Finding the Right Creative Partner
Finding the perfect creative partner is daunting. There are tens of thousands of design firms around the country and even more freelancers. There are big agencies, small shops and everything in between, each with their own approach, philosophy and pricing structure. Here are a few things to look for in deciding who to approach and what to expect when looking for a partner to help you navigate your rebrand.
Freelancers are solo practitioners (although some may operate as part of a larger collaborative or network).
They can be talented and more affordable than a design firm or big agency. They can be highly personable and passionate about your project.
Based on their experience, they may only be suited to tackle a portion of your rebrand (maybe the brand identity, but not your brand strategy or website, for example). They can have trouble sticking to deadlines (since there are only so many hours in a day). They can (sometimes) be flaky. And perhaps most importantly, because they often work in a bit of a vacuum, freelancers tend to have a single visual style that they apply to all of their client work, no matter the project context or goals. This means your “custom” branding may look eerily similar to another local brewery they worked with.
Small to medium-sized firms
These groups can range from 3–4 folks up to 10. And their pricing can be equally variable. These shops will generally be able to handle the full-breadth of your project, from strategy through identity, packaging, website, to ongoing marketing and more.
These shops tend to be smaller, more nimble and responsive. It’s easy to find an industry specialist at this size (with years of experience in the brewing niche, or a related vertical). And, they tend to attract and retain great talent. Another benefit is that you can usually expect to have direct access to the owners and creative leadership throughout the project.
Smaller agencies are more susceptible to having the quality of their work suffer if a key employee leaves, particularly if that designer handles a unique illustration style. This may be more of an issue after your project and something you would want to address as you discuss ongoing brand management work.
Agencies are big and have lots of people to throw at your project (assuming you have the budget to hire them). Like a small or medium-sized firm, they will generally be able to help you with everything you need (and some stuff you probably don’t).
Plenty of staff. They can usually meet concrete deadlines and can often provide broader capabilities and post-project support.
Their fees can be astronomical. You may not be their biggest client, and this could be reflected in the work they do for you. These places tend to have high staff turnover, so you may not have consistency in your creative team. You will also likely be dealing with an account manager, which separates you from the creative team who is actually working on your project.
So who should you work with?
I think in most cases, from a smaller brewery on up to an enormous outfit with a national footprint, a small to medium-sized firm is your best bet. Full disclosure, CODO is one of these firms—but if you look around the country at who is executing some of the best branding and highest profile rebranding work, it’s not the huge agencies, it’s the smaller, more nimble shops.
Once your rebrand is launched, there can be the temptation to call it a wrap and stop thinking about it for a while. But your brand will always require ongoing care and maintenance to stay consistent. I’m always amazed when a brewery ponies up $100K+ for a rebrand only to let their newly developed identity fall apart six months later as various taproom managers, sales staff and interns develop posters, social media posts and merch that are inconsistent and poorly-designed.
If you can afford the overhead, adding an in-house designer to your team (in addition to your marketing director) is an incredible resource for your brewery on a day-to-day basis. Having experienced design talent in-house can help you keep your communications consistent and actively maintain your investment after the project is wrapped. Of course, you can always continue working with your branding partner. But we’ve found that the volume of work required to keep a brewery’s brand in tip top shape is better suited to someone who is at the brewery day in and day out.
Whichever route you take, please be mindful of how important it is to maintain the hard work you went through during your rebrand.
A true full service agency can handle anything you could possibly need, from brand strategy and copy writing through design, branding, print, media buys, social media planning and campaign execution, photography and videography. It’s unlikely that you’ll need all of these services through a rebrand, and even more unlikely that you’ll want to pay the extra costs associated with hiring a group that can offer all of these things.
The group you hire should be able to handle brand strategy (positioning, naming, messaging), identity, packaging and web design at a minimum. If they can competently handle these services, they should be able to provide most if not everything you’ll need through your rebranding project.