Dating a Design Agency

Helpful tips for a healthy relationship with the agencyof your dreams.

1: FIRST, DEFINE YOUR PERFECT PARTNER.

Young hotshots? Accomplished experts? Quirky trailblazers? Every agency is different, but making a list of the qualities and capabilities you’re looking for will help you begin to narrow your search.

2: LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIPS ARE HARDER, BUT THEY CAN WORK!

Working locally is great—you can regularly meet in person, attend press checks, and throw awesome wrap parties—but if the studio of your dreams is based elsewhere, technology makes it easier to bridge the gap. If possible, meet with your main contact in person before you start and then virtually “meet” the whole team. Stay in contact through phone calls or Facetime to streamline communication and make your professional relationship more personal.

3: YOU CAN’T SWIPE RIGHT ON EVERYONE.

Making agencies compete for your work with pitches may seem like a good way to pick the best team, but it will ultimately drain precious time and energy. Instead, thoroughly vet your options with interviews and strategic questions to get a feel for an agency’s dynamic, personality, and work style. The one you choose will appreciate your respect for their time, and your partnership will be stronger for it.

4: SO YOU’RE NOT THEIR USUAL TYPE.

Just because you’re their first aquatic mammal dentist’s office / combination beauty parlor and chainsaw repair shop / space travel supply store, doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to design for your brand. Great designers are also great learners. Focus on their process and the problems they have solved for others rather than just a list of past clients—and take advantage of their fresh perspective on your industry!

5: LOOK FOR MORE THAN JUST A PRETTY FACE.

Don’t get too starry-eyed when you see flashy work; delve deeper by asking about the strategy that got them to the final product. Thoughtful, intentional design begins with a clear understanding of the business/brand goals and results in assets that are effective as well as beautiful. Make sure your potential partner’s focus is on your bottom line, not building their portfolio.

6: MAKE SURE THEY’RE THE WHOLE PACKAGE.

Make sure Mr. Right doesn’t have a fatal flaw before you agree on the first date. Ask for references who have worked with your potential agency for an extended period of time – and contact them to learn about their experience. Find out who will be on your design team day to day, long after the initial dazzling pitch from the business development team.

7: READY TO GO STEADY?

You’ve checked every box so far, and now you’re ready to commit! And that’s exactly what it is—a commitment. To keep it healthy, both sides need to contribute, be mutual advocates, and above all, stay respectful.

8: COMMUNICATION IS KEY.

Designate a single point person to communicate with your agency contact, take the time to put together complete questions and responses, and clearly articulate your project goals, business objectives and constraints. Your agency will perform best when expectations are well defined and feedback is consistent.

9: YOU’LL DISAGREE SOMETIMES.

It’s part of the process and you want someone who will challenge you. Your agency’s job is to inject new ideas into your organization and it’s ok to disagree at times. Participate in discussions with an open mind knowing that different perspectives often lead to new insights and breakthroughs.

10: GROW OLD TOGETHER.

The more time you spend with an agency, the better they will know your brand, your business and your processes. Invest time in regular updates or reviews to stay in sync and keep the relationship fresh, the work relevant and design approach efficient.