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May 4, 2018

Conducting the Search for a Branding or Creative Agency: A How-To for Law Firms

How to find a branding agency for law firms

This post follows a post we recently shared on the importance of law firms finding a shared purpose. We now focus on how to go about discovering your shared purpose and bring it to life.

As mentioned before, you probably don’t have the time to do the due diligence required for such an exploration. Also, more importantly, you are probably too pickled in the day-to-day firm activities and operations to come up with the deep insights that this exercise requires. That old adage “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client” rings true here too. So, this is a time when you really should consider seeking out the assistance of a professional branding agency. I know, of course I would say that. But, seriously, a branding agency can help you find your shared purpose and will transform it into a brand identity that clearly identifies who you are and guides you to where you want to go, all in a way that distinguishes you from your competitors.

That said, finding the right agency, in and of itself, can be an overwhelming process. Here are a few pointers on how to get there.

1. Identify decision-makers

For smaller firms (1-5 attorneys), perhaps all members can be involved in finding and retaining an agency but for larger firms, a committee should be selected to help streamline the process. Depending on your firm’s culture, the committee can be comprised of just attorneys or attorneys and staff. As far as the size of the committee, while the number depends on overall size of firm, we recommend somewhere around 5-7. So that the process is not unnecessarily delayed trying to manage everyone’s schedules, the committee should have a chair who is empowered to make some decisions without the committee’s approval (e.g. scheduling interviews, reviewing initial drafts of brand documents, approving media plans that are within the budget). A legal assistant should also be assigned to the project and work with the chair to manage the process.

2. Due diligence

Research
Much like searching for attorneys, ask your colleagues, clients and friends for recommendations. Also, do some of your own online research to see what’s out there. In addition to looking locally, you may also want to look more broadly for agencies that specialize in working with professional service organizations. Having someone close by is nice but, these days, not necessary given the technology available.

RFP
Whether or not you put out a Request for Proposal (RFP) for an agency will depend on the strength of any referrals you may receive. Even with a strong referral, you still may want to send an RFP for due diligence purposes (i.e. get more insight about the agencies you found interesting from your research, avoid conflicts of interest and to better understand cost and process).

RFP content
If you do elect to go the RFP way, there are myriad RFP templates available online to customize to your situation. Remember though, RFPs are just tools for you to (i) solicit the information you want to make a decision and (ii) give the responding agencies the information they need to submit an informed proposal.

Firm RFP content
For the firm, the information should follow a five-W’s type of approach…something like –

Who
Give some information about the firm – its history, organization, mission and vision (if these exist), areas of practice, etc.

Why
What is it you are trying to achieve by retaining a branding agency? What are your goals? The agency will likely want to explore this more with you as part of the rebranding process but having a summary up front will help them think about strategies, cost and process.

What
This is where you describe the scope of the services that you want – the services you are looking for to achieve your goals. Granted, you may not fully know what you need or how to describe it completely – after all, that’s why you are looking for an agency. A good agency, however, knows that having a clearly defined scope is crucial to a good relationship and will: (i) ask questions and/or make stated assumptions to help further define the scope so that both sides are clear and (ii) where warranted, make suggestions to enhance the project or reduce its costs. Typically, the scope of services you are looking for in this context will be a rebrand, updated website (to reflect the rebrand), communications plan (to launch the rebrand and, often, put in place a longer term communications strategy) and update typical business collateral to align with the rebrand (e.g. letterhead, business cards, pleadings template, etc.).

Agency RFP content 
There is a variety of information you may be interested to learn about the agencies you’ve solicited but, at a minimum, you will want to request the following:

1. Biography
Ask for information about the agency and the core team that would be working on your project.

2. Related experience
Typically, this will take the form of portfolio samples and/or case studies related to the services you are seeking. If portfolio samples are submitted, they should be accompanied by some explanation of the strategy and goals for the project and what results were achieved.

3. Process
Obviously, knowing how the agency will work with you on the project and how it approaches projects, in general, is critical to understand. This should not only cover how interactions will be handled between you and the agency but also include a description of the process used by the agency to produce the ultimate deliverables.

4. Time commitment
Getting an idea of the time that the agency thinks will be required of members of the firm and who those members should be will help you establish and manage expectations inwardly.

5. Due dates
Include dates for when questions related to the RFP must be submitted by responders and responded to by you. Include the date when responses are due and manner for submission of the responses.

6. References
I’m always torn about requesting these as, if they are supplied by the agency, they certainly should all be excellent. That said, there is some peace of mind and read-between-the-lines intelligence to gather. In any event, all references should be from current or former clients for which similar work was performed.

7. Pricing
As with…well, everyone…you likely want to know how much all of this is going to cost. So, you should request project-based pricing initially for each of the project components (e.g. rebrand, website, communications plan). Similarly to legal services, however, it is often difficult for agencies to come up with a definitive cost estimate up front, as often information is discovered along the way that will impact cost and time. So, asking for a cost range is usually the more reasonable approach. Later, after trust is confirmed, and depending on the nature of the project(s), you may want to ask about different pricing methods that the agency offers (e.g. retainer, hourly, value-based).

8. Timeline
It’s also wise to request a timeline, not only for when the project will be completed, but also identifying when the major milestones along the way will be completed. This helps ensure clear expectations.

3. Evaluation

You will want to evaluate the experience, competency, capacity and cost of the responding agencies detailed in their responses, but look for other things too. One thing to consider is how good the presentations are themselves – are they to the level of professionalism that you expect, are they written well (you are hiring someone who specializes in communication, after all) and do they adequately respond to what you have requested. Also, be sure to check out their blogs and social media pages to get a further sense for who they are. Depending on the number of responders, you may find it useful to evaluate candidates by implementing a point system of some sort where points are assigned to the different criteria you want to consider.

4. Interviews

Typically, the next step is to narrow down candidates and ask those chosen to come in to meet. While, yes, it can be a bit of a dog and pony show, in-person or video meetings are valuable in making an informed assessment. Remember, you are looking for someone that has the experience and emotional intelligence to glean the insights about your firm that differentiate it from and elevate it above your competitors. Plus, as with any working relationship, chemistry is vital. It’s not an easy task and can be time-consuming, but meetings do provide you with the opportunity to gauge chemistry.

We recommend narrowing down the list to 2-3 agencies. For the meeting, it’s often useful to pose some specific questions in advance that you want addressed (not questions already answered in the RFP responses, but certainly include questions prompted by the answers given).

Agencies handle these meetings in different fashions. Some will want to simply have a conversation, while others will make a formal presentation. We think the better agencies do both. Provide a presentation (not merely a version of their initial RFP response) that gives further insight into their expertise, capabilities and capacity, and also offer a format for interacting. But, most importantly, the good agencies really listen—not only to what you said in your RFP but also in your interactions with them…and you can tell by the pertinent and thoughtful questions they ask. Like in so many other professions, listening is a key component to creating great work and developing effective solutions. By the way, asking for agencies to do spec work (free creative, basically) is bad form but expecting agencies to give further insight into how they might handle a project like yours at these meetings is not.

5. Decision

The process for making the final decision will depend on your firm culture but it usually works best if the committee makes the decision and presents it to management and owners for approval.

In making the decision, you will want to consider all of the typical things, like experience with branding, experience within your industry, work examples, case studies, cost, references, etc. But, like with hiring anyone, there will be some reliance on your gut because at the end of the day, you want to be able to genuinely relate and connect to your new creative partners. After all, you will be working with them to help determine your shared purpose, and finding out who you are and where you want to go as a brand. And, whomever you feel you relate to best is often a good indicator that they relate to you best too, which is exactly what you need for this endeavor.

Find out what happens after you hire an agency in our next post.

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