Getting the Most Out Of Your Creative Agency

Getting the Most Out Of Your Creative Agency

Big Ideas

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October 9 2020
Big Ideas

You’ve researched, asked around, had a couple of introductory meetings with a select few agencies; heck, you might have gone through the RFP process and are now sitting across the table from your agency-of-record about to talk about the design process.

Where do you start? What should you touch on? We spoke with Jaime Campbell-Cushnie, Sherpa’s Art Director. We asked her how clients can get the best out of the creative department of their chosen agency.


Q: What's the first step you take once you've signed the contract with your client?

I like to sit down with the account manager and go through the list of things we need in the brief to ensure success. Things like the target market, budget, competitors, brand standards, and what is done in the industry currently, what has and what hasn't been successful.

We ask for research on what the client is currently doing, and together, determine what success would look like so we can help make additional recommendations; it’s all about improving the deliverables’ ROI. I love to have the creative team collaborate on some mood boards to pitch to the client before we really get into concept development — I find it helps everyone be on the same page.


Q: In your experience, what makes an outstanding brief for your team to launch from?

Along with all of the above, if the client can provide some examples of what is already out in the world that they feel is successful, it can help with mood boarding and concept development, and may help us come up with ideas to improve the client’s customers' experience. 


Q: At what point should the creative team be involved in the marketing process?

If the budget allows, it’s ideal to have the team involved as early as possible so the creatives can help during the strategy creation. The more background the creatives have, the better they understand the client and can deliver a truly unique and custom solution that is congruent with the client’s industry and vision.


Q: There seems to be a fine line between giving your agency examples and concepts from other brands that you like and dictating what you want as an end result. What’s the most constructive?

We tend to do our best work when the client provides their own samples of ideal, successful creative. That being said, clients will get the best results when the creative team has the freedom to do what they do best — exploring different approaches and solutions beyond what the client could ever imagine. We never want to copy something the client provides.

Designers think pretty abstractly compared to business leaders, and even if you choose to show them something you really like, I find most creatives will take that vision and cater it to the client’s brand; this is one of the most fulfilling challenges a creative has.


Q: Any recommendations or tricks you like to use to get to know how each other work?

We try to be as flexible as possible to how the client wants to work, while trying to guide them through the process of how we work at the same time. When it comes to a new client, there is obviously a lot of patience involved in the “getting to know you” stage. One exercise that I’ve found useful is having a group brainstorm, which I will explain later. It helps to get all the main stakeholders in a room and have some creative discussions about different approaches and seeing the client’s response in real real-time, face to face to the ideas that are thrown around.


Q: Any tips or methods to keeping projects on time and on budget? Where do things usually fail or fall off the rails?

I am a big fan of pitching one concept to the client, while keeping a “Plan B” concept in our back pocket. This lets us get a genuine gut reaction from the client, without confusing them and making them overthink the minutia. Once someone sees too many ideas they tend to want to dilute things by blending separate concepts together. 

If we do our homework, the first concept pitched should be close to a home run — which can be tweaked without blowing the budget. However, the fewer people in the room from client-side at the kickoff tends to keep both the agency's and client’s vision aligned without “designing by committee”.


Q: How do you recommend clients get out of their comfort zone?  How do you convince clients to follow the less-beaten path? 


It comes down to educating the client on what is proven to work. We may use an example of a previous project that has been a success taking a certain path; I love to have the data from that example to back up our decisions, and not because we like a certain colour that day.

Without these things, you have art; it's important to recognize that art isn't created with an ROI in mind.

If it's a website, I love getting analytics on the current site(s) to see where people are currently going versus where the client wants them to go. We implement our user-experience skills to get them there in the most efficient way possible. Agencies have the experience to know what works design-wise — and they have the strategies and education in colour theory and layout — to help construct a successful project. Without these things, you have art; it’s important to recognize that art isn’t created with an ROI in mind.


Q: What is the best way clients can provide feedback on creative that makes it a constructive and positive experience? 

We tend to use programs like InVision, that let you make comments directly in a document, to help point us to the areas that need edits. It really helps when the feedback is as specific as possible. Comments like, “This piece is the most important” help us easily structure the hierarchy rather than general comments like, “I don’t like blue”, or “Can you make it pop more?”— which tend to be vague and leave the creator a bit lost on the final intent.


Q: What happens when you have multiple opinions in one room and you need to simplify the message?

We’re a big fan of whiteboarding at Sherpa. For example, when determining the messaging of a campaign, we get all the key decision decision-makers in a room and do a standard brainstorm and throw ideas for goals, messaging, and what success looks like when it’s complete. Once we have a bunch of thoughts on the board (there are no wrong answers!) we cut it down to the really unique and memorable messages that we feel speak to the audience and move from there.

If getting a clear objective in place doesn’t happen in the beginning, there is a lot of room for error with no set vision in place; things can go sideways.

We find this gets discussions going from the get-go and helps everyone stay on the same page because we can remind each other of these discussions, if anyone feels like we are straying away too much throughout the project. If getting a clear objective in place doesn’t happen in at the beginning, there is a lot of room for error with no set vision in place; things can go sideways.


Q: Why does creative/design cost so much?

Creative development is like a lot of industries where – the more experience you have, the greater your skills and knowledge tend to be. Creative development requires you to understand all the steps necessary to get to reach your objectives, research your industry, and explore your and target market. There is a misconception that good design just “works” — without the user thinking too much about it — so it must be “easy” to execute, right?  

You are not only paying for the actual work, but the expertise that comes with the work. As I’ve moved forward in my career, my knowledge of design, typography, colour, trends, culture, and my education to stay on top of training has allowed me to get quicker at putting a project together. There are also the overhead costs that fall on the agency that the client doesn’t always think of – salaries, hardware and software, font subscriptions – that all add up quickly.

My advice is to spend what is manageable for your company, and be up-front about your budget with your agency. They should be happy to accommodate based on your budget; discuss the “needs” versus the “wants” to determine what budget is needed to deliver you’re looking for. Sometimes we at Sherpa will keep away from a fully customizable solution to keep the budget down, but sitting thoroughly discussing what the client needs helps us understand how to price accordingly. 

At the end of the day, if a client feels like a Fiverr logo meets their needs, they tend to not value the process that an agency goes through, and we like to devote our efforts to the clients who value not only our expertise, but the relationship we’ve built with them over time. The longer we work together, the quicker we will arrive at a solution for you, because we’ve been educated on the brand and clientele. You will get great customer service because of this relationship, and your agency will come up with new ideas and directions for you to explore; they are invested in your success. Choosing an agency to help you with your marketing goals should be thought of as an investment.


Q: What are some "watch-outs" organizations should be aware of before they embark on creative efforts with an agency?

Going with the cheapest solution tends to be a risk that costs you more in the long run.

If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Agencies that undercut pricing tend to do it because they don’t have the experience to understand the processes that allows for a successful solution. We’ve seen tons of businesses go with a cheaper solution at first, only to have to redo their project because they weren’t happy with how it turned out. Going with the cheapest solution tends to be a risk that costs you more in the long run. 

Your agency should be upfront about their process and be able to develop a Gantt chart to manage your expectations of time from the start date to completion. The last thing you want is an agency that will cut corners to deliver a project, and doesn’t take the time to understand your goals.


Q: What are your Top 5 Tips for organizations when they hire an agency and its creative department?

  1. Have a good feel for what you want your brand to convey about your business and be prepared to educate the agency on your ideal testimonial and customer. If you don’t know, be honest! We’re here to help, and we can assist you in finding your voice as a first step.
  2. Understand that we are not only here to make your project “look pretty”, but to help your customers be aware of the value your business provides. We do it in a way that is easy to understand.
  3. Do your homework. Dig through your old marketing materials and determine what has worked and what hasn’t; we love to see where you’re coming from. Also, bringing samples of materials from your competitors, or even out of your industry, helps us gauge the style and tone of the work. 
  4. Determine and communicate your goals at the onset of the relationship. Moving goal posts dilutes the focus and can waste a lot of time switching gears.
  5. Meet with a few agencies and talk about your vision together. If the relationship works out you will be talking to your agency often, and you want to make sure you like the people and respect their opinions.

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