5 Habits of Highly Effective Outsourced Design Firms
I’m a big fan of LinkedIn discussions, and one of the groups I’m a member of had a terrific back-and-forth that, for me, really illustrated the habits of highly effective outsourced design firms. The original question posed was “What do clients REALLY want from their agencies?,” and there was plenty of fodder from both the client and agency side, from ground-level creatives to chief marketing officers (CMOs).
What struck me most is the commonality of the concerns that agencies and their clients have: You may be big or small, and on the vendor or hiring side, but you wrestle with many of the same issues. Conversely, there’s a common thread of “best practices” that the best agencies have used to succeed—and that, ultimately, comes down to understanding, communicating about, and addressing client needs. At a time when marketing is changing rapidly (see “The CMO Is Evolving Into New Species With Vastly Broader Range”), it’s never been more critical to evaluate and hire the right agency.
Here’s my take on the 5 habits of highly effective outsourced design firms:
- Detail oriented. The word “brief” in creative brief can sometimes feel like a misnomer—coming as the end product of an extensive Q&A that may seem like an IRS audit. The reality is, however, that a good client relationship is built on discussing the brand, company, competitors, and industry from a deeper perspective—through conversations about core philosophies—encompassing why a company exists and how can it better serve the needs of their customers. Conversations about the brand story and the customer’s stories, getting to the emotional connection of why people buy, are paramount.
- Fast and flexible. This, of course, is a basic expectation without need for much explanation. But, it not only includes the project creation and implementation itself, but all of the communications surrounding them. (At the risk of seeming biased, it might be the best argument for engaging a smaller agency rather than a large one.)
- Insightful. Maybe you think you already know your problem and the solution, but an outsourced design firm may have strategies that handle them in an entirely different way: the benefit of outside perspective. As a colleague of mine recently said, “You can’t read the label from inside the jar.”
- Flat. If you wanted bureaucracy, you could have hired internally, right? The reason you’ve chosen an outsourced design firm is for their expertise, and ideally that means direct access to the brains that are bringing your vision to life—not playing telephone with a couple of layers of managers.
- Honest and transparent. Especially if you’re a big-name client, agencies may be scrambling over themselves to get the business. A smart agency will be forthcoming about their current workload, their general expertise and specific talent that can be committed to your project, the deadlines they can hit, and, of course, their fees.
In the comments: Whether you’re a design firm or a client, what’s the “best practice” that best illustrates a highly effective outsourced design firm?
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