When hiring a creative firm to work with our branding needs, what are some questions and deciding factors we should ask and evaluate?


I believe past history is a great predictor of future work, so I would ask
1) Have you worked with anyone in our industry or similar project?
2) Ask for their complete portfolio
3) Ask them how many full time vs. contractors
4) Ask them who on the team (or individual) did the work you like and if they would be available for your project?
5) Ask them to asses your idea and come back with 3 highlevel ideas via email or powerpoint.

If you're going to be spending $10K+ then I think it's fair to ask them to do a bit of work to demonstrate how they would approach your project.

My rule in life "I can't work with you, till I work with you".

Answered 10 years ago

In my opinion asking a creative vendor to do free spec work to get the job is unethical and also discounts the most valuable part of their service. The discovery, strategy and brainstorming needed to produce branding assets that will meet and hopefully exceed your expectation takes time and expertise and is what ultimately leads to a great result. In addition, if a vendor is willing to just whip out some "ideas" for you, they probably do not have an established methodology for delivering consistently amazing results. On the other hand, if a vendor can deliver a documented branding strategy methodology during the sales process and insists on you paying to have that methodology applied to your project, they are much more likely to deliver excellent results, on time and on budget.

Answered 10 years ago

Deciding factors:

1. Past experience general portfolio: what are your best cases?
2. Past experience in the industry.
3, Project team that will develop your project.
4. Personal statements "why this project excites you?"
5. Your benchmarks for this project?

I would never request any for free work. Yhat is unprofessional.

Please count on me to review the pichers proposal and portfolio.

Just send them by email and we will review them - conference call.


Answered 10 years ago

Great answers by experts there.
1. How they communicate their own branding and story (for the services that they provide)
2. What kind of insights and experience they share (their blog, community publishing platforms, social)
3. Their core values and work culture (it reflects in their online presence, if not explicitly communicated)
4. What questions they ask you (asking right questions is extremely important; it tells a lot about their approach, work process, and their experience)
5. LinkedIn profiles and twitter accounts of their key team members (shows their social score though this is not a parameter to evaluate their skills; it helps you know them better)

Any more questions, setup a call for me and I can give you more details! :)

Answered 10 years ago

In addition to the many good points above, I'd emphasize getting very specific on the people that will be working on your project. An agency will only be as good as the talent on your account, and since turnover at agencies can be very high, looking at past work may not always be predictive of what you're going to get.

So ask to meet with the people assigned to your project, and ask to see their specific portfolio of work - that will give you the best sense for what you are going to get. I'm happy to speak more about this and review your proposals if you'd like.

Answered 10 years ago

Imagine for a moment you'd talked to Steve Jobs, pre-Apple, and asked him for his portfolio, prior experience, references, etc. Or imagine you'd talked to Lee Clow (the primary, but not the only, conceptor of the 1984 ad). Had he ever done anything like that? No.

So experience, portfolio, references -- sure, they're all OK -- but they miss something even bigger. How does the CD on your project THINK/problem solve/ideate. What questions does he or she ask? How incisive and intelligent are those questions? How quickly does the CD grok what you're doing and trying to do? How willing are they to challenge your beliefs or suggest alternatives? How well, how compellingly does this person communicate? What if it's John/Jane A Smith and the firm is named JAS Branding: now, there's a real winner! -- it's so bad, you know s/he couldn't possible have an original thought.

As the financial regulators like to remind us, past performance is no guarantee of future results. Otherwise, there'd never have been a New Coke.

You're hiring creativity and a brain or brains. You have to ask yourself: can this individual (or this individual leading a team for this firm or using other people) hit it out of the park.

Nothing else matters.

Feel free to contact me, 15 minutes gratis, if you have any questions.

-- Steve

Answered 10 years ago

You'll want to take a look at a few things.

One, take a look at their past work. You'll want to see their portfolio and better understand what specific issues they helped their clients solve. Was it a rebrand? Did they create this new product from scratch? Were they entering a new market? Branding isn't only about a story, but the right one for the right audience. And are you like those past customers (i.e. are your needs similar)?

You'll also want to see that you like their aesthetic. Does their work resonate with you and do you feel inspired? If not, then why would your customers?

You'll also want to know how they source talent. Are they bringing on subcontractors or is it their firm you'll be working directly with? And what is the payment structure? Are you paying a retainer or a project fee or hourly (which I wouldn't advise any firm to do, but they might)?

These are just some of the questions you might want to consider. Mainly, it comes down to do you like their work, are they credible and can you rely on them to get the job done?

Let me know if you have any other questions. Happy to help you review some candidates over the phone. All the best!

Answered 10 years ago

Some great responses here. I would also be direct in asking about their core values. What values rule their company? What values do they use to evaluate decisions.

I would also test them in a smaller capacity to ensure that they:
1. Are exceptional communicators
2. Adhere to deadlines
3. Exceed your expectations of quality.

You might do this by hiring them for a smaller project. We refer to this as "doing a little business so we can do more business."

One thing you will want to understand is their process. How many phone call interviews with you will they engage in before starting to actually design? How deep do they go? If they are going to talk to you once or twice and then start designing, that's a very different process from a team who is going to immerse themselves in your culture and conduct 10 hours of interviews before they start their work.

Ultimately, you want to feel a strong sense of alignment with them emotionally. A branding firm has to distill the essence of your organization and then package that visually. So they have to be able to dive in and get to the heart of your organization.

Answered 10 years ago

Some great answers here and a lot of my thoughts are already covered. Besides a lot of the good points, I think it boils down to these:

1) Are they good at what they do (strategic + creative)?
2) Are they easy to work with (chemistry)?
3) Do they come through on their promises (meeting deadlines + deliverables)?

I would also ask about their print vs. digital background and experience. Since we live in a digital age, some firms offer print capabilities but really without the background or experience dealing with print projects. The same can be said about digital.

Some folks mention process and that is good to know because a process can help define expectations and check points. Know what is expected from them at what mile stones and also what is expected from you as a client at what mile stones.

Some firms nickel and dime you on everything. Be sure to understand what is covered and what is not in the contract. We do everything on a project-basis and deliver the end product no matter what it takes as long there is nothing that is a change of direction or outside of the original scope. The client understands what they are paying for and at the end, they get a great product, not an invoice with extra stuff here and there.

Answered 10 years ago

In addition to what's said above, find out if you'll be a big fish in their pond. In other words, the value of your account in relation to their other business will influence the level of attention you'll get.

Answered 10 years ago

Good answers so far, so I'll echo a few things and refute some others. Having worked on both the agency and client sides, I can say:

1. Consider portfolio and process with equal weight. Absolutely, past work is an indicator of creative capability, but without process, you may be entering a world of frustration and cost overages. Pay special attention to how they propose to communicate with you and to the kinds of questions they ask. Even if you've worked with agencies before, go into your investigation with them as if you haven't - consider how they guide you and explain their perceived roles and responsibilities. You do yourself no favors by playing know-it-all.

2. Do not hire an agency without talking to two reference customers, asking each specifically about the agency's process.

3. Contrary to some other answers here, place little weight on whether they've done work in your industry. A good agency, working with you to understand your product and its value proposition, can do branding in any industry. If you consider it at all, consider it lightly - it's insulting to the agency and limiting to you and your search.

4. Frankly, the biggest factor for success in working with any agency is you knowing what you want at the end of the project. What are the success factors? Conversely, not knowing your own goals is the surest way to make any agency project fail. They can help you tease that out and solidify it through a good creative brief process, but it's not the agency's job to tell you what you want to achieve for your brand.


Answered 10 years ago

Hey Gary,
You've already received great answers, so I'll keep it brief:
While things like references and examples of other branding projects are important, the most important variable is "Chemistry."

When interviewing potential firms, just make sure you interview the "point person," because this is the person you will be communicating with for the next 6 months, exploring with, laughing with, having complex conversations with etc.

It is incredibly rewarding to create a great product with people you genuinely like and respect, so interview that "point person." If you're lucky your "point person" will be the firm's creative director and if you hit if off, you'll have a wonderful brand development experience.

And btw, since you're asking these questions and receiving such thoughtful feedback, my prediction is that you're going to do a great job!


P.S. If you need the name of the agency I used, feel free to reach out anytime:

Answered 10 years ago

Are you hiring "a creative firm" or are you hiring "the perfect creative firm" for you?

Take a few moments and think about what you are "imagining" as there is a world of a difference.

If you are imagining hiring "a creative firm" then there will be work involved to find the right one and your definition of the right one will develop as you move forwards. That is a lengthy process.

By far the most effective way is to imagine your experience of working with "the perfect creative firm for you". This creates an inner representation of what you are truly seeking and when you energize this with your thought you activate synchronicity and pull "the perfect firm to you" through a series of events we call daily life.

Correct use of your imagination will save you time and money and deliver enjoyable results.

If you would like help getting clear and learning to use your imagination effectively please consider a call.


- Carl

Answered 10 years ago

Branding consultations are -- or should be -- conversations.

You can identify talent based on a firm's past work. But you may find midway through an expensive branding initiative that your business and your branding consultant(s) miscommunicate like an ill matched couple.

My advice would be to proceed incrementally.

Talk to a few people for 10 minutes each. Look for 3 things:

(1) Credible expertise
(2) Rapport
(3) Value for time / Value for dollar

If you reach a dead end or realize that you're not getting real value for what you're putting in, let it be after 15 minutes or $50 instead of after 3 weeks and $5,000!

Answered 10 years ago

The most important thing I would ask is who have you worked with and can I speak with your references. What their current and former clients say will speak volumes.

If I am clueless about my company brand, or branding in general, I would want to know from their clients how they felt about the firm's process in uncovering the current brand essence.

If I have a good handle on my company brand I would want to know how they enhanced their clients' current image and uncovered untapped elements of their brand drivers.

Answered 10 years ago

In addition to all the very good comments I've read, ask them about the process they will follow to work on your project. Be concerned if they don't cover the basics which is doing consumer/customer research to understand who is your target group, understanding what motivates your consumers to buy your products and what makes your company different from others.

Answered 10 years ago

Brand is an image that you possess, and people do just because of that image you have. Our experience of the world has always revolved around images. Through the centuries Egyptian, Aztec and Mayan hieroglyphs continue to tell us living stories of their magnificent civilizations. The art of cathedrals, with their paintings, their images of saints, and their stained-glass windows served as a catechism to teach sacred history to the faithful, long before the invention of the printing press. And the forerunners of modern corporate logos, iconic images such as the Vitruvian man by Leonardo da Vinci, have served as models for such emblematic figures as Christ Crucified by Velázquez, The Third of May 1808 by Goya or for the universal symbol of peace. Picasso’s dove of peace, an image of a lightbulb to symbolize an idea or the cloaked figure in black with a scythe on its shoulder to represent death are just a few other examples of distilling significant ideas into a strong graphic symbol that serves as a reminder. Without a doubt, the modern designer of the Mercedes logo was not alien to the man of Vitruvius and all the other referential symbols that had been created since then.
The strength of the symbol is so powerful that it exceeds the literal meaning of what it represents. In the case of the Mercedes brand this is more than evident. Mercedes is a simple woman’s name. In fact, it was the name of the daughter of Emil Jellinek, one of the founders of the brand, who decided to immortalize the name of his little girl. It is as if today we were looking for a name for a modern aviation company and decided to use the name of our cousin Mari Pili. In other words, it is absurd from the point of view of the most basic rules of modern branding. However, the image of Mercedes today is that of a large manufacturer of luxury cars whose quality and technological level are beyond reproach. And no one thinks of the literal name of Mercedes when he sees a hood ornament atop a car with the imposing logo of the brand. In this case, as in many others, the image of the thing has transcended the thing itself. Another emblematic case is that of Apple, a state-of-the-art technology company, whose symbol is a once-bitten apple with rainbow colours, branded with the surname Macintosh, which is the English name for a variety of apple. A real challenge to the logic of branding and the purest common sense. In English it all sounds genuinely nice, but imagine a Spanish company called “Manzana”, which gives its star product a name like Reineta (a Spanish apple variety). Steve Jobs himself told his authoritative biographer Walter Isaacson that the name had come to his mind one day when he was driving back to his Los Angeles home after spending a weekend tripping on LSD on a friend’s estate filled with apple trees. Brands are powerful because they are pure image, an identifiable image, achieved through great recognition and an elaborate reputation. Everyone agrees that Picasso was a genius, even though most people do not understand or like his painting. And we are convinced that all Scots are stingy, Japanese people disciplined and Germans so-called “square heads” because that is the picture, we have of them. We usually rely more on images than on reality itself when we see it closely.
The reason that the image has such power is that our brain does not need to keep detailed information of each memory; instead, we need only a few key elements to reassemble the complete memory. When we see a car with the BMW brand, we do not need to know in detail its technical characteristics to assume that it is a quality car, to which we attribute all the positive attributes we associate with that brand. Nor do we need more data than a few acronyms to know that MNG stands for Mango, D&G for Dolce and Gabbana and CK for Calvin Klein.
Also, nations identify themselves using the images of their shields and the colours of their flags, which are from a certain point of view the corporate image of their brand. And so do cities, which sometimes use logos like the famous I Love New York but almost always have one or more images that personalize them, such as the Empire State Building for New York, the Eiffel Tower for Paris, Big Ben for London, the Pyramids for Cairo, the Colosseum for Rome, the Guggenheim Museum for Bilbão and many others. The same is true of football teams whose shields and flags hold the power of identification for their fans, which goes far beyond mere brand awareness.
Returning to companies, the way we perceive images is especially important because the image is the essence of the brand, or, said another way, the only important reality of the company. The resulting axiom is that there, in the most intangible of their heritage, in fact it lies the only truly asset.
The strength of a good brand transcends the limits of logic. A clear example is the case of the Lois Jeans, a Spanish clothing brand. Sáez Merino himself, owner of the brand, has said on more than one occasion that, seeking an international touch, he chose the name of a relative (Luís) and translated it into French. But by mistake the translation program ate the “u” and printed Lois instead of Louis, with the result that the cowboys’ name became “laws” in French, becoming one of the first trademarks of France.
We do not know if they would have triumphed in France by calling themselves Louis, but they might indeed have, because there are many others who have triumphed around the world calling themselves by much stranger names.
Many brand names are created with a meaning in relation to the characteristics of the product, or its use in the country of origin, but when they become internationalized, they no longer mean anything at all in other countries or in different languages. This is the case with After Sun, Blaupunkt or Close Up. There are other brands that bear the name of their owners, such as Armani, Loewe’s, Yves Saint Laurent to name just a few. Some brands are very similar in name but very distant in terms of the industry in which they move, such as Red Cross in the social arena, Cruz Verde in the area of home products and Cruz Blanca or Cruzcampo in the beverage industry.
We have names with “Don” that employ the same thing for many different products. Don Algodón for fashion and cosmetics, Don Bernardo for cheese, Don Julián for cigars, Don Jacobo for wines and Don Simon for various food products. The animals are also very versatile. El Águila for beer, El Burrito Blanco for sheets, El Lobo for nougat, El Pavo for pasta, El Corral for eggs, La Piara for pâtés, La Cigala for rice and La Vaca for cheeses. The same brand name with just one letter difference applies to both a range of automotive additives (Krafft) and a range of food products (Kraft). Some might even share a name, the one for cosmetics (Vichy) and the other for mineral water. Also, a brand’s avatar in male might sell cookies (Prince) while the same avatar in female sells panties (Princess).
A brand is not born, in my opinion—it is made. And from there I conclude with the theory of the chameleon. That is, brands adapt (metamorphose) according to the markets in which they move. Each brand also acquires special connotations in the context of the local language or phonetics, which can remove or add meanings, simplify or complicate the pronunciation, affecting the market position it occupies, especially in partnership with the advertising that creates your image. Advertising can earn a brand hundreds of millions but spent incorrectly can also kill it.
Thus, a brand is not a name, nor a logo, nor a symbol, nor a slogan, nor a meaning. The brand is a powerful personality that identifies us. It must be supported by good products and good marketing and communications strategies, always taking into account that there are no good brands and bad brands per se, but a coordination of all-around communication strategy, behind which all elements of the company must be aligned.
You must keep this in mind whenever you sit evaluation of candidates whether they suit your brand or not, ask them the following questions:
1. Talk about the importance of brand management. Why does it matter?
2. How would you describe your own personal brand?
3. In as much detail as you can, describe a well-marketed product. What is working well for this product?
4. What are some of your favourite marketing campaigns?
5. How do you stay updated on the latest tools and trends?
6. How would you describe our product’s customers?
7. If you were targeting another segment of customers — a different culture, perhaps, or a younger audience — what would you do?
8. In as much detail as possible, describe a go-to-market strategy that you recently worked on.
9. How do you know when a branding strategy is not working?
10. How do you know when to change a product’s pricing?
11. What are some of your favourite marketing campaigns?
12. How do you stay updated on the latest tools and trends?
13. How would you see our competition?
14. Case based – Do you think Brand X should enter a different customer segment?
15. Do you have any hobbies or interests that have added value to you as a Marketer?
Besides if you do have any questions give me a call:

Answered 4 years ago

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