Working with Creative Agencies - How to Prepare

Cunetto Creative Team
June 1, 2016

Great ways to prepare for your work together.

Clients from hell. We know you've had at least one. But we don't want to be one, and we don't want you to be one either! So, as an agency, we have all kinds of ways we prepare to work with a new client and team. We want to deliver an amazing product, on time, with great relationships facilitating the process. And while it's our job to guide the creative project to completion, there are some key things a business, team, or brand can do to prepare to work with a creative agency.

Identify Your Key Goals and Assumptions

Together with our clients we always identify the high-level goals of the project along with any assumptions that will be made about responsibilities or outcomes, and formalize these decisions in writing. As an internal team working with an agency, however, it can be extremely valuable for you to work on these issues with your in-house stakeholders as well - before you start working with your agency. What is the desired outcome in your work with the agency, for your team? What product or measurable goals will indicate success for your team and business, or for your higher-ups? Do you have any assumptions about what the agency or the product will do or not do? 

Considering these questions prior to your work with an agency will equip you to provide more considered, well-thought-out answers to your agency team during your project's discovery phase, in addition to solidifying the background of information for every internal team member to work within as they produce in tandem with agency contacts. It is incredibly valuable for team members that are interfacing with agency creatives and account managers to have a clear and consistent vision of where things should be going. When client teams don't communicate or have a fuzzy understanding of the project or its goals, agencies struggle to make progress toward the best solution for the client and the product suffers as a result.

Set Some Qualifiers that will Identify Success

Beyond high-level goals for the project, get into the weeds of what success looks like for you. What are some measurable, product-specific characteristics that will indicate the goals have been met? Make sure these things align with your values as a business or brand, and ensure that every team member understands these qualifiers. When you have a clear rubric against which to measure proposals and creative from your agency, your feedback will be more clear and prescient - enabling your agency to create the best product for you.

Establish Team Protocol and Points of Contact

Working with creative agencies is iterative - creatives and account managers will present your team with proposed projects, working versions of designs, messaging, and logos, et cetera - and expect your feedback. The better feedback you provide to the agency, the more efficient the project execution process will be and the better the end product.

When agencies have to keep track of a poorly organized chorus of voices - often contradicting one another - this slows down the iteration process, muddies their perception of your priorities, tastes, and goals, and generally impedes the flow of the project. A great agency-side project manager or account executive can guide a client team toward consensus, but even if that happens there is much to be lost during that process if the client team is out of sync. Ideally, your team will assess material provided by the agency, come to a consensus as a group, then clearly communicate your ideas to the agency as your feedback. Over e-mail this is particularly important, but doing so during meetings with or without your agency is also paramount.

If you are working on an iteration with your agency over e-mail, your team should have an established method for collecting feedback from all stakeholders, arriving at consensus, and distributing that information back to your agency. This avoids the chorus of contradictory information going to your agency contact via e-mail. Combine this with your knowledge of what the product should be and what will define success for your team, and you've got a recipe for success. Some agencies require one "point-person" throughout the project - we know this can sometimes be limiting, especially as many business roles are multidisciplinary. As long as you have a clear process for delivering clean, consensus-based feedback to your agency, that will ensure you are doing your part in the creation of an amazing product. When we're working on a project with a client, the better we communicate the better the product is - it's a win-win!

While you should make every effort to sync up as an internal team, you should also observe the ways in which the agency you are working with handles the feedback and iteration process. It should be organized, with a specific contact person leading the process. In meetings and over e-mail, the agency should encourage consensus and restate feedback to you in effort to ensure they're on the right track going forward. We do these things every day so it may seem second nature to us, but as a client you should keep an eye out for best practices and hold the agency accountable should they fall short.

Let the Agency Do Their Work

All of the above are great ways to prepare for your work with the agency you've selected and will enable your creative team to make great work for you. During your work together, try not to lose sight of the main reason you brought an agency in on the project to begin with: their expertise. Agencies are experts at creating things like design, copy, and marketing that is in direct service to your project goals. Be prepared to check your personal tastes at the door - and if you don't like something, be prepared to explain why, and consider your explanations within the larger framework of what success means for your project together. The agency is familiar with the design and marketing conventions that precede your project, so trust them to do the best work they can and, as you move toward the finished product, be prepared to clearly explain why any given aspect of the work they create for you along the way is or isn't successful.