Portfolio: Beauty and Brains

How are you selecting the agency you're going to work with?

We have seen far too many organizations select a partner based on pretty and popular rather than for being effective. Just think of it, nearly every proposal or RFP asks for samples of work (how pretty can they be) and client references (what big name clients are on their list). Here are a few things to think about when putting too much emphasis on these elements.

  1. Pretty only works if there is good strategy behind it.
  2. There are literally thousands of graphic designers. Thinking one firm has the corner on pretty is not realistic anymore.
  3. Was the work done for the clients just a project or part of a partnership? Just because one department in a Fortune 500 company decided to use an agency for a project doesn’t mean they are the agency of record.  Even if some guy in high school dated Cindy Crawford doesn’t make him worthy of dating supermodels for the rest of his life.
  4. Why would anyone give a reference they didn’t know would say good things about them?
  5. Big name clients command higher hourly rates, thus confirming all clients should pay those same rates.
Don’t get us wrong, we want things to be pretty as much the next person. Pretty can help things be more effective.  But pretty can’t make bad strategy, or no strategy at all, be effective. Would you pick a spouse solely on looks and popularity? Not if you want to be happy long term (e.g., increasing revenues). Spend time talking and asking questions focused around a firm’s effectiveness and their thinking when it comes to your organization's challenges.
We've seen organizations hire a firm based on a beauty contest or an agency’s client list and not on the how well the agency is positioned to deliver the best ideas for their particular challenge. It’s normal to want your company to look pretty and have the comfort in knowing “if XYZ Fortune 500 company chose them they must be good.“ But in reality, you need to be sure the overall strategy will bring success.