Choosing a creative agency is a big deal and a big commitment.
You want to know you’ve hired the right team for the job, and that you can trust them to support the needs of your company.
After all, you’re making an investment that could affect the future and success of your business.
You might have staff you need to pay for, office space, a family to support, all of which relies on the profitability of the business. It needs to make money, and it needs to be a success.
Of course, it’s not all about money but that is a big part of it.
Regardless of whether you’re part of the Marketing Department at an SME or larger company, a standalone marketer, or a startup founder or owner operator, choosing the right creative agency is crucial.
The Challenge of Choosing a Creative Agency
That said, how do you decide which creative agency is right for you?
From knowing your marketing and creative budget, to understanding key deadlines, there are lots of things to consider when choosing an agency.
But aside from that, there’s lots of things you need to know about the agencies you’re looking at too, before deciding who’s right for you.
You don’t want to commit and then realise they don’t have any time or capacity to meet your expectations.
Are you going to struggle to get their attention when you need them? Have they got other big clients which take up most of their time and resources?
You don’t want to be a small fish in a big pond.
You want to feel valued by your creative agency and have the security of knowing you can pick up the phone at any time.
Working with a creative agency is a collaborative process and one that needs to satisfy both the needs of the client, and the needs of the agency. The relationship needs to work for both parties to ensure it’s a success, otherwise the project will suffer.
At Canny, we value each and every one of our clients.
We understand the importance of making the process as smooth as possible, and provide each client with support, every step of the way.
We want clients to be actively involved in their project, and to know they can pick up the phone (or hop on Zoom) when they need that little bit of reassurance.
We build strong partnerships, and treat your business as if it’s our own.
Things To Consider When Choosing a Creative Agency
From checking out their client portfolio, to seeing how they respond to people, there’s lots of helpful cues that can help you decide which agency is right for you.
You might spot red flags early on which will help your decision process when choosing between 3 or 4 different agencies. Is there anything they’re trying to hide or not being honest about?
By just looking at their website, lots of agencies will claim to do the same thing and provide a similar offering.
By digging a little deeper you will be able to ensure they are the right fit and can provide the level of service you want. Take a look at what other clients say about them. Have they had a good experience? Do they recommend their services?
It’s important you find out what to expect from an agency before committing to the process. It will save you a lot of time, stress, and money in the long run.
Taking some time to do your research beforehand will benefit you and hopefully get things started with your chosen agency on the right foot.
So – how do you decide which creative agency to engage with?
1. Find Out How Many Other Clients They Have
Are you going to be competing for their time?
If an agency has lots of different clients, they might not be able to offer you the same level of dedication. Their team will be working across lots of different projects and will be pulled in different directions.
Of course, agencies are more than used to this due to the very nature of the job, but having a good idea of their client portfolio will help you decide if they’re right for you.
Obviously how many projects an agency can deal with, depends on how they’re managed and the amount of resources they have. But if you see a 6 person agency dealing with 60 clients, you know they’re going to be pulled in a million different directions!
It also depends on the level of support your business needs. If you’re a startup, you might need the whole creative mix, from brand strategy and brand identity design, through to website design and development, through to content creation and marketing.
This will require a lot more input from your creative agency as everything needs to be done from scratch. If they are working with lots of other clients, will they have the time and capacity needed to give your business the attention it needs?
You want total peace of mind that your business is being treated equally as important as every other business they have on their books. You shouldn’t have to fight to get in touch with your chosen agency or chase projects because they’re too busy working with some of their bigger clients.
Partnership is key, and you should feel supported and valued throughout the creative process.
2. Find Out What Other Clients Say About Them
Almost every creative agency will have client testimonials.
At Canny, we showcase our client testimonials on our homepage which is the first thing people see when they visit our website. We want to show off our work, and we’ve very proud of the results we’ve achieved for different businesses.
We’ve also got lots of 5 star Google Reviews which highlight how we’ve helped other clients to drive their business forward.
But don’t just take our word for it, go and check them out for yourself!
Google Reviews are a great tool when doing some background research. They’re totally genuine and give you a real insight into how other people rate a particular business.
Definitely not something to be overlooked when deciding which agency is right for you.
Clients are at the heart of what a creative agency does. Without clients, they would be out of a job.
They should want to share the experience of their clients with you, as this adds credibility and a sense of trust. It shows how they have performed on other projects which is very important for businesses considering starting a new partnership.
Not having client testimonials could suggest they have something to hide, or that other projects have been a bit of a flop.
Take your time to read through the reviews to see what other clients have said about them. Is there a particular service that keeps getting recognition? Have they mentioned the relationship they had with the agency? Did they achieve the results they expected?
The sentiment of these testimonials is important as it gives you an insight into what you could expect from your own partnership.
Also pay attention to who has written the testimonial. A Director or Manager will have a lot of credibility as they would have been directly involved in the process and all of the decision making.
They will be able to talk directly about the experience they’ve had working on the project.
Reading client testimonials should give you a thorough understanding of the project at hand, how it was managed, the business results, and how the agency handled it all!
3. Look At Their Company Culture
This is the personality of the agency.
The huge and arguably most important part of hiring a creative agency is partnership. Can you see your team being able to work with the agency though the entirety of the project?
The relationship is vital, as you will be speaking to the agency on a regular basis, discussing feedback, and going through different ideas. You need to feel like they are a good fit, and have the values you’re looking for.
Have a look through their website and social media channels. There should be a ‘meet the team’ section where you can get an idea of the company culture. Are there any videos you can watch to get a feeling for them?
Are they all suits and ties? Are they quite corporate in their working style? This might be absolutely fine if that’s what you’re looking for.
Also, pay attention to what kind of language they use across their digital platforms. Do they seem quite chatty or serious? How do they present themselves visually?
There’s lots of clues here about who they are as a company, instead of just paying attention to what they can provide.
People invest in people and understanding the personality of the team behind the agency name, will help you make an informed decision.
Your creative agency should feel like an extended part of your current team.
Think about it, if you were hiring a new employee internally, what would you look for? Sure, qualifications and experience are vital, but if you’re working with them day in, day out, they need to be a good cultural fit.
It’s the same thought process when hiring a creative agency.
4. Check If They Are Responsive
Your business is your baby.
You need an agency that understands this and treats your business as if it’s their own.
This starts with great communication. No project is a success without it. You need to be able to pick up the phone and bounce ideas back and forth. Or hop on Zoom and ask your most burning questions if something just doesn’t feel quite right.
But how do you know a creative agency is responsive before hiring them?
Once you’ve narrowed down your pool of creative agencies, reach out to them on email or by phone.
A few things to pay attention to from this initial communication…
How do they respond?
How long does it take them to respond?
Who responds (Account Manager or Director)?
This gives you an insight into how they manage their communications, both internally and externally.
As a customer centred business (as mentioned, without customers, they’d be out of a job), agencies should know that responding to these communications is very important.
Your email shouldn’t be sat in their inbox for weeks on end.
When you speak to the agency, they should be genuinely passionate and enthusiastic about how they can help your project. You should be able to feel this from their response, and it should be obvious that they value your interest.
If they’re unresponsive, it could signal towards an agency who doesn’t value communication.
Would this work for your business?
5. See If They Have Changed Over Time
A creative agency should be, well, creative.
They’re in an industry which encourages business to be the best they can be, and develop strategies that keep clients ahead of the curve.
So what does it say about a creative agency who has had the same website for 10 years?
Or a creative agency who has a dormant blog?
Things change and agencies need to stay current. An old website might work, but it’s hardly innovative and doesn’t show they practice what they preach.
How could Canny sell content marketing services to our clients, without producing up to date content for ourselves on a regular basis?
Agencies should be evolving and striving to be the best they can be in their own industry. They’re a brand in their own right and shouldn’t be dishing out advice to other brands if they can’t follow it themselves.
Their website is probably the first thing you will see. It shouldn’t just exist but should serve the user experience and be visually appealing.
Having the same website design for several years isn’t a good reflection of the agency and suggests they don’t value the importance of their own branding.
How can you check? Let me introduce you to The Wayback Machine.. Simply plug in their URL, and see what they looked like 12, 24, and 36 months ago!
Agencies are busy (speaking from experience here!), and do spend a lot of time working to improve other brands, but overlooking the importance of their own branding is naive.
6. Find Out Who Will Be Your Point Of Contact
You need to be supported throughout the entirety of your project.
When you want to speak to your agency, who will be on the other side of the call? Do all members of the team chip in and manage clients or will you have a dedicated point of contact from beginning to end?
It all depends on the agency.
Their website is a great place to start and will usually give you an overview of how they manage projects.
Understanding who you can reach out to is so important as you want to feel reassured and supported. It might be confusing if you don’t know who your dedicated point of contact is.
If you’re speaking to someone new every time you call, will they each have the same level of understanding? You should have an overarching point of contact who ties all elements of the project together. After all, there is a lot going on.
From liaising with graphic designers, to website developers, to content writers, you need updates about each part of the project to help you stay on track.
This will help you when it comes to writing an annual report as you will need to identify where your marketing budget has been spent and the justification behind it.
7. Ask How They Communicate With Clients
Are you considering an agency based locally or internationally? The one good thing to come out of the Coronavirus pandemic is the fact that borders now mean very little!
Regardless of location, collaborating with a creative agency requires great communication. But it might be more difficult if your preferred agency is based in another country.
Find out how they communicate with clients, and if they already have international clients in their portfolio. In this golden age of technology, there’s lots of ways to work around things.
We’re blessed with Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp, Google Suite, Slack, and good old email is still going strong.
Whilst it’s great to meet up in person, location shouldn’t solely be the deciding factor when choosing a creative agency.
But knowing how an agency manages this distance could definitely be the deciding factor.
Check to see which of the platforms they use to communicate and how they manage clients in other countries.
Do they have flexible working hours to resolve the issue of time difference? Or do they already have existing clients where you’re based and frequently travel to the location anyway?
The more communication options they offer, the better, as this gives you more choice when reaching out to them. A creative agency needs to provide a service that puts your priorities first. Maybe you’re not comfortable with Zoom and just prefer a standard phone call.
A good creative agency will tailor their services to suit, whilst still delivering the project in it’s full entirety.
8. See If They Post Their Own Content
Content is King.
A creative agency should be posting their own content on a regular basis to show they understand the value content brings.
Content marketing is a strategic process and is a great way to get organic traffic to your website, and in turn, convert leads. It positions a business as an expert in their field and instills a sense of trust for potential customers.
Without being too salesy, content has the potential to educate readers and to explain how a particular product or service can benefit them. Content marketing is a great tool and should never be overlooked, regardless of what sector you operate in.
If a creative agency isn’t posting their own content, they’re overlooking the importance of this for their own business.
And what’s more, if they’re marketing a content offering for clients, they should be incorporating this into their own business strategy.
Again, it comes back down to practice what you preach.
Take a look at what type of content they post. Is it just blogs? Or do they have a mix of videos, ebooks, and downloadable resources?
This provides an insight of the type of content they can offer your business.
Also, reading through their blogs is a great way to get an insight into the agency as you can see what they write about and how they speak to the reader.
9. Find Out How Long Have They Been In Business
Maybe this isn’t as much of a concern to you, but it’s still important to know.
Have they just started out and are still finding their feet? Or have they been in the industry for 10+ years?
Either way, they both have their pros and cons and it’s important to take these into account before making your final decision.
A creative agency who is brand new to the game has lots of advantages. It could be that they only have a handful of clients so they can dedicate a lot more attention to your project.
Or it could mean that they are less experienced, and are still figuring out different processes and ways of working.
Do you mind being one of their first clients?
With an established business, they’ll be a lot more experienced in terms of managing clients and juggling different projects. They have probably worked with businesses across a range of sectors and understand the process from conception to completion.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good at it.
When choosing an agency, it’s good to know how long they have been in business and their level of experience.
Having 1 year or 10 years of experience isn’t the definite mark of a good agency, but it’s useful information when weighing everything up.
10. Research Their Creative Process
Understanding how the creative process works is essential and gives you an idea of what to expect from concept to completion.
The process should be easy to understand and should outline the key milestones of the project and how these will be achieved. It should be thorough and provide enough detail for you to understand what your money is being spent on.
The way they run their creative process also keeps the project on track and accounts for meetings and feedback sessions.
If a creative agency doesn’t have a process in place, then what do they follow? How do they manage and fulfil customer expectations?
Maybe they’re still figuring this out.
I certainly wouldn’t want my business to be the guinea pig.
Particularly, if you’re hiring a creative agency for the first time you might be totally confused and will need guidance at every stage.
Be sure to check this out before investing any further time.
11. Find Out Who Manages The Work
Knowing who manages which pieces of work will give you an idea of how busy they are.
Is the Director of the agency still involved in the day to day work? Or is he just running the business? Typically, it’s the latter.
In a small agency, it’s more common for the Director to still be actively involved in client work. Whether that’s attending meetings, contributing to designs, or writing content, they’ll work with their team very closely.
In a larger agency however, this probably isn’t the case.
There will be different teams, comprising of 5 or 6 people, each with their own Manager. They will be the ones responsible for setting the objectives of their team and will act as the department head.
The role of the Director in this scenario will be more distant. Whilst still playing a key role in the business, and managing overall client expectations, they will not be getting stuck into content the same way they would in a 10 man band.
So do you research and find out how the different roles work first.
Conclusion: 11 Things to Know Before Engaging a Creative Agency
Choosing a creative agency takes time and research.
There’s a lot of things the agency will want you to know, but equally, there’s lots of things you need to know about the agency.
It’s a big investment, and a project could take anywhere from 3 to 6 months. Even after project completion, the relationship could last years as you require different services at different stages within your business.
So, it needs to be a healthy relationship. One that works for you, and for your chosen agency.
At Canny, we value each and every one of our clients. We understand that collaboration is key to achieving success and actively work with you to drive your business forward.
Why not get in touch with our team today and see how we can help your project?