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Ad Agencies: Separating The Divas From The Pros

Aug 17, 2007
In the 20 years that I have been in advertising, oftentimes than not, clients approach me having absolutely no idea how to begin their project nor what is entailed.

Having had come from the 'pre-computer generation', quality has always been my main concern as well as developing relationships and educating each client. With technology moving so quickly, design firms are truly a 'dime a dozen' and the most common question: 'where on earth do I find a firm who will not only deliver what I need but, more importantly, where do I find someone I can trust?'

As in any field, there are basic rules to know before 'you can run free' and many of the fundamental rules of yesterday still apply strongly today. The only difference between agencies of today and yesterday is that 20 years ago typically an advertising agency was filled with mechanical tables, drawing boards, tracing pads, ruling pens, stat cameras, pica rulers, etc., but deadlines were always met, good design was enforced, and quality was always the main concern. For those of us who survived the 'computer transition' that truth remains today.

Understanding the confusing process of acquiring and trusting a good design firm, I have decided to compile some basic guidelines for the non-professional to learn before committing to any agency or publisher. In this field, unfortunately, ignorance is not bliss, and I have seen too many people being taken advantage of over and over again because 'they didn't know the drill' nor that they had 'the right' to interview a design firm before any commitment was made.

An ad campaign, corporate identity make-over or book design should never be a 'nightmare' experience with any design firm and hopefully, this article will educate the inexperienced to be better equipped in choosing the right person for their project.

First Things First: What Is Design?
Design = Perception = Communication.
Graphic Design: a combination of words, pictures and concepts creating visual communication.

The word design is both a verb and a noun. Thus design is both an action and a product. Designing is a process organizing the various aspects of a work--line, space, light and color, texture, pattern, time and motion--creating a unified communication product. One
can recognize in the finished process of its organization, composition and message.

Of all the arts, graphic design comes closest to meeting us in our contemporary daily life. We interact with graphic design on a constant basis. Many of our encounters with graphic design are even unintentional; we do not often seek out graphic design the way we might seek to view other art forms in a gallery or museum. This fact gives graphic design an unequalled opportunity to inform, persuade, delight, intrigue or compel us.

Much of graphic design involves designing materials to be printed, including books, magazines, brochures, packages, posters, and imagery for electronic media. Such design ranges in scale and complexity from postage stamps and trademarks to billboards, film,
video, and websites.

Graphic design is a creative process employing art and technology to communicate ideas. With the control of symbols, type, color, and illustrations, the graphic designer produces visual compositions meant to attract, inform, and persuade a given audience. Under the skilled guidance of a graphic designer, a message becomes visual, transcending words alone.

Graphic design is a crucial ingredient for the success of any project or business. Graphic designers are professionals who provide a critical service needed by businesses of all sizes and at all stages.

They create a face to your company. They develop credibility and a personality for your brand. All industries are crowded with competition, and your company's brand is what sets you apart and distinguishes your service or product as unique, memorable and desirable.

An experienced graphic designers' goal is the communication of a specific message to a group of people, and the success of a design is measured by how well that message is conveyed.

Think of Professional Design Is An Investment For Your Company
Graphic Design is not 'playing'. Graphic Design is a business tool that exists to enhance communication of ideas, messages and thoughts. A professional design firm knows the importance of turning clients into partners in the process and show them how to see design as an investment for their long-term business goals. Design firms need to think more like consultants and less like Wal-mart: "Attention All Customers: brochures can be found in isle 3, Websites found in isle 8... "

A designer should always consider the client and the business goal the project is meant to achieve. Increase knowledge for a new product? Gain entry into a new, key market? Enhance the company's branding to attract more upscale clients? Perhaps in finding the answers to these questions it will be revealed that a media kit is a better solution for the client. A DVD presentation? An Infomercial? Perhaps a website? Maybe a combination of all of the above?

A professional designer will listen more and perhaps learn more about their clients' business and goals and involve them into the PROCESS of their design. When discussing a series of ideas, a design firm should talk about the merits of the design as it relates to their clients business. The logic of the color scheme in the context of their branding goals needs to be discussed.

It is impossible to build a partnership without trust. Clients need to know and feel that the designer they have chosen to work with has the client's interests at heart. If the client makes a suggestion that the designer knows or believe to be counter productive to the overall project goals, it is important to let them know why their suggestion is impractical.

Finally, a design firm should maintain their personal satisfaction for private ventures--their goal is to serve their clients satisfactorily. A client once told me about a designer he worked with in the past who INSISTED that the client cut copy on a brochure they were designing.

When this client inquired why it was so important to cut the copy, the designer informed him that his layout already worked perfectly with the Greek text that had been in there previously during the comps phase. The real text that the client had submitted was too long and would require an extensive re-work of his layout. The clients' only response to the request was one that would make Donald Trump proud-- "You're FIRED!"

One Last Thing...
It is my strong belief that experience and knowledge surpass any latest computer software program. As with anything, if the programmer does not know what to program, the computer is a useless tool. However, extensive knowledge and talent added to the computer creates the dynamics that are powerful.

The best to each of you and may your journey be enlightening, encouraging and educational!
About the Author
A native New Yorker, Judi Lynn Lake resides in South Carolina, with her husband and 7-year-old daughter. She successfully runs her own Advertising/PR Firm. Contact Judi at http://www.judilake.com
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