specialising in each area.
Small versus BIG agencies - What's the best fit for you?
In this comparison, it’s not really about one being better than the other; the two are just very different in the way they function.
At the centre of every agency is a creative mind, and the motivation to create great work.
The main difference is that large and small agencies have different processes, resources, and motivations for how to take care of work.
Smaller agencies tend to be much more agile and flexible when it comes to sudden changes in the direction of your project.
A dramatic visual example is the Titanic attempting to change course to avoid the iceberg. Now imagine if it was a yacht instead, the turn would not have been an issue at all.
It can be great to have big agency resources, but that momentum is hard to stop as a lot of people are involved, and the approval hierarchy chain is long.
The Titanic story was just one example of how your experience may differ from one to the other, if you would like to deep dive more into this, have a look at our blog post about small versus big agencies.
Services - What can a creative agency help you with.
Available services can vary a little depending on the agency and if they specialise in specific areas.
The main areas including graphic design, brand development, market research, website development, digital, SEO strategy, Online health audits, campaign strategy, etc. should be covered by most agencies.
At MMR, we call ourselves problem solvers, whatever your challenge may be, reach out to us, and we will help come up with a creative solution for it.
Here is a general services list of an average agency, including and explaining all the main areas of expertise in more detail.
I would like to outline here, that some of the agencies have their own unique products they offer as a service. For example, MMR developed the following products that you can benefit from:
E-brochures – A great interactive solution for publishing your marketing materials online.
Livebook – We call it the future of online publishing.
DataCleanse – The most efficient way to clean and update your database as part of a campaign.
Working with a Creative Agency will give you guaranteed expertise in the area.
As I briefly mentioned in comparison with freelancers, an agency has a top-end team working on your project. While freelancers don’t have anyone above them, checking their quality of work, their experience and knowledge.
In contrast – agencies can’t hire people without the required experience and knowledge base as they will need to keep their bar high in terms of work quality. After all, a good reputation is highly valued in this industry.
Just like in most companies, the staff is divided into teams with different focus areas. Each team will have people with different experience levels to ensure the agency is capable of handling a variety of projects with varying degrees of complexity.
Teams and different roles in agencies.
The team size varies from one extreme to the other, however, the main functions are always covered regardless of the staff number.
Usually, in a large agency, all these roles are covered by people that are hired only for that specific role.
However, in a small agency, people wear many hats, the same skill sets are covered, but each team member can usually hold multiple skill sets and is flexible enough to jump from one type of project to the other.
For example, an art director can also be an active designer with a good understanding of UX/UI and brand strategy. Some designers are also skilled copywriters, and the traffic manager can be an active part of the accounts team.
Smaller agencies also tend to partner up with different service providers and outsource some parts of their projects if needed.
If you would like to understand this in more detail, see the full list of agency roles.
The Lingo of a Creative Agency
Every industry has its specific jargon; it’s just the way it is.
And yes – it gets frustrating when you are communicating between these different industries, getting bombarded with strange and confusing terminology you don’t always understand.
Agencies are no different, and even when they do their best to keep information clear for the customer, using specific terminology has become second nature and is almost impossible to avoid.
I will bring out some main terms that pop up a lot, but if you want to take a deep-dive, check out our article about the Agency talk.
Brief – Your initial work request, describing the required scope and deliverables.
Scope – what’s included in the project.
Reversed brief – The agencies response to your brief, clarifying grey areas and asking additional questions if needed.
SEO – Search Engine Optimization
FA – Final Art
Proof – Draft of your artwork sent for feedback. Work is still in progress.
SERP – Search Engine Results Page.
Production – The phase in the project where physical assets actually get created.
Pitch – a presentation of the creative approach by one or more people to the client or group of investors, though it can also be an email, letter, or even an impromptu conversation.
Tender – A bid for a big project. Tendering usually refers to the process where companies invite bids for large projects that must be submitted within a finite deadline.
Working with an Agency - Reliability and Timelines
Timeline is an important topic to cover when dealing with an agency.
If you leave a due date out of your brief or mark it as ASAP (As soon as possible), it will not go unnoticed.
ASAP as a due date is a traffic manager’s worst nightmare, how can he juggle the workloads, and priorities between projects if they all have ASAP as a deadline?
The reality is that the “AS POSSIBLE” aspect makes it more likely for your project to be pushed behind jobs with solid deadlines.
So here is a tip – if you want your project prioritised, always provide a deadline.
Sticking to the timeline is something that you are also responsible for – it is a team effort. If you are not swift with feedback and delay the process by being slow with your responses, the final deadline date will most likely be pushed.
With complex projects, the agency will usually create a timeline full of small milestone dates, some the agency is responsible for, and some you will have to meet to keep the whole project on track.
Creating a complicated timeline is a skill, have a look at some tips on how to develop complex timelines.
What does a process of working with an agency look like?
All projects are of different complexity and run differently. Basically, there are two main methods for managing a project:
A waterfall method – which is explained below, applies for a scenario where you can predict the steps and the scope of the project from the start.
A Dynamic method – is for projects that require a lot of discovery, as you will need to decide what is the best way forward ongoingly.
A Hybrid between the two – The steps are predicted while allowing some scope for discovery, learn more here about project management methods.
Example of the Waterfall method of project management:
Let’s say you are approaching an agency for a logo design.
For the agency, this is a pretty standard request and they are easily able to predict the time and resources required for each stage. So the process will flow like a waterfall, from one stage to the next.
From planning, to production, to amendments, to final art creation.
First step – the account management team will respond to you and ask you to put together a brief. Usually, the agency can provide you with a briefing form to guide you through the process with more ease, and make it clear to you what kind of information they are after.
Second step – you should receive a reversed brief. This is the agency’s opportunity to fill in the gaps and clarify any grey areas, confirming that you are all on the same page and the work will be done to your expectations.
Third step – you will receive a quote and a proposed timeline; no work will usually commence until you have given official approval on the costs.
Read the quote thoroughly as it includes detailed information about the project; it lists everything included in the price, how many rounds of revisions, etc.
Fourth step – Once the quote is approved, the project is handed over to the studio for the designers to start work. Depending on the studio, the communication may stay between you and the account manager, or they may put you in direct contact with the designer.
Sticking to the proposed timeline, you should receive your first concepts to pick. The number of versions and revisions is all relative to what was agreed between yourself and the agency.
But from there it is quite straight forward – you choose your favourite concept and send your feedback/changes, the designer will action this and send you the next proof, this continues until you are satisfied with the result (if you run out of revisions, you may have to pay extra for additional rounds – depending on the agency)
Once it’s all approved, you will receive the final files, and the agency will send you an invoice for the job.
The above is quite a simple example, and for example website projects can be much more complex to manage than this.
Briefs and reverse briefs
In the process section, I mentioned briefs and reverse briefs, let me go in a bit more detail.
A brief is so very important.
It sets the foundation for the whole project going forward.
It paints the picture of what you are asking for, helps the creative team to understand what you are trying to achieve with this project, so they can do their part the best way possible to help you achieve your goals.
Therefore, when putting a brief together, don’t be shy with information, the better the designer understands your goal, the better the result will be!
Start with the very tangible facts about the job, like:
- Is it a campaign asset, a logo, a website, a poster/flyer etc.
- Will this be printed, or is it only used digitally?
- What type of files do you need as the final output, in what colour scheme – RGB, CMYK?
- Working files – will you need them for later modifications, or are you happy with just the final documents?
- Do you have a time limit for your project, is it a hard or a soft deadline, when is it?
Then, move into more descriptional information like:
- Should this follow a style guide or should this be a new look and feel?
- Do you require design concepts, how many options would you like to see?
- What version of your logo should be used, attach it with your brief?
- Are you able to provide a complete copy for the project, or will you need some copywriting done by the agency?
- If the agency will write a copy, describe the desired tone of voice or supply some examples?
- Will you supply any required imagery or should the agency source it?
Finally, provide them with some understanding of the overall situation:
- Who is the target audience, who this piece is aimed for?
- What is the goal you are trying to reach with the project?
Need to brief in a job now? – Feel free to use our free briefing template
The cost of working with an agency
Agencies do come with a bigger bill when compared to freelancers, but it is justified by the amount of expertise and the quality of work they provide. Agencies also need to cover for more people’s wages, the studio’s overheads, and make a profit! It is a business after all.
That being said, don’t let it frighten you. Go ahead and send your brief, and clearly state your budget in it.
Amongst other things, agencies are also experienced in working with tight budgets and finding more budget-friendly solutions where needed.
They will come back to you with suggestions and solutions to what you can achieve within your budget.
Hire a freelancer or use a creative agency – Every business and user experience will be different.
When approaching your chosen service provider make sure to present a goal or an outcome that you want to achieve for your brand, products or services. The sky’s the limit!