How to choose a brand agency partner

How to choose a brand agency partner

Mon, 26 Jun 2017

You’re about to embark on a large brand project, such as a rebrand, brand research, positioning strategy, architecture strategy or brand naming/renaming. In our last blog, we looked at How to write a strong project brief for a brand agency or a group of short-listed agencies, if it’s a pitch. If it is a pitch, then once you’ve written your brief and the agencies have all replied, you’ll need to choose a brand agency to partner with. This is a very important decision. You’ll need to work closely with the people from your chosen company for many months. You’ll need to entrust them with lots of information. You’ll need to feel comfortable speaking openly with them, being challenged by them – and challenging them. You’ll need to trust them to successfully execute the project and achieve the best result for your brand and organisation - within the agreed timeframe and budget.

To choose your brand agency partner well, we offer the following tips.

Use introductory meetings to develop your short-list

As an agency, we’re often subjected to the “spray’n’pray” approach – an organisation finds a bunch of agencies online and sends out a brief to all of them, without having any meetings with them or understanding what the different agencies can and can’t offer. Unfortunately, this will most often not result in the best-fit agency being chosen.

Before you select which agencies to send your project brief to, we recommend you set up introductory meetings with 3-5 agencies that you have identified through your own research. You should have a good idea of your budget, goals and timeframe before the meetings, so you can have effective discussions. These meetings will enable you to ask lots of questions, gather information (they may bring up factors that you that you haven’t considered, and help you to develop an even more effective brief) and feel out the agencies. If you don’t have chemistry with an agency, they don’t understand your problem or don’t have the expertise to solve it, or can’t accomplish your objectives within your budget, there’s no point in going any further with that agency and they can be excluded from the process. We recommend that you are upfront about your budget range, so that you can identify early on if there isn’t a financially mutual fit, however if you are unclear about how much a project like yours will cost, you can use these meetings to quiz the agencies about rough costs so that you can include a realistic budget range in your brief.

Take note of the first interactions you have with your prospective brand partners, as these can be extremely revealing about the experience you’ll have as a client. How are they in the first phone call? How do they interact with you before you become a client? Do they reschedule meetings or are they late?

The meetings will also allow you to see the agencies in action. Are they enthusiastic? Do they listen? Are they insightful? Do they understand your business problem? Do they ask lots of intelligent questions? As a potential client, if you’re not enthusiastically questioned on the reasons behind your branding initiative, then you probably won’t get the results you want with that agency. You should be probed to discuss your problems, pain points, fears, wants, hopes, and dreams.

From the initial 3-5 agencies, choose a maximum of 2-3 to issue your project brief to.

Look for chemistry and cultural fit

You’ll be able to feel whether there is good chemistry in your face-to-face meetings. Trust your gut on this. You and your branding partner need to be able to empathise deeply with each other. This is especially important when working through highly strategic issues that involve the board and senior management. You need a team that can articulate the challenge, devise the solution and take the board and senior stakeholders on the journey – and cascade the solution to all parts and levels of the business. For this you need a true strategic adviser.

Cultural fit is also very important – a partner that shares your organisational values will mesh well with your organisation and be more likely to have chemistry with your internal staff.

Look closely at the quality of the brief response

It goes without saying that the quality of the responses to your brief can show you a lot about prospective brand partners. Did they respond to your brief accurately? Did they include everything that was asked for? Did they pay attention to the details? Is their response insightful, intelligent, clear and easy to understand? Have they looked between the lines?

Choose an agency that will provide leadership, structure and guidance

Partnerships that are client-led often result in disappointing outcomes – you don’t want an agency that just does what you tell them to do. A great strategic brand agency will lead you - and the project. They won’t be afraid to speak up and challenge you and the senior stakeholders, recommending the right process to build your brand. At times, they’ll make you feel a little uncomfortable, and possibly even frustrated, but that’s necessary to achieve a truly great brand strategy.

Assess the agency’s ability to translate strategy through to design and communication

The seamless translation of strategy to design and communication impacts on the ultimate success of your brand. You’ll be investing in uncovering true insights and using those to create a powerful brand strategy – but what good is that strategy unless it can be translated through to your brand identity, design work and messaging? To achieve this, you’ll need an agency that can deliver on brand research, brand strategy, identity and design, messaging and copywriting at an equally high level.

Ascertain what type of agency you are really dealing with

It’s worth digging a little deeper to ensure the agency you want to choose is in fact a true brand strategy agency. There are many design houses and small, general consulting agencies masquerading as brand strategy agencies – and they simply don’t have the strategic depth that you will need to ensure a successful project. Ensure you check out several of an agency’s case studies. Real-life case studies can demonstrate the proven results that an agency has achieved for its clients. Review their website and get a feeling for where the bulk of their work lies.

Ask them to explain, in detail, how they have solved similar brand strategy challenges for other organisations. Ask them to explain their methodology. How do they identify true brand insights? How do they develop brand positioning and strategy? The agency needs to be confident and detailed in their explanations.

It’s also a great idea to ask to speak to one or two referees about their experience in working with an agency.

Ensure you know who will be working on the project

Be sure to ask if the team that you meet are the people that will be working on your project. It’s no good to choose an agency based on having chemistry with the people you meet, only to find that there will be completely different people working with you on a day-to-day basis.

Consider trying before you buy

Choosing an agency through a tender or RFQ process can be problematic as you are then committed to using that agency for your project – often over the long term. If time allows, consider testing the agency with something small first, for example a strategic workshop, or even a small online survey to extract customer insights, to see how they deliver on that. If it goes well, you can feel confident in engaging them for your larger brand project.

Final thoughts: this is an investment in your organisation

Don’t let price guide you exclusively. Your brand project is too important to skimp on - this is an investment in your business. The results (or lack thereof) will affect your organisation for years, influencing your sales and growth. Ultimately, you’re paying for expertise, experience and level of services. The more time you spend to find the right partner and pay for their expertise, the more likely it is that you’ll be happy with their services and the project results over the long term.

Finally, be prepared to invest your time in a collaborative courtship. To get the best out of your selection process, and ultimately your partnership, commit to being accessible and collaborative from day one of your search.

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