How to Work With a Design Agency
Five Tips for a Successful Agency Partnership
Once you’ve engaged with an agency, it takes effort on both sides to make it a successful partnership. Here are five tips for making it work:
1. Start With Why
At HMC, we’re big believers in Simon Sinek’s philosophy of starting with “why?” When nonprofits come to us asking for a product (an infographic, for example) we always ask them, “why?” We do this because we don’t want to start with the product; we want to start with the need. We don’t just want to make something pretty—we want to make something useful.
When asking” why?” we often uncover other, more appropriate solutions. So, when you begin your partnership, don’t focus on what you think you want the agency to deliver—focus on why you hired the agency. That’s where you’ll make the most relevant discoveries.
2. Be Open to Change
Once you understand your why, you’ll have some ideas on what you need to support it. Our advice? Keep an open mind and be receptive to change. Any good agency will do its research, which may uncover other avenues and insights you hadn’t previously thought about.
Maybe you came in thinking you needed a new logo, but agency research shows the market knows your logo—just not what you do. Those results are going to change the project scope. Remember, you brought the agency in for exactly this reason: to bring a new, expert perspective. Use it, trust it and see where it may take you.
“Both client and agency should have a clear, mutual understanding of the project needs before any work begins,” said Julianne Mesaric, director of annual fund and special events for Gesu School, Philadelphia. “As a client, once you communicate these needs, sit back and remain open to the creative vision of the agency.”
3. Always Tell the Truth
We know, we know—we sound like nagging parents. But seriously. If you walk away with nothing else, at least leave with this: Agencies always want to know how you really feel. This isn’t a trick. This is gospel. We want to hear everything—feedback on our work, changes in timeline or budget, internal struggles that are a barrier to success, etc. Lay it on us.
We want the truth and we can handle the truth. Our goal is to provide you what you need, when you need it, so let us know if we need to wrap things up quicker or if you don’t like the lime green we used. We would much rather give you what you want than leave you with something you only kind of like. We’re genuinely not happy unless you are.
“Remember that you’re all on the same team,” said Cassandra M. Bailey, president and CEO of Slice Communications, Philadelphia. “Give feedback openly and often. Gather all edits from every stakeholder before sharing with the agency to increase efficiency.”
4. Follow the Leader
In an agency-client relationship, there are two leaders: your internal leader and the agency. While internally there may be multiple levels of directorship, it’s important to identify your key decision-maker on agency projects. This helps alleviate any internal conflict, provides the agency with a go-to person, and makes the process run a lot more smoothly.
As for the agency leader, we simply mean that the agency is leading you through this process and, as the experts, should be trusted. Every board has someone who “works in marketing” (you know who we’re talking about), but you didn’t hire them—you hired the agency. Trust the agency.
5. Keep It Going
When you build a positive relationship, don’t be afraid to keep it going. You may have only hired an agency to do one project, but continuing to stay in touch can lead to opportunities you never saw coming. At HMC, we love it when clients tell us about upcoming events or new programs, because it can lead to possibilities our clients may have never thought about. We get excited. They get excited. It’s a whole thing.
There’s always an opportunity for further creative collaboration, so don’t be afraid to stay in touch.
Elliot Cowan is creative director for Here's My Chance, a creative agency based in Philadelphia. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.