How to Effectively Collaborate with a Creative Agency

Get a heads up on what to expect during branding, visual identity, digital, and messaging engagements with a creative agency. We discuss how to effectively collaborate with yours to get the most out of your investment — plus some helpful hints along the way.
How to be an effective collaborator Website

As a creative agency, we are collaborative by nature. Our designers, copywriter, and developers are in constant communication, working to use all of the tools, knowledge, and strategy at our disposal to help social impact organizations achieve their goals.

As a social impact leader, you’re making (or should be making) a significant investment in your digital presence and strategy. If you’re not, you risk being left behind. It’s vital that you understand the potential of your investment and how you can best contribute to the process of creating a new visual identity, digital hub, and action center that help you get noticed and succeed in today’s digital-driven attention economy.

Below, we walk through what to expect during an engagement with a creative agency and how to effectively collaborate with yours to get the most out of your investment. Plus we provide some helpful hints along the way.

1. Allocate Enough Time

Creating an effective, strategy-driven digital presence takes hundreds of hours, from both the creative agency and your team. This is one of the least recognized and most surprising aspects of digital strategy — the time commitment. It’s only through thoughtful collaboration that our teams can combine our strengths and knowledge to produce the best results. And that requires a substantial investment in your team’s time.

Your review should be in-depth analysis from your team and (when the time is right) important stakeholders in your organization. This is where you apply your focus area knowledge, organizational goals, and strategic thinking. At certain points, you may want to include external stakeholders as well.

This process repeats weekly for several months. To get the most out of your investment, consider each of these elements closely so that you’re able to provide meaningful strategy-based feedback.

2. Establish Initial Goals and Strategies

Good design is strategy-based. We’ve worked with our share of organizations who came to us because their website was slow, difficult to use, and nearly impossible to maintain or update. Fixing these problems of a legacy site are legitimate. Typically, we then help them develop a digital strategy.

Your digital strategy is tied directly to your brand building strategy, marketing strategy, and strategic plan. Working with your creative agency to develop a powerful digital strategy requires careful consideration and internal discussions with your internal stakeholders and leadership.

Setting goals and developing strategies for achieving them also applies to a branding or rebrand project. You should always attach a strategic mindset when it comes to your brand. More on this below.

Having clear goals and a defined digital strategy allows both teams to discuss the creative elements of the project based on how they aid in achieving those goals. It helps reduce subjective opinions and replace them with strategy-based decisions.

3. Put Your Strategy Hat On

As we mentioned earlier, Everything about your digital presence should be strategic. Avoid wasting time asking people on your team if they “like” anything presented by your creative agency. The question to ask is, “Do these choices reinforce our digital strategy?” and “Do they help us achieve our goals?”.

Your creative agency should be a strategic partner. Of course we want to create eye-catching brand experiences. But the most important function of design, copywriting, and digital development is how it serves your strategic goals.

When you’re reviewing design elements, think about how the design system works as a whole. Consider how aspects of the design system such as colors, shapes, typography, and imagery represent your brand and help you stand out in the attention economy — in a good way. Look closely at how the messaging conveys the culture of your organization and if it conveys the ideas you want to communicate as succinctly as possible.

4. Provide Context with Your Feedback

Providing as much context as possible gives your creative agency in-depth information about your input. Here are some examples:

  • The color of red being used has a particular and negative meaning in the culture we serve. Let’s not use this color.

  • The symbology you are using limits us in terms of the services we provide. Please explore directions that open up a broader understanding of our organization.

  • The square corners of photos and section divisions feel very stark to us. We are working with people who respond better to softer, more traditionally feminine shapes, even though we serve both men and women.

  • The black and white photography you are proposing clashes with the vibrant colors we established earlier. Please explore a color treatment that more closely aligns with the brand colors.

Providing context applies to copywriting as well. You will always know more about your audiences and focus area than your creative agency does. Content creators count on you to fill in the blanks when it comes to word choices, focus area specific language, and other messaging nuances that you understand better than they do. Providing context helps copywriters more quickly adapt and produce informative and inspiring content that aligns with your audiences.

5. Consolidate Your Feedback

When a creative agency receives feedback from multiple stakeholders, it becomes difficult for designers, copywriters, and developers to know which feedback to prioritize. It becomes impossible when different pieces of feedback have contradictory opinions. If your ED has empowered your communications team and then posts feedback that’s in direct opposition to the comms team feedback, who does your creative agency prioritize?

Before sending review notes to your creative agency, your internal team should meet and come to consensus on your feedback, input and suggestions. Once you have resolved your different perspectives, provide consolidated feedback. This process requires that your full team works together to provide feedback. This engages everyone, makes sure that their voices are heard and helps build a culture behind the branding, design, messaging, and copywriting. You might be surprised how transformative this is for your organization.

6. Be Ready to Be Truly Collaborative

From our perspective, collaboration on a creative project is non-negotiable. And to get the most out of your investment you need a cooperative mindset. Your creative agency is deeply interested in helping you succeed — but they need your input. They need your knowledge and experience in your focus area.

Creative projects benefit from an open and inquisitive atmosphere. The team at your creative agency wants to engage with you, explore ideas, discuss strategies, and iterate. In our experience the most effective outcomes result from an exchange of ideas. It’s really a matter of the whole being better than the sum of its parts.

Bring thoughts and opinions to the table, and be ready to think strategically, as we mentioned above. But also be ready to have your input be the springboard for even better concepts.

7. Engage the Right Stakeholders at the Right Times

Social impact organizations have multiple stakeholders, both internally and externally. Having all of them involved in every step of the creative process is a good formula for a “too many cooks in the stew” result. Getting input from key stakeholders is vital to a successful brand, rebrand, or digital hub. But you need to get it at the right time.

At the outset of a project, set up milestones where input is most helpful. Determine when it’s best to tap your board’s expertise. Strategize around when to ask for input from your staff. Think about when, and if, you reach out to external communities and partners.

Your creative agency can let you know which critical milestones will benefit most from which stakeholders. Work with them to develop a schedule for bringing in these important voices and perspectives. Communicate with your stakeholders so that they have time to review materials and provide well-considered feedback to your team and point person.

8. Think Beyond Who You Are Today

When establishing your brand, rebranding, pivoting, updating your digital presence, or aligning your messaging with your mission, think beyond the release or launch date. Your visual identity should be consistent for several years — or more. Work with your creative agency to create a brand identity that will carry you through the next phase of your work, whether that for five, ten or more years.

That doesn’t mean that you should think statically. Your brand expression should evolve while remaining true to the established guidelines. Your messaging can change as you develop better ways of expressing your mission and solutions — and it should. Ask your creative agency to produce a brand style guide that you adhere to until you find you need a full update of your visual identity.

As your organization grows and changes, your visual identity should be able to grow with you. This is why we avoid trendy design motifs and create brands and digital platforms with an eye toward your future.

When you’re reviewing creative work, consider whether or not what you’re looking over will stand the test of time, or feel dated in a year or two. As the saying goes, “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

9. Be Positive, Honest, and Transparent

We love doing creative and strategic work. And we get fired up about helping social impact leaders be more effective in creating a more just and equitable world. When you’re working with a creative agency, know that it’s going to be a significant amount of work on your end. But also step into it looking to create something that’s going to help you produce greater impact. When both teams jump in with a positive attitude, chances are good that the results are going to be something that puts you on a stronger changemaking path.

Stay Connected

Get our insights delivered straight to your inbox.