How to Work With A Design Firm: Developing the PR-Design Relationship

graphic-designNo matter how great your message, product or service is, if you don’t package it with great visual branding, you’re missing an incredible opportunity to wow the heck out of your potential customers, and leave your competitors in the dust. It never ceases to amaze me how many PR and marketing pros seem to miss this simple truth, and miss the opportunity to partner up with designers or design firms to 1.) add polish to printed and web materials and 2.) share clients. Designers don’t want to bother with copywriting, media pitching, or messaging the same way you don’t want to fiddle with vectors, color balance, or Photoshop.

Collaborating with designers presents an unparalleled win-win situation because designers come across clients who need PR and Marketing services, and PR/Marketing Pros regularly have projects that could use some good design. The two parties can form one of the most practical symbiotic relationships on the planet.

I have several designers that I regularly partner with, as well as a design firm that I will collaborate with in the future on larger projects. But how does one go about finding and working with a design firm? What elements must one have professionally designed? And what are the rules of engagement? To answer these pressing questions, I caught up with a local (DC-MD-VA) designer to get his insights. Meet Greg, of Carousel30 Interactive Media.

gregkihlstrom-photo-smallName Greg Kihlström
Age 33
Company Carousel30 Interactive Media in Alexandria, VA
Title Chief Creative Officer
Years in the Field 11
Twitter carousel30

Mopwater: How long have you been working in the design field, and what made you get into design?
GK: I have been designing Interactive Media for over ten years now and got into it after spending some time in Photography, which also teaches you many of the important elements of design and about the economy of space, shape and message.

Mopwater: What kinds of clients do you work with?
GK: A pretty wide range from high-profile for-profit (AOL, MTV Networks, Starbucks) non-profit (The Nature Conservancy, AARP, DividedWeFail) and government (NASA) clients to medium-sized companies and organizations.

Mopwater: How often do you collaborate with PR and Marketing firms?
GK: My company, Carousel30, has done some of our best work when collaborating with PR/Marketing firms and other agencies.  About half of our work comes from these types of collaborations.

Mopwater: What is your biggest complaint of PR pros and Marketing pros?
GK: I think that the thing that any firm or agency needs to keep in mind is that good ideas and good design take time.  We don’t always have that luxury, but whenever possible, having something 2 days early doesn’t make it a better product, it really just makes it done quicker.  The marketing that lasts is that which has a little time to take shape.

Mopwater: How important is design to successful public relations and marketing?
GK: I think that it’s hard to discount how crucial a good design and cohesive visual branding is to successful pr/marketing campaign.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that things have to look like a lot of money was spent on a campaign, but it does mean that people’s perceptions of an organization are shaped by the appearance and strength of the brand behind it.   Obviously you have to ‘have the goods’ in order to have a successful product, but until you can demonstrate the value of your company, product, brand, etc. making a solid impression through strong, clear design will always serve as a positive introduction to your message.

Mopwater: What elements do you think PR and Marketing professionals MUST have professionally designed? As in, if they skimp on everything else, what requires a professional designer’s attention? The logo and identity? Initial branding? Web site? Brochures? Business cards and letterhead?
GK: As a designer, I want to say… EVERYTHING!  But this goes back to the idea of creating a solid brand.  I do believe that a good brand starts with a solid logo and visual identity system, so that would be a place to start.  If you really have to choose one thing and not another, determine where you primary contact point with potential clients and partners is.  A lot of times these days it is through a Web site.

Mopwater: How should a public relations or marketing firm find a designer? What qualities should they look for?
GK: The first step should be to ask people that you trust for a referral.  Or find work that you like and see who did it.  If this doesn’t work, I would suggest to look locally (at least in the same metropolitan region) and meet the designer where they work.  Get a feel for their environment and see if you feel like it ‘fits’ with what you are looking for.  This is very similar to how my firm, Carousel30, approaches new clients.  If the chemistry is wrong, as talented as all parties involved are, it won’t create as great a product as when the chemistry is just right.

I think the qualities in a good designer are really the same things that a good PR or Marketing person should have.  Good, ‘outside the box’ ideas are great, but willingness to listen to the real problems of a new client are just as important. Be wary of someone who has all the answers before really listening to you and discovering the unique challenges you face.  Having to wait for responses to your questions can show you if a) they are too busy for you or b) they are just not that interested in your business.  And finally, enthusiasm counts for a lot.  Is your designer passionate about what they do?  Your business is important to you, and your designer should be able to see what it is that excites you about it.

For those less experienced with design firms, make sure that you are giving the right type of work to the right type of design firm—be certain your interview process includes determining if the firm you are choosing has completed the type of project you are wanting them to do before.  It doesn’t mean they have to have done work for a direct competitor, but make sure that their portfolio of work shows that they have dealt with a similar issue before.

Mopwater: What tips do you have for public relations firms when working with a professional design firm?
GK: First and foremost, you need to find a team that you can trust to interpret your needs and your message. After that, it comes down to trust and believing in the creative process. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t follow your gut instinct if you see something that looks ‘wrong,’ but it does mean that the best work is a true collaboration of ideas and something that you could not have done alone, just as the design firm could not have done it with you.

Mopwater: Include some links to some of your best work/portfolio

GK: Here you go.
My Company’s Web Site
Don’t Move Firewood
MBO Partners
National Mall
Mind2 It

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