How to Work with a Creative Agency

The client’s guide to establishing a seamless process with a creative agency.

Once you’ve taken care of choosing the right creative agency, it’s time to focus on how to work with an agency. You know what that means: process. 

While establishing process isn’t the most exciting part of a project, it is one of the more critical aspects of a client-agency relationship. To help you avoid common pitfalls and achieve your goals faster, we’ll walk you through a typical creative process and how to work with an agency as effectively and seamlessly as possible.

Kickoff meeting

This meeting is a great opportunity for both teams to meet each other and make sure everyone is aligned. Kicking off your project can happen in person, on a video call, or over the phone. However you decide to meet, we recommend involving all key stakeholders from both teams. This way, everyone is clear on what’s happening, who’s doing it, and why it matters.

At Expand, we focus on three main objectives during kickoff: Meeting the team, reviewing the creative brief, and establishing expectations and roles.

Pull quote: Kickoff is a prime chance to meet the team who will work on your project.

Meeting the team

Up to this point, you’ve likely been in contact with one or two people on the agency’s team. Kickoff is a prime chance to meet the team who will work on your project. In addition to putting names to faces, kickoff lets you get to know folks and their work style and personality.

For Expand, the kickoff team usually includes: 

  • The Creative Director overseeing your project, 
  • The Project Manager handling logistics and timelines, 
  • The Copywriter wordsmithing content,
  • And anyone else critical to the project, such as the Developer building your website.
Pull quote: You need internal and external alignment as soon as possible to avoid delays.

Reviewing the creative brief

The central part of kickoff is going through the creative brief together. Doing this in detail helps everyone, even your client-side colleagues, start on the same page before the agency begins any work. Not sure what to include? Check out our post on how to write a creative brief.

When laying the groundwork for how to work with an agency, you need internal and external alignment as soon as possible to avoid delays and wasted work. Your kickoff meeting is the perfect time to fill in gaps, clear up assumptions, and ensure clarity.

Pull quote: Who needs to approve work, and for which milestones?

Establishing expectations and roles

Another key aspect of kicking off your project is level setting with your agency partner. Some critical questions to answer are:

  • What are the key milestones, and when are they due?
  • What is each person’s role in the process?
  • Who is the main point of contact on each side?
  • Who needs to approve work, and for which milestone(s)?

To save time later, we also suggest covering the workflow for delivering and reviewing work. For instance:

  • Do wireframes or display ads need to be provided in a certain file type or program? 
  • Does your team want to review copy in a Google Doc or a Microsoft Word document? 
  • Will reviews happen in a meeting with both teams or asynchronously through email or online revision tracking tool? 
  • Does a standard weekly check in time work best for everyone?

The creative process

While everyone’s process can vary, especially depending on the type of project, there are some universal steps for any creative project to be successful. When considering how to work with an agency, you can reference Expand’s creative process as a general guide.

1. Discovery

This research stage of your project for building on the information provided in your creative brief. In our experience, the discovery phase uncovers many important insights, some of which can be new learnings even for your internal team. 

Our discovery process varies a bit based on the project, but when appropriate we’ll perform research that includes:

  • Stakeholder interviews with your key team members,
  • User research to better understand your audience’s goals and challenges,
  • Brand research, such as tone and personality or a content audit,
  • And competitive analysis for context on what others are doing.
“Tip: If your colleagues tend to have very busy calendars, talk with your agency about combining the kickoff and discovery meetings. At Expand, we ask clients about this to be mindful of everyone’s time.”

2. Ideation

Once we have a comprehensive picture of your project’s goals and the surrounding context, our creative team can start mapping out options for how best to achieve your objectives. This stage of how to work with an agency is when we’ll brainstorm and deliver several high-level concepts for your consideration.

For a website, we might show you a few directional options for the homepage, which would set the stage for the rest of the site. For other types of work, this might be rough concepts for a logo, some social ads, or print collateral. This concepting phase gives you a chance to see where we think things should go, so we can adjust as appropriate. 

“Tip: At this stage, focus more on providing high-level/conceptual feedback. Get the overall big idea right now. You can fine tune things like specific colors or word choice later.”

3. Execution

Once you approve the overall direction of your project, we refine the concept based on your feedback. Next is building up and out, such as using an approved homepage concept to inform what the remaining website pages will look like. 

When learning the ins and outs of how to work with an agency, it helps to understand that this phase of the creative process can take the most time for larger scale projects. Continuing the website example above, the execution phase includes designing the rest of your website’s pages, which can include anywhere from five to 100+ pages.

“Tip: Include key stakeholders early on when reviewing work at this stage, to make sure their feedback is included upfront. You don’t want any big surprises after most of the work is done.”

4. Results

While Expand doesn’t offer marketing or measurement services, we do advise clients to track the results of projects. Why? The more you learn about how your project performs, the better you can showcase your success. This also gives you the powerful opportunity to use these insights to improve performance even more over time. For instance, by iterating display ads to get more clicks incrementally.

With measuring results, it helps to determine in advance how you’ll determine project success, ideally through quantitative results you can measure. When we make a website for a client, we recommend tracking the site’s performance via a free or paid tool (see below for a tip about Google Analytics). We also make ads for Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn, with each platform offering their own dashboard with analytics to help you gauge results. 

“Tip: Set up Google Analytics to track key metrics for you, such as number of page views and even insights into who’s visiting your site.”

Questions about how to work with an agency?

Contact our Co-Founders, Nelson Holland and Tracy Shaw, for help. They each have decades of client-side and agency-side experience, and are happy to share insights on establishing seamless process with an agency partner.

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