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".
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.
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.
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! :)
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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
(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!
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.
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.