Since I started my business HCG corporate designs back in 2010 and got self-employed as a designer, I had the possibility to speak with a huge number of clients, potential clients, business partners, advertising agencies and other entrepreneurs. There is something that I’ve come across quite frequently: Too many companies are unhappy with their advertising agencies. This finding made me dig deeper in the course of trustful talks with colleagues and clients of advertising agencies alike in order to find out more about this phenomenon. It made me write this blog article.
5 FACTS FROM EVERYDAY BUSINESS THAT SPEAK FOR A DESIGNER AND AGAINST AN ADVERTISING AGENCY:
# 1 STAFF CHANGE
The website of one of Tyrol’s most renowned companies was supposed to be redone in terms of functionality and design. There was a set budget as well as a set timeframe that the advertising agency (also one of the most renowned ones in Tyrol) had to stick to. Several staff changes in the advertising agency’s IT department led to the website project having to be started from scratch three (!) times.
Obviously, there was no documentation of the website concept, or the skills of the changing IT people in the advertising agency varied so much, so that no new web designer could continue the work of the previous web designers. This resulted in a costy overdraft of the budget and a delay of the website going live of over 1.5 years. As if that was not bad enough, the client was unsatisfied with the advertising agency’s delivery, but they didn’t want to cancel the project as it was already "so far" and so much money and time had already been invested. IT experts and creatives now smile at the website and sometimes use it as a "negative example" of how certain functionalities and designs aspects should NOT be executed.
Staff change cannot happen with a designer (single entrepreneur) of course. The designer is in the topic from start to finish and knows about every single detail. There can still be time or budget overdrafts, though. However, a professional designer communicates this early enough. The client having to suffer under several staff changes and having to pay the price for that (literally), is a risk you don’t have when working with a designer.
# 2 QUALITY VS. QUANTITY
Typical advertising agencies offer a variety of services: classic print advertising, copywriting, PR and press related work, strategic marketing consulting in terms of positioning, competition conception and execution, surveys, Facebook marketing, Google AdWords, search engine optimisation, web design, web shop design, programming of apps, corporate designs (logos etc.), point of sale design, offline marketing campaigns, radio spots, TV spots etc. The list is long.
Designers have a much smaller variety of services. One person alone can never cover as many things as an advertising agency. This is of course a disadvantage for the client. The advantage, on the other hand, is clear and proves itself in everyday business life: Designers are more specialised and thus offer higher quality in their fields than ordinary advertising agencies.
# 3 DEPENDENCY
Business partners sometimes tell me that they are "dependent" on their advertising agencies, making them feel uncomfortable and they are not fully satisfied with the quality of the work they get delivered. "We go with it just because we have to, we are dependent on them."
I can only shake my head here. Dependency is always bad. I provide my clients with raw files upon request (and for paying a higher fee in certain cases). When creating corporate design concepts for example, I always deliver the vector files of the logos too. This way I make sure that my clients are not dependent on me at any time and have the possibility to (whenever they wish) work with other graphic designers (= my competition). Almost all of my clients come back to me when they need something because they were really happy with me. When you do a great job, you don’t need to be afraid of your competitors – I can without a doubt say that after 8 years of being self-employed. I don’t agree with making my clients dependent on me. Transparency and fairness are core values that I live by every day – and my clients appreciate that.
# 4 MOTIVATION
Self-employed designers being more self-motivated in their work than employed designers, is obvious. Unfortunately, many advertising agencies tend to not pay good enough salaries to designers. This has an influence on motivation at work, what you ultimately see in the design output’s quality.
# 5 COSTS
Advertising agencies need of course bigger offices than designers who work in small (or even shared) offices. In addition to that, advertising agencies need a price overhead that serves as a financial buffer in times of bad business in order to pay the high fixed cost (salaries, high taxes and insurance fees on salaries etc.). This is not the case with self-employed designers (sole traders). Here you see an example from real life – the transparent calculation of my hourly rate (based on numbers from my own bookkeeping 2017):
By the way: You can buy hour contingents for my design services in my online shop and save up to 550.- Euros. (Currently the shop is only available in German language, but you can still make a purchase.)
Not all advertising agencies are the same, neither are all designers. This blog article is not intended to categorize all advertising agencies and all designers. But it is intended to show potential for improvements and to sensitise, in the sense of clients, advertising agencies and designers alike. Also, there is a tremendous quality difference between advertising agencies with employees and "one man / one woman advertising agencies" that work with a network of freelancers on a project basis. The latter I would definitely recommend to clients.