Advertising and promoting your business is expensive, so it's important to get the most from your advertising budget. That means understanding how to get the most from your ad agency or graphic designer.
Let's start by understanding the difference between agencies and designers.
Typically, a designer will work on specific projects under your direction. For
example, you may request an ad design for your Halloween event, and give the
designer your copy (the text) and the party theme. You are responsible for booking
the ad with the newspaper, getting flyers printed, having posters made, etc.
An ad agency plays a more active role in planning the promotion of your events.
They can work with you to plan your ad schedule, suggest the right mix of
promotional tools to reach your audience, help you evaluate the effectiveness of
your promotions, and negotiate ad rates and printing rates on your behalf. They can
also help with choosing promotional themes and writing ad copy. Of course, you will
pay more for these additional services - but you may actually save money by letting
your agency do your negotiations and booking.
Whether you are working with a designer or a full-service agency, it pays to plan
ahead. If you can plan your advertising a year in advance you should be able to lock
in much better ad rates. Leaving a couple of extra weeks when printing flyers will
save you "rush printing" charges. And giving your designer extra lead time will
almost certainly get you a better looking result!
A typical small agency might require final "concept and copy" at least a week in
advance of newspaper deadlines, four weeks in advance of distribution for printed
materials like flyers (to avoid rush charges), and six to eight weeks in advance for
complicated projects (such as die-cut and folded invitations). Many business owners
don't understand why final copy is required so far in advance? they ask the
designer to do a design, and add the text later. But in a good design, text and
typography are very important to the look of the piece. So if you want your
advertising to look good, plan on providing the copy when you give the job to the
The above lead times allow time for the client to proof the final artwork, and make
minor corrections, based on a single design. But when working with a new designer,
or when promoting an important event, you may want to see several design
concepts, and possibly several versions of the artwork. This can add one to two
weeks to the schedule (more for very complex ads), and of course will cost more
than a single design.
When ordering the work, make sure the designer understands your market and the
image you are going for. For example, you may look at a design and say, "That's not
cool enough for our market." Another business manager may look at the same ad
and say, "Whoa, that's way too weird for our customers." Show your designer ads
you like (and don't like) to help them understand the look you want for your
But what if you don't like the designs your agency produces?
Well, you obviously shouldn't run an ad that you feel really damages your image,
doesn't convey your message, or isn't what you requested. But at the same time,
avoid the temptation to micro-manage the design. You are paying your designer for
their professional skills; their judgment is probably better than yours when it comes
to layout, typefaces, color choices, etc. Also, if designers feel that the work they do
for you is going to be extensively changed, they won't give you their best efforts.
So find an agency or designer whose work you like, and trust their design sense. If
you find you consistently don't like the work they're producing, talk to them about
the problem, and if necessary find another design firm. But don't spend your time
trying to "fix" the designs.
It's also very important that one person from your business deals with the design
firm, and has final authority on all design and copy decisions (many agencies will
insist on this). If a designer is getting conflicting input from several people, they
can't do a good job for you. If you need to, talk about the design with everyone at
your business who is involved in the decision? but select one person to convey
your feedback to the design firm. (A good design firm can schedule meetings with
clients where everyone can contribute ideas and feedback - as long as one person
represents the client when it comes to final input and decisions.) Note that this can
be complicated when co-op advertisers or sponsors are involved. Typically the
person or company being invoiced provides the input, unless they specifically
designate a different person.
So far we've talked about printed advertising and promotion, but for most
businesses, the internet has also become an important promotional tool. Print
design, web design, and e-mail promotions require different skills and tools, so you
may use different firms for each. However, there are some advantages if you can
find a single firm to handle all your needs. The design firm can make sure that your
print and web communications project a consistent image. And you will only need to
provide your event information and promotional goals to one firm, who can then
make sure that the print ads are placed, the website is updated, and the e-mail
invitations are sent. Some firms can also handle other design tasks, including
menus, signs, and promotional items.
Typically, in order to get this range of services, you'll need to work with a mid-size
agency or design firm. There are advantages and disadvantages to choosing large or
An individual designer (free-lancer) or very small agency can give you personal
attention and often lower rates. But you will need to work around their schedule if
they are out sick or on vacation, and you will need to find a new designer if they
change jobs. Individuals and very small agencies probably cannot provide a
complete package of design services.
Mid-size firms give your somewhat less individual attention, and may charge a
higher rate than free-lancers. But on the plus side, they can provide a broader range
of services, and they have several designers on staff so they can accommodate your
needs even if someone is out, or if you need a lot of work done for a key event.
Large firms can offer a full range of services and a large staff to meet all your needs.
Unless you are a large account, you will probably get little personal attention. (In
fact, in a large firm, the smaller accounts are often given to junior designers and
So, how should you choose?
Above all, find a firm whose work you like! Ask for samples and references, and if
possible meet with the designers before making a selection.
Decide if you want to hire a design firm (and manage the ad planning and placement
yourself) or an ad agency to provide more assistance with your promotional
planning (most ad agencies will also provide "design only" packages if you prefer).
Find a firm that is large enough to meet your needs, but small enough to care about
your business. We typically find that local, neighborhood businesses are best served
by free-lance designers or very small firms; regional or metro-market businesses do
well with mid-size firms, and major national companies get the best results from
large firms (and can afford to pay for them).
Talk to the firm about how you will measure the effectiveness of your advertising.
It's a good idea to try different types of advertising over time to see what works best
for you. Consider coupons and special offers to measure how many people are
responding to your ads.
Remember that even the best advertising campaign gets stale over time. Plan for
(and budget for) occasional reworking you advertising. Most designers respond very
well to an opportunity to do something new for a client, and you will get the best
results from both your design firm and your customers if you freshen your
advertising every 6-12 months.
Thanks to LunaGraphica Inc (http://www.lunagraphica.com) for input and
suggestions on this article! Lunagraphica is a boutique advertising and design
agency specializing in the arts, entertainment and youth markets.
Bob Nicholson / WYGK Consulting provides business, technology and strategic
consulting for small businesses, internet start-ups and entrepreneurs.