There are many different firms out there providing different levels and styles of creative services. Instead of being sold on a firm’s benefits or portfolio and hammering them into your situation, figure out realistically what you need, then find the firm that fits your criteria best. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about internal time and expertise.
The best creative work will not produce results if it is not approached with a minimum of strategic thought. If you are not a marketing and expert, you may want to consider a firm that has one. The intangible product of marketing strategy can be difficult to wrap your head around paying for, but having someone who knows how to plan what to do, how to do it, when to do it and how to measure its success will increase the ROI of all the creative services you pay for.
You may very well know your audience well and feel confident about what to do to reach them, so don’t need a marketing guru. You may just need a creative services firm that understands business and thinks strategically in their execution. For example, if you ask them to design a brochure and provide all the content but without a compelling call to action, they should at least know enough to ask you for one. They should also be able to think big picture: helping you make sure follow-up steps are in place.
Do you have someone in-house to manage the rollout?
Once the strategy is figured out and the initial creative concepts developed, there will be a number of things to coordinate to complete the execution. You may need to get printing quotes and then deal with the printer. I’ve had clients handle this themselves in the past and even experienced marketing people get into trouble by sending out the printer low-resolution files used for approvals by email, or just not understanding the technical requirements. The creative services firm should have the experience and relationships to manage this process better.
You may also need to coordinate writers, photographers and web developers, which means not just hiring them and getting them the materials they require but also providing creative direction and making sure their work is on strategy. Even if the creative services firm is also outsourcing these things, they have the experience and relationships to bring it all together. There may also be the putting together of packages and arranging mailings, deliveries or installations. On the digital side it’s dealing with email deployment, web hosts and testing testing testing.
It can be very time-consuming if you are also trying to do a full-time job or run a business, especially if inexperience leads to confusion or mistakes. Yes the creative services firm would mark up any outside fees to cover the administrative cost and risk of bankrolling it, but it’s well worth it if you don’t have someone with the time to do it.
Is the strategy online or off?
Or both? There are many specialty firms out there: digital marketing, social media, branding, advertising, direct marketing, etc. There are also firms who will either attempt to do it all themselves because you ask them to, or they will claim they can but they really can’t. The firms are specialty for a reason, so you may find yourself hiring multiple firms which adds to the complexity and time needed to manage this. It’s really important to tie all marketing platforms together, which means having one linchpin in-house or not who understands how to make it all work together and has the ability to manage multiple specialists.
Your creative services firm may be able to do that if they have the right person in-house. But I would ask them carefully about their claims on doing it all. Firms that really can are often gigantic and expensive. I have learned that my clients don’t mind that I outsource certain specialties, as long as they feel comfortable in my ability to manage it all. So I’m open about it.
If you have these skills and time yourself, then great – you can hire someone to simply fulfill the creative and design side. It is usually less expensive to go with creative services only, you can get a freelancer. Just don’t sacrifice the expertise and management skills you need to make your marketing a success for the sake of budget because there’s no point in spending any money if it’s not going to work.
Remember that no matter what you can never 100% hand it off, you will always need to have time to review and approve things.