How to Work With a Design Agency
Over the last four years, Here’s My Chance (HMC) has worked with nonprofits of all shapes and sizes on a variety of projects. From gala videos to full rebrands, we’ve used compelling designs to help our clients achieve many goals. Along the way, we’ve learned a thing or two—small things like fuchsia is not everyone’s favorite color, and big things like what works and doesn’t work in navigating the agency-client relationship.
Before you can reap the benefits of an agency partnership, you have to make the big decision to bring in an agency. How do you know you’re ready? When is the right time? While every organization is different, we’ve found that there are a few universal reasons to start the agency search.
First, when you look around the room and realize no one has the skills to produce what you need, it’s time to call in the big guns. In the long run, it’s better to work with an agency of experts than to have an intern try to learn how to build a website. (We’ve all been there—and it’s not pretty.)
It’s also great to partner with an agency when there’s a leadership change at your organization. New leadership often brings fresh energy, and an agency can match that energy and help move the organization to new heights. Sometimes, it doesn’t take an organizational shift like this for an agency partnership, but the launch of an innovative program can be cause to seek out agency guidance.
Overall, when making the decision to hire an agency, it’s important to look at the task at hand and ask yourself, “Will an outside voice and creative thinking help make this successful?” If the answer is “yes,” it’s time to start the agency search.
Selecting a Partner
While budget, project scope and experience are all important factors when selecting an agency, the most important thing to look for in a partner is compatibility. We don’t mean to sound like eHarmony, but compatibility really is the most important thing in selecting an agency partner.
Throughout the project, you will be providing feedback and going through multiple rounds of revisions. For these discussions to be successful, you need to be open and honest, and if necessary, feel comfortable saying, “I don’t like this.” That’s why it’s absolutely necessary that you find an agency team that puts you at ease during this dialogue.
Annette Duranso, president and CEO of Philadelphia-based Valley Youth House, nicely summed up the benefits of this type of relationship. “Here’s My Chance staff have been incredibly open and receptive to all of our feedback. We came to HMC because we don’t have the internal expertise to undertake the project ourselves, and their staff has been patient in explaining the process and their reasoning without technical terms,” she said. “Our team has felt very comfortable giving feedback and it is clear that HMC is committed to ensuring that we love, not just like, the final product.”
In addition to compatibility, you want to hire an expert—an agency that knows what it’s doing, has a track record of success and can offer opinions based on experience. What you don’t want, however, is an agency that offers those opinions in a condescending tone or uses its expertise to sell you a boatload of services you don’t need. You’re looking for a partnership, not a hierarchy.
And remember, no project proposal is ever final. At HMC, all of our proposals offer our best recommendations, but we always encourage clients to provide feedback before signing off or moving on. If the agency missed something in its response to your request for proposal, let them know and they’ll add it. If their pricing doesn’t match your expectations, talk to them and they’ll work with you in the best way they can. The proposal process is a great way to get a glimpse at how an agency uses its expertise, how well it listens to you and your needs, and how flexible it is. Use it as a sort of test run.
HMC has been fortunate enough to experience the full breadth of a great agency- client relationship (attending events, sitting on boards, volunteering, collaborating on more than just contracted work, etc.), and we just want to share the love. Sure, it takes work from both parties and requires honest communication, but what strong relationship doesn’t? By keeping these tips in mind when selecting and working with an agency, your partnership will bring your organization great results. And that’s exactly what everyone wants.