How Marketer’s Are Getting the Wrong Creative Suppliers

How Marketer’s Are Getting the Wrong Creative Suppliers

umbrellas seen from the topThe mistakes that marketer’s make in choosing suppliers is glaringly obviously to some of us in the industry, while others remain oblivious. It is only when you have a certain experience that you can see things that others can’t. It is like in the movie the Matrix, where the lead character can see the world in terms of code and yet others can’t. It is the same in creative services when choosing a film company, web designer, post production company, or creative agency. Here’s how many are doing it wrong:

You think brand guidelines protect you

Each individual project is often considered in isolation, often with different suppliers being called on for each. Each one has their own touch that shifts the brand just that little bit. The brand guidelines are only a very small aspect of keeping a brand on track. Massive scaled brands have a massive scale brand bible and even then it can be difficult to interpret. Smaller to mid sized clients are the most vulnerable to dissemination, losing the integrity of the brand… and ultimately to the core of the business.

Referral from a friend

It seems like a safe bet, but is it really? Depending on whether your friend is fully qualified to refer and without a vested interest in the outcome you may not be getting the best fit for you. Sometimes the recommended suppliers may have done a fantastic job for a certain brief, but do they really fit for your needs? Sometimes you don’t even know what you really need… you only know what you think you want.

The price doesn’t dictate the best fit

Having three competitive quotes and picking the best price isn’t always the best way to determine if you have the right supplier. You can easily sway the decision based on limited criteria, and let’s face it – if you want to use someone for any reason you can always find a way to justify it, particularly when there is an emotion reason involved.

You believe the pitch

Some sales people are amazing at making you feel that the business is just right for you, but the engine room actually doesn’t support their best intentions or aspirations. If you don’t know how to look beyond this you can get in trouble. Recently I was talking to a marketer who said how impressed they were with a digital agency, and yet when looking deeper it was actually just the business development guy talking, and the rest of the business didn’t quite match up to the hype.

Their criticism makes them look like experts

Recently I had a creative agency send through some spec work and it included a LOT of criticism of what the brand was currently doing in order to make them look like the experts. It would be easy to believe them if you were uncertain of what you need and where the brand is going.  Sometimes the suppliers also don’t see all the background work that is being done in the marketing department – there is always a delay in the development work and what the public sees. It is ignorant of suppliers to judge based on this alone and shows you they are not necessarily a strategic partner. In this case they really had missed the mark and it was clear they didn’t understand the brand. Their judgments about the brand were misguided, but communicated with surprising self assurance!

You look at them as a single project service provider

Of course, right now, you only have a single project to think about but limiting your vision of supplier choice based on this one activity may be an impact on your brand values, and may limit your business growth. Having providers that can help move you through your levels of growth not only help you transition your growth but also aids cost efficiency.  This can be by choosing suppliers with a wider service offering, or a greater depth to the scale of client they take on.

You think deliverables, not strategy

If you think about the project in terms of a list of things to do and look for suppliers that deliver just that list of things to do, you can be limiting your brand growth. A supplier that can take your strategy and deliver that through the list of deliverables is far more valuable that someone simply doing what they’re asked to do. The real challenge is in being able to identify this of course. Hints are evident in the case studies they show you – are they discussing the strategic direction before going over the list of things they did? Are they discussing the results achieved from their work? Are they talking about partnerships formed and repeat business as a result of the strategic understanding of their business.

Often the providers of creative services actually don’t do strategy. They may claim to, but there is a myriad of different types of strategists and getting the best one for your needs to be properly assessed. Great business strategists often don’t get creative strategy right. Some do great brand strategy but don’t get design strategy right. Some get the strategic understanding right but don’t get the team to deliver on it. (See more on #strategicproduction here and ‘Closing the Strategic Gap with Why?’).

You think about one step ahead only

It is easy to think that you just need a solution that is one step ahead of where you are now, and look for suppliers that will take you there. If you choose suppliers that are equally limited in their scope of delivery then you wont move forward quite like you would if you find someone with experience beyond what you know. At the same time, there needs to be respect for the culture shock of moving a brand too fast, but really talented providers can help you do this effectively.

It is important to challenge yourself and ask deeper questions:

– Will the supplier move the business forward, or just do what you think you want?
– Do they have enough examples of work for successful brands in their portfolio? More successful than yours?
– Does the work in their folio have a look/feel that is at the same standard as you expect?
– Are your brand guidelines established and defined enough that the supplier can take them on without breaking them down?
– Are the people that have worked on the work in their folio still work there?
– Are they suppliers that you can see yourself forming a long term relationship with beyond this one project? For brand consistency and to drive the business forward beyond a single project?
– Ask savvy questions that help you see how the provider is really helping clients grow their business rather than just about what work they did.
– Is your strategic work established enough for anyone to deliver to it?
– Do you know what kind of strategic services they offer? If any?
– Do the people that actually do the work deliver to the promises that the business development team make?
– Are you using too many suppliers, when consolidating could bring your business and your brand together in order to move forward effortlessly?


We appreciate your thoughts on this. Feel free to share and comment, add to our short checklist, and question anything. We can only cover so few things in a short post, so happy to chat further. We’re a small word of mouth consulting business and your ‘share’ is greatly appreciated. 

About the author...

Over 30 Years Advertising Industry experience working with creative people and suppliers.

View all posts by Anne Miles

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