10 questions to ask yourself when engaging with a design agency

If you pick the right agency, you can enjoy a huge amount of benefits. Whether it’s their expertise, a fresh perspective or extra capacity, there are plenty of advantages to recruiting the right team to enhance your brand exposure and marketing activities.

However, recruiting an agency doesn’t come without its challenges. With the average marketing budget reported to have dropped from 11% to 6.4% of company revenue between 2020 and 2021, and agency support costing between £394 and £725 per day, it’s important to make sure both teams are on the same page before working together.

To help you start off on the right foot, here are ten questions you need to ask yourself before working with a new agency.

#1 What are your business objectives?

This may seem like an obvious starting point, but an important point nonetheless. A recent survey found that 71% of agencies and 61% of marketers believe objectives are the most important part of any brief. However, these goals are often absent from briefs. Whether teams feel they’re unnecessary or are struggling to define them, objective-less briefs are estimated to waste around a third of businesses’ marketing budgets.

So, even if you’re engaging with the agency for a short-term project, setting objectives is essential to ensure the team sets off in the right direction and stays on that trajectory. Objectives won’t just help the agency to gain vital context and see where their project fits in the bigger picture of your business, but they can be returned to periodically for sense-checking progress or clarifying a project’s direction.

#2 What are your main challenges?

As any marketing team will know, creating a high quality or innovative product is no longer enough to capture customer attention. To compete in a saturated, eCommerce-driven world, giving customers the best possible experience is key. Yet to develop a truly effective CX, you have to understand your customer’s needs. Indeed, 89% of successful businesses say that anticipating customer needs is key to their growth.

By the same token, how can you expect your agency to give you the best possible service and results if they don’t understand your needs? Being honest about what your challenges are, both in terms of the project and, more widely the bigger picture (or vision), will ensure agency keeps this in mind when working on your brief and when considering how to add value to your business.

#3 What is your budget?

If you’ve heard rumours about agencies overcharging, adding huge margins, or fitting a project to a set cost – you might be tempted to hold your budget close to your chest. However, setting realistic budgets as well as having flexible, transparent and open communication with an agency will enable them to tailor solutions that make the best of the budget available.

Not setting out budgets from the beginning could lead the agency to present ideas or solutions that aren’t achievable within your set cost. This not only causes frustration on both sides but can lead to delays in signing off and starting projects.

#4 What does success look like?

This isn’t just an existential question, but a very real and important one for all your agency briefs. After all, if an agency doesn’t understand what they’re aiming for, how are they going to hit the bullseye?

Not sure what success looks like when it comes to your project? Then consider points such as:

• Your business’ vision: beyond metrics and objectives, what does your business dream of achieving? Even the smallest projects should help you towards this vision, which means your agency needs to understand what it is.

• Your goals: as mentioned before, your agency needs to understand what the objectives are for the project you are briefing, so they can understand what good performance looks like.

• Your strategy: where does this project sit within the strategy and what destination is this roadmap moving towards? This will help agencies to understand how they’re contributing to your business and its success.

Once you’ve set out your picture of success to agency, open up the conversation to see if there’s anything they can add to these targets. It is likely they’ll have experience in tracking the performance of similar projects, so will be able to suggest the most appropriate KPIs and metrics to keep an eye on.

#5 What stage is your brand at?

Your brand should be at the centre of everything you do and is what brings your business to life for your customers. This means handing over a set of image and copy guidelines isn’t always enough. Your brand hasn’t just appeared out of nowhere, it’s been developed over many years and bears the hallmarks of both customers and internal stakeholders, and agencies need to understand it thoroughly to interpret it correctly.

Outlining what development has been done to your brand, what your brand story looks like and how you want this to be reflected in the project is a starting point. Combine this with a detailed overview of your target market or audience and then open up the conversation with your agency. Do they think the brand approach should remain the same or should it be realigned to how the business has evolved? Getting their perspective will help you not lose sight of what matters to your customers and ensure your project is as effective as possible.

#6 Has a similar project been done before?

It’s likely the reason you’ve reached out to a particular agency is they have case studies or experience that’s relevant to what you need. So, to take full advantage of their knowledge, it’s important that you ask them about previous projects they’ve done before and what they’ve learned from them.

Likewise, if you’ve run a similar project to the one you are briefing in the past,  you’ll no doubt have plenty of learnings you’ve taken from it yourself. Being transparent about these experiences means you can both share valuable insights, help your new agency avoid any mistakes and encourage them to develop and grow with you.

#7 Who are the stakeholders?

Even the smallest projects can have multiple stakeholders who will be involved in offering their feedback and approval. Being clear about who these stakeholders are, what their availability is and where they will be involved in the approval process will ensure everyone who needs to be involved is brought in at the right stage so there are no delays later down the line.

Plus, think carefully about who the key team members actually are. This isn’t always the Board of Directors or high-level executives, it also includes those who will be impacted by a project or use the relevant service or function on a day-to-day basis. For example, your sales team is likely to understand your customers’ challenges in some depth and be able to provide answers to the questions your agency team might have.

#8 What are the deadlines?

There’s no doubt one big deadline for your project, but are there any other milestones that need to be hit along the way? Whether they’re approval stages, specific meetings or events, they need to be noted down in advance to make sure there are no last-minute rushes or missed expectations.

#9 What exact support are you looking for?

An agency might sell itself as a specialist in a particular area of marketing or a full-service offering. However, it’s still important to be as clear and specific as possible about the type of support you need. Saying ‘I need help with my website’ isn’t enough. Do you need a redesign, a customer relationship management (CRM) software implementation or website analytics support? Understanding the exact support you need will ensure the agency you choose can completely fulfil your needs.

#10 What value can they add?

Engaging with an agency isn’t just about paying per word or hour of work, it’s about taking full advantage of their expertise and building a long-term productive relationship. Even though you might be looking for a specific type of support from your agency, there will be added expertise they can bring to your project, so it’s important to ask them about any extra skills they have in their team.

Do they have any extra digital capabilities, social media marketing expertise or content creation knowledge? Finding out as much about the skills and expertise they can offer you as possible will help you to understand if they have the ability to be your brand guardian across multiple channels and projects. This doesn’t just help you know which projects you can get their support with, but be the basis of a long-term relationship of mutual understanding and added value.

To find out more about what the Designmc team can offer you and your business, email your brief (after you’ve answered these 10 questions) to hello@designmc.org