Selecting a design firm

You’ve made the decision to hire a graphic designer to help you with your company’s brand. Congratulations! But with so many design firms and ad agencies out there, how do you make a selection? Here are some tips:

  • Observe successful brands around you and ask business owners or marketing directors who they’ve worked with. If they’re pleased with the results, they’ll most likely be eager to pass along the firm’s information.
  • Consider the expertise of the firm. Most design and advertising agencies specialize in a market or type of product. Seek out those firms that are experienced in speaking to your target market (for example, business-to-business communications, direct-to-consumer communications, or specific fields like medical or real estate marketing).
  • Consider the size firm you’d like to work with. Large firms often offer ritzy offices and accommodations and boast large staffs to work on your projects, but come with a higher price tag. Smaller firms have more modest settings but often provide a high level of customer service at a lower price. Whichever size you select, make sure the firm can handle ALL of your design and advertising needs, so you can keep it all in one place.
  • Talk to people within your network for a referral. They’re likely to have an inside track on how the firm is to work with, whether they meet deadlines, the quality of the their work, their customer service, and more. But don’t stop there, make sure to:
  • Review the firm’s portfolio. You can start with work they depict online, but more often than not, it’s just the tip of iceberg! Ask to see samples related to your industry or of a specific product type (websites, logos, marketing collateral) that you anticipate needing. Evaluate the samples for how consistently they convey the brand across products, how well they stand out against competitors, neatness and clarity, and innovation. A thorough portfolio review should help you avoid this situation:

  • Try them out. Give a firm you’re considering working with a small project to see how they work. Observe how well they estimate the project, set a schedule, meet deadlines, and provide multiple design concepts. They should listen and respond to your critiques well, and make you feel like you’ve been heard. Pay attention to whether they mark up printing or stock photography purchases. While this is a common practice, not all firms do this (Mix Creative selects not to mark up vendor services).

Be honest with prospective firms that you’re looking around. Be prepared to talk about your budget and your marketing goals, so they can get a sense of whether they are a good fit for you too. It’s not unheard of that a design firm will refer clients to a competitor if they’re better suited for a specific market.

Happy Hunting!

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One Response to “Selecting a design firm”

  1. Mix Creative Says:

    On December 20, 2008 in an article about a new network of 18 local communications boutiques, called Magnet 360, the StarTribune commented on the perception of large marketing firms:

    “The rap on huge communications conglomerates is that the big cigars often pitch the business, but, unless you are a huge account, you end up with junior folks on the beat. They also have higher overhead than the boutique shops.”

    Magnet 360, being comprised of smaller, boutique firms, was meant to be offered up as a remedy to this. Yet just a paragraph later, it states:

    “The average billing rate of Magnet 360 partners will be around $150/hour compared to $175/hour, on average, for national firms.”

    Now, to some people with a you-get-what-you-pay-for philosophy, $150/hr is the price you pay for good quality communications. But let me suggest an alternative: at $150/hr, $100 probably goes to paying rent, heating the place, paying the staff, and employee benefits. In contrast, a sole-proprietor firm may charge $60–$100 per hour, and nearly all of that goes to paying for design.

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