Hiring A Graphic Design Firm

Why big agencies are not always the best choice


By Kim Parrish

A few years ago, I got a call from a prospective client here in Florida and I went to meet with them about a project. The marketing director informed me that they had previously hired another firm, but they were unhappy with the results. Eventually I Iearned that the other firm was one of the largest and well-known ad agencies in the area. Now on the surface this can be flattering, but it reveals something important about big agencies; they are not always going to appeal to every client with regard to their ideas or services. Sometimes clients find that a small design firm is a better fit for their company. To be fair, I have also seen a few clients come to me whom I felt would be better served by a large ad agency. So how do you choose a branding company that is right for you?

1. Bigger doesn't always mean better work.

The portfolio is everything. Your creative team (big or small) should have a solid track record of creative work, helping real clients with real problems. In today's world of online marketing, it's easy for someone to build a flashy website with lots of impressive buzzwords and clever theories. But when you really start probing their sites—many of them have a very small amount of work! On the other hand, the firm that shows year after year of creative solutions is displaying a serious level of dedication and the ability to bring results, even when faced with difficult marketing objectives. As a business owner in need of cohesive branding, graphic design or advertising, you owe it to yourself to carefully analyze the level of creative work being shown; does it show thinking, does it reflect your style and the image you want for your company? Some people are impressed by marble offices, PowerPoint presentations and designer suits, but smart shoppers look at the work.

2. Bigger doesn't always mean experience.

There is absolutely no substitute for experience; however it is not uncommon for big agencies to hire creatives with very little experience. I was actually hired at a large agency many years ago with only one year in the field. Sometimes they even employ large numbers of college interns—which fills out the floorplan nicely—but offers very little to your business. You may also notice that some agencies have a limited realm of experience, specializing in only one industry or service. For example; you might start down the path with an agency that focuses heavily on technical websites, only to find out later that they have difficulty with developing good advertising, copywriting or package design. This scenario can result in delays bringing your product to market, and glaring inconsistencies in your brand image. Depending on your needs, you may be better served by a smaller team with a wide variety of experience promoting many different products and services, that can seamlessly support your brand from one area to the next.

3. Bigger doesn't always mean faster.

A solid benefit often associated with smaller creative firms is quicker response time; they are generally able to turn around projects in a tighter schedule than large agencies, because they aren't hobbled by layers of internal approvals and non-creative management. Usually, when you hire a small firm you are working closer with the actual service provider who is also involved in the well-being of the company, so that provider is more willing to work weekends or whatever it takes to get your project completed. How long do you expect to wait for your advertising and marketing support; 30 days? 60 days? 90 days or longer? Big agencies can become surprisingly bogged down and inefficient; this is why many companies—even the big ones—are often seen turning to creative boutiques and graphic design firms. You need to consider this when planning your marketing objectives.

4. Bigger doesn't always mean the right people.

Big agencies often employ dozens of employees you may never need—so why pay for them? It's certainly possible to have a big office full of sales people and executives; but these are usually not creatives. When you look past the reception, sales and administration, the creative department of some agencies is often quite small, and some are staffed with only a handful of over-stressed employees. Big advertising agencies typically keep a creative team hidden away and charge their clients substantial fees to have access to that talent. Unfortunately, many times after the initial presentation, your account gets lost in the crowd; you seldom see "Mr. Creative Director" again and eventually end up with poor service paying for big overhead. So take a closer look; some big agencies have the right people... some just have a lot of people.

5. Bigger doesn't always mean relationship.

At the end of the day, most of the people I talk with are wanting more than a single project. They are looking for a relationship with an experienced creative firm, staffed with creative people; a firm that goes the extra mile to listen to them and respond quickly to their needs. Sometimes big ad agencies employ media buyers and extra services that could be a benefit to you. But many marketers find that smaller, more efficient design firms are a better fit for them, because they are working directly with senior creative talent; and that relationship can allow for a better understanding of the core values of their brand and their vision. When multiple layers of management are involved, important things can get lost in translation—and that's simply frustrating and undesirable in the fast-paced world of advertising and marketing.

Are you in need of a smaller, experienced design firm? Have you tried a big agency only to find they weren't the best fit for your product or service? Give us a call at Kim Parrish Creative Services, we'll be happy to help you.

Kim Parrish is an award-winning creative consultant, his Orlando advertising firm develops cohesive branding, campaigns, website solutions and SEO, print collateral, and package design for a wide spectrum of companies—from small start-up firms to global brands like Wal-Mart® and NBC/Universal®.

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