How to choose a brand agency

Whether you’re a start up, an established company or you’re working for an organisation who has decided it’s time for a rebrand, there are a few very important, fundamental things to consider before deciding which brand agency to work with.

Here at ORCA, we often find ourselves needing to advise clients on the best practices of choosing a brand agency. As a result, I thought it would be helpful to put together a little article of my top tips to choosing a brand agency, which I hope at least some people find useful. This isn’t a definitive list, and it doesn’t all have to be followed exactly in chronological order, but if you can tick off most of these focus areas, you’ll stead yourself well for choosing the right agency for the job.

Identify the challenge

It’s important to start with the challenge at hand. What is the scale and complexity of your project? What is going to be involved in the brand process? How many deliverables are there? How many decision makers are there going to be involved in the process? Do you want to involve your customers through user testing or interviews? These may seem like questions that don’t need answering just yet, but if you can establish the project’s potential pitfalls and challenges early on, it will help you to choose the right agency for you. 

Consider your brand offering and brand strategy

Next consider what your brand offering and brand strategy is. What is your company vision, mission and values? What is your customer value proposition? If you’re an existing company, are these all still relevant or do you need to revisit and tweak them as part of the branding process? Defining these key areas early on will help you translate your brand vision. If you aren’t completely clear on any of these vital points yourself, then how can you expect a brand agency to be? 

Develop a brand brief

This is a vital step in clarifying your requirements. A well written brief will save both yourself and your chosen agency time and energy, and it will ensure you get the appropriate responses from those that are suited. While creating a brand brief, you can begin to consider a plan for the branding project as a whole and communicate your challenges, objectives, values and risks, and potentially even begin to visualise a creative direction. There are a few key areas that you’ll need to consider when writing a design brief. You can learn more about that in my helpful article ‘How to write a design brief’. 

Make a decision on the type of agency you want to work with

Are you looking for a brand agency with a particular niche similar to yours? Or perhaps you’re looking for a brand agency with broad experience over multiple sectors and customer segments? You may be looking for a brand agency who is driven by similar values to your own, or one that is already embedded in your target audience. Either way, it’s important to ask yourself these questions now as it will help you to know what to look for during the enquiry, briefing and meeting stages. It will also help you to narrow down your search, saving you time, money and stress.

Ask around

By far, in my opinion the best way to find the right agency, or any service provider, is through a good referral. Ask around. Talk to friends, family, colleagues, trusted customers and see who they've used in the past (if they've required similar services to what you're looking to commission). Don't just take any old recommendation of course, it's still got to be the right fit.

Begin your search

There are many ways to find the right brand agency for you, it may depend on whether you’re looking for a particular brand agency with very specific skills set, or perhaps you’re looking for a brand agency based in the same city as yours. The most simple search methods are as follows:

  • A Google Search: type in your keywords and begin searching. This is probably the most time consuming and difficult approach, though that’s not to say it’s useless. A thorough Google search (other search engines are available) will enable you access to literally every agency who matches your keyword search, though certainly not every agency that meets your requirements. It will also bring up many search results that are completely irrelevant to your search, so it can take some considerable filtering.

  • A directory search: a more refined and accurate way to find an agency would be to use an existing design or brand directory, such a The Design Business Association, The Drum Recommends, Agency Spotter, or in our local case, Bristol Creative Industries. This will enable you to search via keywords to find a more suitable agency within the location you require or with the appropriate skillsets or experiences.

  • A design forum: another fairly solid route would be to search on a design forum such as DribbbleBehance or The Dots although you will have to be careful with your search here as you’re getting into freelance territory. It might be that you’re happy to use an independent freelancer, but consider whether they have the necessary resources available to them to complete a full brand identity project

Narrow down your search – Choose your favourite few

During your search, some things to consider for each agency:

  • Do their values match what you’re looking for?

  • Does their portfolio show good examples of their skill sets and strengths?

  • Have they worked on similar sized projects to yours?

  • Do they have similar types of clients to you?

  • Have they, or do they, work with any of your competitors?

  • Do they have a particular style or is their style varied? Which works for you?

  • What sort of experience do their key team members have?

  • Do they come across as passionate, driven, strategic and innovative?

  • What resources (people and skills) do they have available to them?

  • Does their work show results? What is the impact of their previous work?

  • Do they seem friendly and personal?

  • Is there enough information available to answer all the above and make an educated decision?

Again, this is not a definitive list, but these are important things to consider when choosing your next brand partner.

Next Steps

So you’ve shortlisted your agencies down to a sensible 2 or 3. Next, you want to meet these agencies to check whether the chemistry is right. Just a meeting would be fine at this stage, unless you feel confident enough to invite these agencies to offer a proposal or to come and pitch their credentials. If you’re considering a creative pitch, please pay fairly for the agency’s time, as these take a significant amount of time and energy. 

Free pitching

A final note on free pitching/speculative pitching/creative pitching, or whatever you want to call it. Please stay away from promoting unpaid pitching altogether. This is not only to ensure the credibility and the future prosperity of the industry, but also because it is not an effective way to choose an agency.

Any unpaid creative work presented in a pitch cannot have been produced with a true insight into the client’s business and objectives, as this can only be achieved once an agency has undergone significant research and discovery with the client, in the form of a website workshop and/or briefing.  

Usually, the agencies willing to do free pitches are the ones who have too much time on their hands and not enough experience. The recommended method for choosing a design agency is a credentials pitch where you can question and discuss the agency’s processes, structure and past experiences. This approach gives practical evidence of relevant capabilities and expertise, plus it gives a clear indication of whether they are able to repeat past successes.

Final note

Above all, just treat people how you’d like to be treated yourself, if you’re going to ask an agency to write a proposal, reply to them, even if they’re not right for the job.

Don’t just ghost them. If you’re going to ask an agency to pitch, offer them the time and the information they’ll need to prepare. If you’re going to ask an agency to offer a creative solution during a pitch and/or to submit some design ideas, then pay them fairly for it. You’ll receive a better, more accurate response and it’ll save you time and money in the long run.

I hope this proves useful. Good luck!

Get in touch if you’d like to know more.