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How do you know if your creative agency is over charging?

This is quite a common question amongst brands working with a variety of agencies. So how DO you know if you’re getting your money’s worth?

Well the good news is that the same rule tends to apply to any type of creative service, from design and film through to marketing and advertising. Truth be told it’s often a tough question to answer and there are of course several factors to consider when determining value. For example a piece of design should be judged on the value that it brings to the client. This can be put in context by the objectives, outlined in the brief, and we love a good brief!

The objective might be to convert users, in that case you can monitor the conversions and know if it’s being effective. Sometimes it might be designing a set of internal marketing assets for your business. In that case you should have a target response in mind – What’s the desired outcome of the creative/ messaging? If the outcome matches your target then you can be confident that it was a success. Setting up ways to measure the effectiveness is very important as it allows you to adapt and optimise your creative.

Here’s an example with a few useful methods – 15-ways-to-measure-effectiveness

When looking for a new agency here are some key questions, you as a client should ask yourself:

  • Does the agency produce work that’s original and engaging?
  • Are you paying for experience, quality or overheads?
  • Can you afford to take a risk?
  • Will they be nimble and turn work around quickly?
  • Would they feel proud to have you as a client?
  • Does their agency culture and ambition match ours?
  • Do they bring more to the table than an in-house team?

Key questions you as an agency will be asking:

  • Are they an exciting brand, with a good story to tell?
  • What’s the size of the client’s business and do they make a decent profit?
  • How much exposure does the client have?
  • Does the client appreciate quality and if so are they prepared to pay more for it?
  • Will the client respect our input and allow us creative freedom?

Factors that should be considered:

This is the years of knowledge and experience agencies and freelancers gain. This means that they have all the best connections, know all the top resources and utilise the best practices to bring your idea to life. That might be anything from knowing the best royalty free music sites to being able to recommend 5 of the top still life photographers in London. This is worth something. You pay for the knowledge of where to find the best services and what to look out for. You pay for them to know what they’re doing. You’re paying for their many years of trial and error. You pay for their confidence and, above all, their wisdom. Without experience the whole process would take a lot longer and the work would reflect it. So if you know exactly what you want and it’s a very simple project then you may not need it. However if you’re out of your depth and need to rely on someone to steer you in the right direction then opt for experience.

Is the service being offered unique? Thinking of something unique and different is often very hard. Being able to produce a piece of work that captivates your audience is often more possible when there’s an interesting insight. At least an insight your target audience can relate to. This takes skill and smart thinking, which most definitely adds value! The best agencies employ the best talent, they want the ones that shake up the status quo. You’ve also for those agencies that offer a niche service. If that’s the case then it’ll be harder for you as a client to find competitive rates.

Where will the work be shown, what’s the reach? Will it have nation wide or international exposure? This will effect the cost as the client would otherwise benefit from paying once for a piece of work that is going to be re-used and continually return value (as long as it’s good). It’s just like getting royalties from a pice of music. You deserve to reap the rewards of a song that gets re-used again and again because it’s clearly popular. Agencies need to account for this as the quality of the work usually reflects the amount of exposure it’ll get. It’s in the agency’s interest to make the work exceptional if it’s to be seen by many eyes as it’s makes them look good. As a result you can potentially strike a deal to play off both interests.

Project Management:
Is the service provider/ agency easy to get on with, are they friendly and helpful? Do they put your needs first? Do they hit deadlines and can they turn work around quickly? If so then they’re worth the money. Having a good rapport is obviously important. But most of the larger agencies take a lot longer to churn work out. This is simply because there are so many people in the process. You pay for their experience but sometimes that can be overshadowed by the slow turn around. They may also not consider you so high on their priorities if they’re a highly awarded agency who can pick and choose their clients. That’s not true in every case, but it’s still common.

David VS Goliath – So when should I use a big agency VS a small agency?

Far too often than not, with the larger agencies you’re paying for a lot more overheads. That includes account managers and handling fees. You also pay for the privilege. Of course big agencies have a lot of leverage and in most cases offer you piece of mind that the job will get done and done well. However this can come at quite a cost. Can your business really afford to be spending so much money on this ‘privilege’, or the low risk option?

Would you be better off saving half of your creative budget on a higher risk agency but have more money to spend else where? In advertising for example you could spend less budget on the creation of the ad and more on the media spend and PR to get your great piece of work seen. What good is having a Picasso if no one can see it?

You also have to consider your own position in the company on the client-side. If you’re a Marketing Director and one of the many cogs in a huge and well oiled machine then budget might not be an issue. If so then you’d probably rather pay more, knowing that an agency will do an outstanding job and put you in good light. If they failed then you might be held accountable by your superiors and board members. In this situation a small agency might see like too much of a gamble.

However, if you’re the founder of a new company then you might be more inclined to put your faith into higher risk agencies. It’s more than likely that you’re on a shoe string budget and need your money to stretch further. The high risk agency has the potential to produce remarkable work for a fraction of the price, but at the same time they might not. In any case no one can blame you but you, and maybe one or two investors. If you get it wrong then you haven’t squandered all your budget so you can try another hand.

So going back to the original question. How do you know if your agency is over charging? Quite simply, if you’re being charged a premium and not seeing results from the creative then you should question why and who’s to blame. This can become tricky if the client has had a large input on the project as the agency can’t be held 100% accountable for the results. That’s why it can sometimes be best to let agencies do their job and delegate. Then if it goes badly you can hold them responsible and perhaps get them to re-visit the idea again or at least improve it as a good will gesture.

  • Look out for items on the invoice. Are they charging a management fee? If so then you expect the project to be well managed, which means less stress for you. If it’s not then you shouldn’t be paying a high fee for it.
  • If the agency are hiring equipment then do your due diligence by conducting a quick search to make sure they’re not adding a hefty margin on top. Bare in mind you pay for the agency’s understanding of where to get the best equipment from but they should also be fair.
  • Make sure you’re not paying for unnecessary people to be involved in the project. If it only needs one director and one designer, make sure you’re just paying for their time.

Deciding what you should be paying isn’t easy so if you’re unsure on price you can simply contact us here at Sidekick Studios. We’re based in London. If it’s something we can help you with then we’ll give you a quote. We’re also very happy to offer you free advice so please don’t be a stranger and get in touch any time. I hope you found this useful. We’ll continue to do our best and provide you with little nuggets of insight each week. Well done you for reading this far!

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