How to hire a creative marketing agency

creative marketing agency forms


Whether you’re building a brand, launching a new ad campaign, or trying to establish a clean website for your business, at some point you will need to partner with creatives. There are a few things to keep in mind when approaching this task. Firstly, keep in mind that their role is not simply to make you look good. Any amateur freelancer worth their salt can deliver decent visual work for comparatively low prices. When you hire a creative marketing agency, think of it more like hiring a team of super salesmen.

Their real job is to take any business from any industry and deep dive into what makes it tick. They discover who wants your product most, and then they craft the most targeted, effective message possible to convince customers to buy it from you. Yes, it should still look good—but the difference lies in getting results.

Every creative marketing agency is structured differently, so the best way to prepare for talks is to iron out your side of the conversation first. If you go in confident in your needs and expectations, it will be easier to navigate their differences and make decisions on the best fit for your project.

With that in mind, here’s a fast-tracked guide to how hire a creative marketing agency:

Their role is not simply to make you look good…when you hire a creative marketing agency, think of it more like hiring a team of super salesmen.

1  |  Start researching the industry.

There are too many offers of sub-par services out there to approach this task blindly. Start by assessing what specific services you need and inform yourself on relevant terms and standards. You’ll be far less likely to waste time and resources talking to the wrong people for the job when you can recognize the genuine article. Even knowing some standard terms can help you navigate talks.  

2  |  Evaluate agencies based on project scope.

If you’re looking for a one-off poster design to advertise a benefit concert at your venue, you probably don’t need to hire the guys who redesigned Pepsi’s logo. You’ll likely be fine paying a freelancer’s rates or small local agency to design a great graphic that serves you well. But if you’re looking to rebrand your entire company, overhaul the website, pair it with digital marketing and social media campaigns, you’ll definitely want a bigger team with more experience and expertise.

Depending on the scope of the project, hiring a creative marketing agency can be a long-term commitment. So make sure you shop around and select the best fit for your company.

3  |  Set up meetings with multiple agencies.

Most agencies are happy to sit down with prospective clients to discuss new projects. They get to make a new connection, and you get to see what they bring to the table. More importantly though, this gives you a chance to mention some of the other companies you’re talking to. It may seem counter-intuitive to bring up their competition, but it’s actually a good opportunity to gain insight from people who know their industry best.

Most professional agencies won’t directly badmouth competition (if they do, you should reconsider working with them—discretion isn’t their strong suit!). But they may be just as happy to tell you:

“X company is great at brand development, they could probably offer you a lot. But they’re also very new to digital marketing. We’ve been doing it for years, and we always consider how new branding projects will translate digitally when crafting your new message. That might be more valuable to you since your project requires a custom website and social media campaign.”

Not only did you learn more about how this company can help you, you also learned something valuable to ask in your meeting with X company: “I appreciate your extensive portfolio, but I also understand you’re new to digital marketing. How do you propose to meet all aspects of our project requirements?” If they don’t have a good enough answer, that’s one off the list and a point in favor of someone else. Use meetings effectively to get the inside scoop and make your choice easier.

4  |  Meet with them in person.

Depending on the size of your company and your obligations, this may be a tall order. But unless you’re going straight to the top of the design food chain and dropping thousands on national agencies, local or regional creatives are likely your first stop. This makes face-to-face meetings ideal.

You’ll learn more about who they are and how they communicate. If you can see their offices, you’ll get a feel for their organization and focus. And you’ll effectively be able to interview them with relevant questions. This stands in stark contrast to faceless online entities that often outsource projects to keep their costs low. Even so, you should get clear on a few things before committing to anyone. Here are a few little-known things to ask about:

Ownership rights:

It’s worth sorting this out early. Creative rights and ownership matters to both sides of any partnership. Ask about their policy on ownership of any work created for you. Will you own full or partial rights? Do they retain any distribution rights, and will they attempt to sell it to other people? Will you have the right to use the work in perpetuity once complete? There are no right or wrong answers here, it will mostly depend on what you want to happen. So consider what’s ideal for you, and ensure you discuss it up front.

Content sources:

This is the other side of the copyright question. If they source images or graphics, where do they source them from? Is all content original, or do they use stock? What are the licensing restrictions on any images or fonts used? We recently encountered a customer who purchased logo design services from a well-known online provider of print and design. It looked nice, and the client was happy…but the designers used a font that was not licensed for commercial use! Imagine if the client completely rebranded to the new logo and launched a national campaign, only to end up with a copyright nightmare. We helped them make the change to commercially licensed fonts that still supported their brand, but it was a close call. Make sure you hire a company who knows their licensing limitations!

Deliverable formats:

Ideally, agencies know their craft enough to manage expectations up front. They should ask you what format you expect deliverables to be in, or recommend formats depending on the job. But if you’re going through freelancers, you may be making assumptions that no one thinks to ask about. If you’re having a logo designed, do you know for sure you’re getting vector files that can be applied to any use in the future? Do you know if the poster they’re designing is truly digital and suited for offset printing, or are they hand-drawing it to scale and delivering an original work? Discuss what formats you’re expecting—you can’t afford to assume, especially on the basics!

5  |  Prep for the creative brief!

You may or may not be familiar with this term. But the creative brief is essentially a document drawn up by your chosen agency that will serve as a guiding force throughout the project. It lays out everything from what the core message is to who they’re targeting, and it’s intended to give their team clear goals for success. Everyone will lay it out a bit differently, but they will all collaborate with you to build it up.

There will typically be a period of discovery once you commit to working with an agency, and you’ll be the one on interview. They may ask anything from how you got your start to why your current logo has a stripe. If you haven’t been on the creative side of the conversation, it can get intense, and you may question how necessary it is.

But remember that they’re attempting to learn in weeks or months what you’ve spent years building up—helping them understand the ins and outs of your business only serves you in the long run.

With that in mind, we developed a document to help you work out some of these answers ahead of time. This is not a creative brief template—that document will always be unique to your project and the agency you partner with. But this does supplement the brief, and it will help you be more prepared for the questions a creative marketing agency will ask.


You’re on your way to hiring a creative marketing agency. If you want to learn more about the client’s role in developing a creative brief, we recommend this article on Forbes.com. And when you’re ready to schedule your first meeting, we’d welcome the opportunity to sit down and discuss your project! Give us a call any time, or head on over right now.

That’s it for this week’s Red Arrow Blog. If you found these resources useful, let us know below. Be sure to follow our social media for weekly articles to help you make the most of your business.

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