Have you been tasked with the creation, revamp or responsibility for your company website? If you’ve never worked with an outside advertising or web development agency, it can be a little overwhelming. You may find yourself in a meeting one day wondering how you got there, who all these people were and why there only seem to be cheese danishes left.
I can’t help with the mystery of the danishes (I am partial to chocolate, myself) but I can help with the question of, “Who are all these people and what do they do?”
I’ve seen many projects go off the rails simply because the client wasn’t sure who “on the other side” was responsible for what and what they as a client might expect as the project or projects progress. You might think letting the client know these things would be an obvious thing for an agency team to do but the truth is that sometimes it isn’t. After all, the agency and their team members know what they do. Everyone they work with knows and to them, it must seem like common knowledge.
They forget that not everyone lives in the Agency-verse and it’s quite likely that it never occurred to them that most people don’t know that concept development and creative development are not only NOT the same thing but are, in fact, interdependent. So what do you end up with? You end up with a client who isn’t sure where they stand and a team that thinks everything is going along just fine. After all, if there were a problem, the client would certainly speak up — right?
Wrong. Clients are often hesitant to speak out if they feel like they are out of their depth or to contradict “the experts.” No one likes feeling as if they are asking stupid questions so very often by the time the client holds up a tentative hand, the project may have evolved into something they didn’t intend and don’t recognize at all. If the works is really far along, it can end up in extra rounds of revisions and spiraling costs.
I don’t work in web development or marketing agencies anymore. I prefer advocating for the client these days. Therefore, for all the clients and clients-to-be out there, I give you this: a very rough guide to who does what and when they do it. It may not give you all the answers but this make those first few meetings a little less daunting and a lot more productive.
The Process: Of course, every agency has their own names for phases of project development and at some, certain phases work concurrently but you’ll find that this breakdown is pretty common in scope, schedule and terminology.
- Planning and Strategic Development: This phase includes early planning meetings between client(s) and the agency team. It is at these meetings that team begins the process of learning about the client’s business, products, and project goals. This information gathering results in the creation of the Project Brief. The Brief (sometimes called a Creative Brief) spells out the project’s purpose and scope and may include technical specifications, budget estimates and a roll out schedule. As work progresses, the Team revisits the Brief periodically to ensure that the project’s original goals are kept in sight.
- Concept Development: Early concepts are generated based on the Brief. The team produces a number of rough ideas, putting those through an evaluation internally and narrowing it down to two or three. Those selected get refined and presented at the Concept Meeting. At this presentation, the team explains how the concepts relate to the Brief and how they were developed. The concept chosen by the client is then further refined based on feedback from the meeting. This additional work might involve changes or tweaks to the typography, style, and materials.
- Creative Development: The look and feel of the graphic design is built upon the concept and is developed in conjunction with the language and tone for the copy. What the client sees from this phase, called deliverables, may include draft copy, design or package mock-ups or material samples. As these mock-ups – and later prototypes – are developed, they are checked against the Brief to ensure they are on target with the client’s goals. All copy, graphic design, media placement, creative direction, treatments and artwork are refined based on internal evaluation and client feedback. Once creative prototype is approved, it’s on to production.
- Production: In this phase, all approved graphics and copy are transformed into actual pieces. The Production or Traffic Manager meets with vendors to establish the schedule of expected deliverables. Depending on the nature of the project, vendors might include printers, fabricators, mailing houses or media outlets. All dates are confirmed with both client and the vendor.
Implementation/Roll Out: delivery and distribution of materials.
The People: Your particular project will determine who and how big your agency team is but here are some folks you may find yourself dealing with and some of their most common responsibilities.
- Account Manager: leads management of all aspects of agency/client relationship including meetings, projects, jobs, information and communications. The account manager provides advice and counsel to clients and serves as liaison between the client and the agency
- Creative Department: Responsible for the actual design elements of the project. Depending on project scope, you might have one or several designers working with you. The oversight of the design team is the responsibility of the Art Director, who ensures that the work is produced to specifications and quality levels.
- Production Manager: Oversees the production process, including finalizing specifications with the creative staff in order to obtain bids from vendors, researching suppliers, preparing estimates for clients and managing product delivery. Someone from production, and usually from design as well, goes on-site when materials are printing to ensure print accuracy and quality. This visit is called a press check.
- Traffic Manager: Coordinates schedules and deadlines, not only monitoring progress across agency departments to ensure steady progression but overseeing vendors and clients deadlines as well in order to bring project to completion on time and on budget.
Now that you’re armed with these basics, you’ll be a few steps ahead at even the earliest meeting. And remember – there are no stupid questions. If something is unclear, ask for clarification. Do you feel that the project is taking an unexpected direction? Speak up. Trust me. They’d much rather hear it now than later.
Of course, if you haven’t gotten as far as thinking “agency” yet, all this is putting the horse before the cart. Do you feel like you’re already in the deep end just having decided to get your organization online? Take a deep breath and call Modern Parlance. We’ll show you how issues like information architecture, search engine optimization, usability, and design come together to create online success. By the time you’re ready to pick an agency, you’ll be ready to talk the talk and walk the walk.