Tips for Working with a Creative Agency

Congratulations! You’ve taken the big step of hiring a team of creative strategists to up your content game—but you might be wondering, now what? Partnering with an agency is a surefire way to boost the success of your business, but you’ll save yourself (and the creative team) a lot of headache by following a few simple tips from yours truly. Get ready, set, GO: Here’s everything you need to know about working with a creative team to make sure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.

Share your vision—in detail.

Listen, we can’t read your mind. (And even if we could, we’d probably opt not to.) But that doesn’t mean we aren’t interested in what you have to say, especially when it comes to your vision for your company. Any agency worth their salt will want to know exactly what your wants, needs, and thoughts are going into the process, so don’t hesitate to speak your mind. Not only does this give the creative team a chance to get to know you and your business, but it also paves the way for clear and open communication from the get-go—something that’s of the utmost importance in building a solid brand-agency relationship (which we’ll get to later).

Here are a few simple questions to ask yourself before meeting with an agency:

1) Who is your audience?
2) Why should they care?
2) How will you measure success?

Having a good idea of what your company’s all about—and what makes it stand out—will help us come up with a message unique to your business that’s begging to be shared with the rest of the world.

Remember: we don’t make your bottom line, we just get you there.

Check in regularly

Relationships take effort, and the client-agency relationship is no different. Collaboration is key! Don’t wait until the last minute to provide feedback: Pose your questions, set your expectations, schedule regular meetings, and voice your concerns as we go. Silence on the client end not only delays a project (or pushes us into crisis mode as the deadline gets squeezed), but also makes it harder for us to schedule resources and keep costs in check. If the project owner has trouble getting sign-off or consensus from senior management (which is not uncommon), at least keeping us in the loop is helpful. The more transparent you are on the spot, the less often changes will have to be made—and the less time wasted—later on. Always expect a revision to deadlines if the feedback cycle gets lengthy.

Streamline the communication process

While it may be tempting to get your whole team involved in the creative process, things can easily become confusing or fall through the cracks when more than two or three people are communicating at a time—especially in the digital space (e-mail, we’re looking at you). Collaborative documents can get particularly murky and counterproductive, so make sure the agency knows who all the people are that will be commenting, as well as their relationship to the project owner. (We don’t want to be guessing which comments came from the VP versus the intern.) When it’s okay for us to begin addressing the comments, the project owner should give the green light—or, better yet, aggregate all of the comments and resolve internal discussions first.

There’s a lot of value in creating personal connections, though, so if there is a desire for some old-fashioned team-building, set aside a time to have a few members of your agency drop by your office or plan an after-work activity for both sides to get to know one another. Even just one face-to-face brainstorming session can promote authenticity, build trust, and convey the essence of your mission. Not local? No problem. Thanks to technology, connecting with virtual agencies has never been easier.

You make the final call

This goes without saying, but an agency is there to serve you. This means you get the final word on every decision. But just in case you’re wondering, there are a few simple things we kindly recommend you don’t say.

Trust in the process

By now, you should have briefed your agency on your company’s needs, outlined a budget, set a deadline, and provided as much feedback as you see fit. The rest is up to your creative team, and if they’ve done their part to earn your trust (like any good agency will), you can rest assured that everything will come together in due time. Your account manager will keep you in the loop on project drafts, timelines, costs, and the whole editorial process from start to finish, so you never have to wonder what’s going on behind the scenes. Prepare yourself for a kickass marketing strategy and materials that are sure to propel your business to new heights.

Your Virtual Editorial Desk

Here at Wordsmithie, we pride ourselves on giving our clients direct access to dedicated talent. We can complement your team structure and scale to grow or shrink to fit, according to your team’s needs, and the scope of your project. And if a little more guidance is what you’re after, we’re happy to be of service: Our “At Your Service” Bureau option gives you your very own on-call creative services department, providing your team or entire company with flexible and fast turnarounds on new editorial or quick edits and rewrites, plus killer brainstorming sessions and content strategy—all at your fingertips. (Seriously, it’ll seem like we’re one desk down.)


ABOUT Emily Blasik

Emily Blasik is a freelance writer and Nutritional Therapy Consultant in training from Dallas, TX. When she’s not blogging or practicing yoga, you can find her hanging out at a local coffee shop, nose-deep in a good mystery novel, snapping photos of her extra frothy cappuccino or planning her next travel adventure.


VUI and Travel

VUI and travel

“Computer!” VUI (Voice User Interface) has been likened to all kinds of futuristic pop references from Star Trek to KITT, David Hasselhoff’s smart, talking car from Knight Rider. The concept is a simple—yet tech disruptive—one: Ask a question to your home assistant device (or phone interface) and get a spoken-word answer in real time. And thanks to the advent of home-use-specific devices—Amazon Alexa/Echo, Google Home/Mini—millions (nearly 26 million homes, to be exact) are now using the interfaces. Mobile devices are also in on the ask-and-response party with programs like Cortana (Microsoft), Siri (Apple), Alexa (Amazon), and Google Assistant. All can be accessed by voice; some via typepad (the benefit being texted links). However, some industry watchers predict the type interface will go the way of the rotary phone. Banks including Capital One and Bank of America have spearheaded branded VUI services, and now the travel industry wants in. From booking to alerts, here’s how the future-is-now tech tool may be changing the way we see the world.

Booking

Fact: Mobile devices are increasingly used to research travel. Also fact: Direct hotel bookings don’t often happen on mobile or online. (Some stats put it at just 30%.) OTAs (Online Travel Agents, such as Priceline and Expedia) own the digital booking market, with sales projected to be as high as $81.4 million gross in 2020. And OTAs have already begun to roll out VUI partnerships. Kayak (owned by Priceline) gives Alexa users access to room rates and airfares; Expedia allows users to check on flight reservations and rent cars. Currently, neither has the capability to book air travel.

Specialized agents also have a strong appeal for travelers, especially those seeking a curated, authentic and immersive experience. In fact, 60% of millennials say they’d use an agent to craft memorable, niche adventures. And 33% already use such services, according to research by the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). With agents saving consumers four hours of research on average, and nearly $450 per transaction, there is opportunity for travel specialists to develop sophisticated VUI interfaces with great impact. Curiously, Lola, a VUI-only travel provider helmed by Kayak co-founder Paul English, recently pivoted exclusively to business travel bookings. In tandem, the outfitter, which launched in 2016, partnered with American Express Global Business Travel to both increase the amount of agents and curate bespoke experiences.

While OTAs own online hotel bookings—thanks in large part to packaging—VUI may give properties more immediate reservation market-share. Industry experts cite leisure travelers’ interest in price above other needs. Smart interfaces can speak to personalization needs, prior search history, and preferences. Answers and options may be more readily available based on system history. Streamlined data feedback can promise great messaging impact, especially for a powerhouse brand such as Marriott that has hotel extensions for literally every kind of traveler.

Experiences and Activities

Speaking of the hospitality giant, Marriott announced an Echo partnership with Amazon this summer. The primary roll-out is for the devices to be placed in guest rooms. Requests—more towels, room service, room temperature—can all be conducted via the in-room speakers. Dazzle, a startup specializing in travel VUI, spearheaded the tech support. Possible wider roll-outs for the company may be more traditional concierge requests—restaurant, theater, excursion requests and bookings—via in-room devices or personal ones. According to research conducted by Google, two in five bookings don’t occur until a few days before travel. Google Assistant would be able to extend available travel options via VUI. The promise is for answers that can be personalized based on search history and spending habits, as well as geotagging.

Airlines

One of the benefits of VUI is the real-time response. Unlike customer service lines and online chat interfaces, there is no wait time. Airlines have excelled at moving customer service to social media, then to their branded apps. Delta  airline’s app upped the ante with real-time baggage tracking, among other services including delay-needed rebooking. When VUI technology becomes even more interactive, it may enhance airline service for on-the-ground customer concerns. And travel snafus may be easier to overcome.

Advisories

“Insufficient facts always invite danger,” warns Spock. Travel and weather advisories are fluid. Now, some VUI travelers have access to the State Department’s travel warnings and advisories system. Alexa, with code parsed from GitHub, can be programmed to deliver the official State Department information, including local embassy and consulate locations, via its RSS feed. At this time, requests should be pointed and direct: “Alexa, is it safe to travel to Canada?” However, in the future, mobile users may be able to get real-time, geotagged info about safety, weather, and other issues.


ABOUT Jenna Mahoney

Writer and magazine editor Jenna Mahoney’s work has appeared in Shape, Self, Allure, Redbook, and New York Magazine, as well as in numerous online publications. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.


How to Ask Case Study Interview Questions

case study

“Sure, sure. But why should I believe you?”

This is the perfectly fair question that marketing and advertising professionals dread from customers. Because it’s a very good one!

Why should customers believe someone who they know is trying to sell them something?

That is exactly why case studies are so powerful, and why knowing how to ask the right questions to get the right information can mean the difference between a game-changing new piece of marketing collateral, and just another forgotten PDF.

Here at Wordsmithie, we’ve taken a look before at how to conduct great interviews. Now let’s break down how to ask the right questions to make your next case study a home-run!

Know the story, and lead them where you want to go

“Well, we don’t want to lead our customers into giving the answers we want…”

Pardon my French, but that’s bull hockey.

In this situation, you are not a journalist. You are not the final brave paragon standing between journalistic integrity and a world of cable-news agendas. You’re just not. You’re a marketer.

Which is why it’s perfectly fine—and indeed, extremely wise—to lead your subject into telling the story you want to hear.

Whether it’s your customer or the customer of a client on whose behalf you’re acting, get together with anyone familiar with the account beforehand and discuss why this particular client’s story is so compelling. Perhaps they switched from your primary competitor? Maybe they’re getting a ton of value out of a brand new feature?

Whatever kernel of information is the golden nugget for you, guide the questioning in that direction, linger longer on that topic, and ask lots of focused follow-ups to fully flesh out your subject.

After all, it’s your case study.

 

In your case study, you should design the questions to milk the maximum information—and value—out of the topics you care about.

Not every study needs to tell the whole story

Similar to the above, not every case study needs to tell your whole story.

Yes, you’ll want some case studies to be grand, sweeping, 30,000-foot views of everything you can offer a customer. Those have value. But, eventually, they will all start to tell the same narrative. And then you’ll run into diminishing returns as customers grow weary of reading the same exact story over and over again.

But just like in football, where some players are experts at throwing the ball, while others can catch it better than anyone alive, while still others are just really good at smashing the poor guy holding the ball, so too should your case studies specialize in whatever that client is good at.

Say your client is a content agency (never heard of ‘em!). You’ll want a few of those case studies to highlight how they delivered a massive portfolio of varied content for a particular customer, from blogs to videos and everything in between.

But the rest should focus. “Our case studies, thanks to our highly-trained interview team, yield better results like XYZ,” or, “Client Q struggled with low email open rates, so our team split-tested over ten design and copy variations and analyzed the results, optimizing the process.”

In these situations, forgo the usual boilerplate questions you have about all their other offerings and services, and instead focus, dig into to, and spend your time on that one juicy area.

Look: it’s fine to have your case studies tout that your client can do it all.

But you’ll want many to specialize, so that at least one of them is bound to ring that one, specific bell in the mind of your reader and make them give you a call.

Don’t take “No” for an answer. Don’t take “I’ll check and get back to you,” either

As we mentioned in our first point, you should enter the interview with an expectation of what you want to hear. Know which quotes you need to get to support that story, and keep asking questions until you get them.

Often, that will mean asking essentially the same question several different ways. But that’s okay! Because your language and terminology are not necessarily what your client uses.

For example, take the question “Have you noticed any improvements in operational efficiency since using our product?” That may yield a low-effort, but sincerely honest, “No.”

But, if you ask, “How has your performance in your job improved since using our product?” Or, “How is your daily routine different now since using our product?” you are much more likely to get an answer. Clients don’t always think in terms of ROI or your own internal messaging pillars. They think in terms of themselves. So ask about them, and how your product affects them.

Another pitfall that many good interviewers fall into is the old, “I’ll check on that and get back to you” diversion. Don’t fall for it, friends! Sure, perhaps Jerry in Accounting really will look up those answers on his own, take time out of his day after he’s off the phone, and remember not only to send them to you, but what you asked and what your email address was, too.

But just as often, “I’ll check on that” is an evasive tactic to either get off the phone faster or avoid having to search for information.

So instead, find different ways to ask the question to get the information you need, right then and there.

“I’ll check on that and get back to you”? That’s okay, you have another question you can ask instead!

Conducting a client interview for a case study doesn’t need to feel like wrestling a bear.

Ultimately, you are on a mission to get the information you need. And you are allowed to ask whatever questions, in as many different ways, as you need to in order to get that juicy money quote from your subjects.

So don’t be shy, and be persistent. You’re in charge, you’re running the show, and you call the shots.

So…any questions?


ABOUT Jason Rogers

A graduate of the College of William & Mary and La Sorbonne, Jason has worked in content marketing all over the world, serving as Director of Digital Marketing for the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, China. Based in Washington, D.C., Jason covers the National Hockey League as a credentialed reporter and television analyst; he has wordsmithed for high-visibility institutions and companies from the United States Congress to Google. He loves hockey, hip-hop, and original hyperbole.


Eat Our Words: A Lion, Trafalgar Square, AI Poetry and Wordsmithie

Es Devlin AI

It’s not every day that one can wander the streets of London and stumble upon a lion. Less likely still is the chance that the lion in question can generate poetry more or less on demand. And yet in early September that’s exactly what Londoners were treated to in Trafalgar Square.

Part of the London Design Festival, the four lions that flank Nelson’s Column, a key architectural feature of the Square, were joined by a fifth for several days. Created by designer Es Devlin, the lion was designed to generate a collective poem using machine learning technology. Passersby could feed the lion words via a Chromebook, but the lion was already programmed through a neural network to know 25 million words of 19th century poetry, inspired by the era during which the original lions were cast. The result? Lines of poetry that often read like artifacts from a bygone era, but containing words that are very much of the moment. A few funny examples:

My antidisestablishmentarianism shows with strength to the soul
The sea is still the day

and

A marijuana lifts the garden floor
While the red sea is strewn with blue between

In a larger sense, though, it showed us the power of AI in the creative industry.

Devlin was inspired by the passivity of the four lions that are traditionally at the base of the Column. Rumor has it that the lions, which are crouched very much like tame house cats, were supposed to look much more fierce, but Queen Victoria preferred a less shocking aesthetic. The fifth lion’s mouth was open, as if roaring. When fed with words, lines of poetry would appear in its mouth and, at night, on its body and on the Column itself. The project thus not only shows a supremely creative application of AI, but how humans can interact with it to very interesting results. And, of course, it gave the more amenable lions a fierce counterpart that could work wonders with words. (Not unlike our ‘Smithies here at the agency…)

The project was undertaken by Google Arts and Culture and The Space, a digital commissioning body which is dedicated to providing access to the arts through digital technologies.

We at Wordsmithie fed the lion in person as well as online. Our team fed the lion over 20 words, and received back several lines of poetry, which you can read below.

The seraphim and song of the dead man’s song
The sun and sun are still the paths of day

Our abolition streams were shed
Where are the paths the stars of song did stray

My diversity the glad and sweet desires
Of song and spruce and strife

Lavender through the sunny moon
The stream is fresh and fair


ABOUT Khaleelah Jones

Khaleelah Jones is a digital marketing consultant who has worked with tech startups, educational institutions and non-profits on acquisition and engagement strategy, implementation and KPI modeling. When she’s not working, she can be found reading, writing, pontificating history, yoga-ing and making up verbs.


Formula 1, Airbnb and the Power of Logos

the power of logos

It’s not every day that graphic design makes the front page, at least at least not as the topic for discussion.

Uber’s made the news again recently, with yet another new logo—their fourth in recent years. Dunkin’ Donuts just announced that they are dropping “Donuts” from their well-known logo. Even the Ad Council replaced its iconic logo; it’s the organization’s first significant branding update in 75 years.

But there are two reworked logos that continue to generate buzz, well after their introductions: those of Formula 1 and Airbnb.

Formula One logos

Formula 1, or F1, is the highest level of single-seat auto racing, and one of the most popular spectator sports on the planet. If you were to think “race car,” it’s a Formula 1 car that you’d most likely picture. F1 enjoys huge success in much of the world and has a particularly passionate following amongst its fans. And, when F1 decided to rebrand after twenty-three years, F1 fans got angry.

The release of the new F1 logo coincided with the departure of long-time (and controversial) chief executive Bernie Ecclestone, and was intended to usher in a new era for the brand. The logo was also introduced to render better across new media platforms than what F1 had been using. Specifically, the feathered red “motion” element of the previous F1 logo didn’t translate well when displayed digitally.

But the new logo wasn’t the old one that F1 fans had grown to love. Some of the criticisms of the new F1 logo are that it is “simple,” “amateurish,” “derivative,” and “lacks energy.” That it doesn’t “scream F1.” The logo’s creators have defended their work by saying that it projects a sense of “speed, attack, and control,” and that it “locks up” well with both the F1’s new custom typeface and its partner logos. The design community generally defended the new logo, although it recognized that the modernization came at the expense of some brand equity.

Airbnb logos

And, though its fans might lack the fervor of those of F1, Airbnb—the hugely popular online lodging marketplace, is a brand force as well. When its new logo was released, it received many of the same criticisms that F1’s did. That it’s “derivative, “boring,” and “basic.” Some claimed that it was copied from a book of logos published in 1988. Others pointed out that it appeared to be a dead ringer of an existing logo of a company called Automation Anywhere (that company’s since changed their mark). The new Airbnb logo quickly became the talk of online forums like Reddit, too, but for an entirely different reason. As one commenter put it, “[the new Airbnb logo] manages to abstract all of the private parts into one.”

But, original or not (and unlike with F1’s new logo), the popular consensus seems to be that Airbnb’s new logo is a huge improvement over the old, and more befitting of the company’s newfound stature. The graffiti-ish mark that Airbnb had used previously was reportedly created on a napkin in a matter of minutes by one of the company founders, and was never really seen by most as a serious attempt at branding.

So, what’s next, then, for these designs and for the companies they represent?

 

Graphic design in popular culture and in the mainstream press is something to be celebrated.

 

As of this writing, F1 is locked in a trademark battle with the 3M Corporation, the Minnesota manufacturer of Scotch tape and Post-it notes, who argues that the new F1 logo is too similar to that of its Futuro brand of “compression legwear products.” F1, however, continues to thrive under its new leadership and reportedly has no plans to change their logo.

Airbnb is still the darling of its industry, despite weathering regular controversy, and continues to be hugely successful; it saw record revenues of close to $2.6 billion dollars last year, from a staff of only 3100 employees.

Both F1 and Airbnb will almost certainly continue to find success for the foreseeable future, controversial logos or not. As will Uber, the Ad Council, and Dunkin (Donuts). One could argue that any publicity is good publicity, and that all the buzz surrounding their new logos has only helped the companies’ bottom lines. I’d argue that any discussion of graphic design in popular culture and in the mainstream press is something to be celebrated, particularly discussion as spirited as this: it proves the power of logos.


ABOUT Ryan Bahrke

One of Wordsmithie's senior designers, Ryan has more than 15 years of experience in creative direction and management, working with companies like Google, Quantcast, RSM, Navigant, Starbucks, and Ace Hotel. Ryan is the principal of Auslander Creative in Denver.