Feb 25 2011
Beyond the beauty parade — How do you choose a Design company?
How do you choose a design company to work with?
Commissioning anything unknown is a daunting business.
How do you know that the wooden floor will look great throughout the house?
Will those curtains really work?
Getting a bespoke suit made for the first time is probably a little like trying to work with a design company — how do you know it’ll work? After all, you only see a tiny square of cloth before you decide to make the suit…
When we commissioned the new crest for the Royal Opera House (above) — we did everything we could to guarantee a fantastic outcome… hired the worlds finest woodcutter, research deeply the heraldry, work side by side as each drawing improved upon the next… but even then, we couldn’t be sure everything would be perfect… until we saw the final print come off the press… then it was time to celebrate!
We really love meeting new people, talking about how we can help — showing what we have done for other brands — but ultimately it all comes down to one thing: How does the person who needs something ‘creative’ know — really know — that they are hiring the right company for the job.
After all creativity is a slippery thing. If it could be guaranteed, you can bet Hollywood would have it corked and bottled. But no, creativity is really ‘not knowing’ — one can never be 100% sure that the new idea is going to work.
You can surround that new idea with enough rigor and experience to ensure it has the very best chance. That’s what we do with our work… inject a spark of creativity into a strong, proven, reliable and effectively managed framework.
But the fact remains… it’s tough for the people commissioning this exciting stuff — it’s their neck on the line.
So, how do you decide on who to hire to create your new branding/packaging/brochure/creative task.
We run a design company, we do pitches, and while I am likely to sing my own firms praises (hey, I’m in the communication business here!) I’m also in a good position to highlight an insight or two, I’m behind the curtain, and I’ve been Client Side too, choosing creative shops, so perhaps this could be a good 5 minutes invested if you are looking to hire a creative company.
It’s a bit like being the design industry version of Penn & Teller… blowing the lid on industry secrets! I’ll probably get thrown out of the circle…
Ok… deep breath…
Check ‘Do you have a shared agenda with your potential agency?’ If you need (or are likely to need) a rapid turnaround… Is your agency able to react fast? More importantly, does your agency have a similar outlook to you? If you are a young company (or an old one needing an injection of new thinking) a younger agency, is likely to serve you better. Bigger, traditional groups have bigger traditional processes. Smaller, younger groups are often more flexible and have the ability to turn things around more swiftly (and with more creativity applied)
Ask: ‘What is it you actually do?’ Is the team you meet on the day, the one that’s going to do the work? I’ve lost count the amount of times clients have asked us this. We build processes and teams around clients needs and when three senior people turn up to the pitch, there’s often the feeling of ‘well, thanks for the effort, but clearly this is all for show, we’re obviously never going to see you again!’ — to the point where we have actually signed contracts guaranteeing our involvement in the project! It’s right to be suspicious here though. The classic trick of sending the dazzling creatives to the pitch, then using the intern to work on it day to day is alive and well in the bigger agencies…
Sorry, but in the creative industries size doesn’t matter. If it was my money, I’d want to be paying for the talent behind the ideas, not their foyer. Technology really has changed the game. You simply don’t need as many people to create a global brand identity anymore. That said, when it comes to throwing resources at projects in trouble, the larger companies will always claim to have the edge. After all, with over 100 people under the same roof, it’s not going to be tough to call in some last minute help (even if it is the receptionist!) If a project is run well you should never need this approach. In my experience you simply need a core team of about 6 people — and that’s on a multi-million pound Advertising campaign, or a small website. As long as you have half a dozen experienced people on side, you can pretty much handle anything.
Asking for Creative work is a terrible idea for pitches. If you like the people, like the process they suggest, don’t mind the fee, and think their back catalogue of work qualifies them as paid up professionals, then give them a chance to prove themselves — by actually working with you. A pitch generally takes around four weeks. That’s a month with perhaps 2–3 meetings. In that time, an agency can’t really get under the skin of the brief sufficiently to blow your socks off (or even to have a genuinely educated point of view) — it’s only by actually working together on the project that you will discover if they are right for you.
Free pitches are fine. (that one will probably get me shot by the Designeratti — but read on! There’s sense to this…) Danny Boyle told me that when he did Slumdog Millionaire he found getting funding really tough. Really? With his back catalogue? Yup, ‘every time you start from scratch,’ he said, ‘past performance counts for nothing.’ Same with any creative endeavor — however, Danny went on to say that while the creative output changed each time, it was the processes and strategies that helped him pull off his past films that remained constant, it was these principles that got him the commitment of cash. The agencies process and strategic thinking should be enough for you to make a decision on who to hire. Any decent creative shop should be turning these out daily and find them a doddle. A fee for this is a joke.
I know it’s a nightmare choosing an agency. Everyone says they are different, yet you’ve just seen almost the exact same diagram 3 times that morning from the other groups.
Ultimately it really is like buying a bespoke suit (with all the fear that goes with parting with significant funds for something everyone says you can just buy off the shelf these days):
• Make sure you talk to the tailor, not his accountant.
• Check it really is cashmere you are paying for.
• It’s all about the suit, not the street the shop is on.
• Want a trendy cut? Need a classic three piece? Check attitude fits.
• If you can, try it on and get comfy before committing to it.
• Don’t be pressured into paying to see his past work, but do give him a good tip if he lets you take some cloth samples home.