Considerations when selecting a design agency
A method that is still used quite regularly is to have agencies pitch with creative proposals. But why? Easy; with a pitch you’ll obtain several creative proposals in a short amount of time at acceptable costs. Subsequently, you can just pick and choose the best idea. Unfortunately, it’s often not that simple. In my opinion there’s a considerable difference between a traditional pitch and what I call new style pitching: –
1) In a traditional pitch, usually the company rolodex is scoured for known agencies in order to create a longlist. In a new style pitch, the type of assignment is analysed first, to find agencies that fit that specific profile (i.e. don’t let an ad agency design a visual identity and vice versa). Sounds simple, but this is where it starts to go wrong. And what if you don’t know a whole lot of design agencies? Employ a brand management specialist who can advise you on candidates for a longlist and a shortlist.
2) In a traditional pitch, agencies are asked to provide creative proposals. Usually without any financial compensation for services rendered. The losing agencies will be left behind disillusioned. In a new style pitch, the agencies are asked to provide creative proposals and the losing agencies will receive a financial compensation for (a part of) the time invested.
3) In a traditional pitch, design agencies are briefed with a few pages of text. In a new style pitch, there’s a comprehensive brief that covers all starting points and assumptions of the new corporate visual identity. This includes clear business and legal terms. This document can be used to create a proper and well-thought-through proposal and a fitting identity.
4) In a traditional pitch, there’s hardly any time for the agency to get to know the company. In a new style pitch, at the very least a proper introduction and debriefing are part of the scope of works.
The new style pitch could be considered as ‘the royal route’ to the best agency, in a world where time and money are no object. This is not always the case in the real world unfortunately.
There is an alternative way of selecting agencies: agency selection without creative proposals. By using this faster and cheaper selection process, design does not lead from the start of the process and time can be spent finding a proper match between client and contractor. This increases the chances of a fruitful relationship in the long run. This is a huge advantage moving into the intensive and challenging design process that lies ahead.
An additional advantage here is that the concept identity has not been designed in a rush (as it would be in a traditional pitch). The choice made in a traditional pitch is usually based on the design. This leaves little room for further changes or improvement, as companies expect the end result to look like the one chosen during the pitching phase.
Without creative proposals, you don’t end up in a debate about which looks the best among the various designs that agencies proposed. Trying to convince a colleague or manager to agree that something is attractive or not is almost impossible because it is a matter of personal taste. That’s why a proper design brief is so valuable to the process. With a design brief, you can validate the proposed design against the assumptions you provided. This prevents pointless quarrels after the design phase.
My message here is to handle an agency selection with care and consideration. First decide if you want to run a selection without creative proposals or run a new style pitch. Make sure you get the right agencies on your long list and invest in the relation with the agencies making it to the shortlist. Give them a chance to really get to know your company. These actions, combined with a well written brief will optimise the output of an agency – which is why you’re doing all of this in the first place. Don’t forget that the design agency that designs your new visual identity is the spiritual father of your visual appearance. Handle with care.