I’m here to tell you that finding an agency partner shouldn’t be seen as an insurmountable task, but rather a thoughtful and intentional one. It’s an important decision, as the right partner should be prepared to understand your unique goals and challenges and be ready and excited to help you craft solutions through the power of brand.
But seriously, don’t stress. I have this conversation with prospective clients all the time — and I’m here to let you in on a little secret. You just need to reframe the way you think about this vetting process and focus on three key areas: portfolio, process, and people. That’s a recipe for success. Now let me explain why.
It goes without saying that you want your agency partner to produce exceptional work. I can also tell you that there are a lot of world-class agencies out there. So, bear with me when I tell you that an agency’s portfolio should only be the initial screening of your decision — not the end-all-be-all.
You start by scouring the internet for examples of branding that gets you excited. Whose work is everyone talking about? Which agencies have your competitors used? Which agencies specialize in your exact industry — because obviously they’re going to understand your customers the best, right?
Oftentimes people get too focused on finding what they believe their future brand should look like or what they love within an agency's existing portfolio. I hear this all the time: “We know exactly what we want — and given the work you’ve done in the past, I assume you can execute on exactly what we’re looking for.”
Rather than looking for the solution you expect you need, take the time to assess how an agency solved previous clients’ problems through brand.
Early on in a branding project, we advise our clients to set aside personal preferences in favor of thinking strategically about their brand, the future, and their customers. Look at an agency’s portfolio similarly. Personally you may love cool and edgy visual design, but does that speak to your audience? Does this agency show range and flexibility or just work that is on-trend and of-the-moment?
You should partner with an agency whose work is geared towards creating work that makes for change. An agency who uses their brand expertise to craft solutions to your organization's unique goals and challenges rather than just doing what they’ve done for others in the past.
As important as an agency’s existing body of work is, I actually believe that process is more pivotal than portfolio. Crazy right? Well hear me out; I promise I have my reasons for this, and I'll use a baking analogy (my favorite hobby) to illustrate my point:
Imagine you’re going to the most famous bakery in the world, renowned for their delicious, one-of-a-kind cakes. Their famous pastry chef is providing a workshop where you can learn how to make these cakes for yourself. The excitement in the air is palpable, plus you already know the pastry chef has an incredible reputation; you’ve even tasted her work for yourself. (Spoiler: it does live up to the hype.)
But once the class starts, you realize you’re in trouble. The pastry chef is speaking much too fast and partially in French?! She assumes that you already have a basic understanding of baking and isn’t taking the time to really explain. She never comes over to ask if you are confused, or to clarify the reasons behind the decisions she’s making. Why is she using oil instead of butter? What is Dutch-processed cocoa? Why extra baking powder?!
But you trust her because she’s the expert. However, the cake you end up making together is a far cry from what you expected. It's also leaning and about to fall off the cake stand. And what’s worse, you have no real idea as to how or why you went so horribly wrong.
Do you see what happened there?
If the process isn’t right for you and your team, it doesn’t matter how qualified the agency is; the resulting work you create together will suffer for it.
Take the time to ask detailed questions about an agency’s brand process to ensure both the ingredients and the recipe are the right fit for all parties involved:
- Do they have a detailed brand process that they can walk you through?
- How do they recommend you build your internal branding project team in order to get the most out of this experience?
- How do they handle feedback and concerns along the way?
- What should your team know about branding prior to starting this process?
- Is this a process I believe I will be successful in?
To bring it back to our baking analogy, you needed more one-on-one instruction that would help you make successful cakes for years to come. Similarly, you’ll want to understand the why behind an agency’s work so you can confidently roll it out to your team and make educated decisions as your organization grows and industries shift.
And last, but most certainly not least, we get to the discussion of people. Because at the end of the day we should like the people we work alongside. As we discussed earlier, a brand project is a partnership. The best and most successful partnerships are based on a foundation of trust and respect — and you should absolutely feel those things for your agency partner.
That doesn't mean that you should expect your agency partner to always agree with your suggestions, but they should always be willing to hear you out. A good partner pushes you to be the best, boldest, most authentic version of yourself — even if that means having difficult conversations along the way. So be sure to take the time to discuss the following questions with your team before making a decision:
- Do their company values align with ours?
- Are they a good personality fit? Am I excited to work closely with these people for the duration of the project?
- Do they value transparency and are they willing and able to answer tough questions?
- Are they just telling me what I want to hear?
You Made It!
So there you have it: a roadmap to help you find the right agency partner. While I know the process will still be a difficult one, and there will be plenty of other items to discuss (such as time, budget, scope, etc.), you can trust that if you focus on portfolio, process, and people you’ll be so much closer to finding your perfect match.
Make Some Noise