Four things to look for when choosing a creative firm for your winery

By Leif Miltenberger

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Creativity is a strange thing to purchase. It’s not like buying a stainless-steel tank or a tractor or a bottling line. Because you’re purchasing an intangible, there can be a certain level of anxiety that goes along with it. What happens if you don’t like what the designer creates for you? How can you be sure that the designer understands what you’re looking for? Should you keep tight reign over the creative work or relinquish control and trust the opinion of the professional as to what sort of positioning, marketing, or label design is best going to sell your wines? And, if that’s the case, how do you determine which company to trust?

1. Experience

It’s important to realize that the true value of a creative firm is their expertise. At the core of the transaction, that’s what you’re really getting for your money: a firm that has a repeatable process that can be applied to your specific business challenge.

Expertise and size of the firm are not necessarily linked. There are many experts working as solo freelancers or as part of a small team, just like there are many inexperienced junior designers working at large agencies. (Consider: would you be comfortable having one of those junior designers working on your project?).

Look for a creative firm that has a comprehensive understanding of the market you are in (or are about to enter.) There is a plethora of generalist creative companies out there: you can spot them easily by their use of phrases such as “full service” or “one-stop shop”. They also tend to compete on price because they lack any other truly unique competitive advantage.

2. The work

Check the stylistic fit. It seems obvious, but many people don’t consider this early enough in the process. If a creative firm has a portfolio that’s full of edgy, modern work, they might not be the best choice for a very conservative winery branding and label design project. And if their portfolio has nothing but safe, boring, mainstream design work in it, they might not be able to handle a project that calls for some truly “out-of-the-box” marketing.

Look for variety in a portfolio. Does the firm have a few “go-to” solutions that they re-use on a regular basis? Or does their portfolio look as though they view each project as a fresh business problem that requires an in-depth, unique approach to solve? Perpetually working this way can be exhausting, which is why many firms get comfortable and rely on their old stand-by approaches. But think about your winery — you run your operation quite differently from the way the next winery overruns theirs. Do you really want a visual identity and marketing strategy that’s a close copy of your competitors? Wouldn’t a solution that’s been tailored specifically to your needs, goals, and philosophy make more sense?

Another thing to check for is a firm’s ability to maintain long and healthy relationships with their clients. You should look for a firm that has been around for a while, has low turnover among their team, and has long relationships with their clients. Call up some of their existing clients and ask about the experience of working together. How many revisions did it take before the designer came up with a label design that they were satisfied with? What sort of impact did their recent marketing strategy have on their sales?

3. The whole cost

Clarify what’s included in the cost of a project. Make sure the creative firm is up front about creative assets (copywriting, photography, videography, etc.). It’s common for the cost of creative asset creation to be above and beyond the budget for creative work, but the firm should let you know that ahead of time. No one needs a surprise invoice at the end of the project.

Also, discuss the ownership and licensing of creative assets and design work-files before signing any sort of contract. Some firms are happy to release source files while others require you to pay licensing fees every time you want to access those files later on. Either way, an experienced creative firm will have a clear policy on both and they will include it in their contract.

4. Chemistry

If at all possible, meet with the creative firm in person before hiring them. Go to their studio. Get a feel for the environment and professional culture that they’ve created for themselves. This can give you a lot of insight into who they are as people and what they hold important. Ask if they have any questions about your winery or the project in question: a good firm will have many questions for you, some of which may be difficult to answer, but crucial to the success of the project.

This may seem like a long list of things to consider, but given that branding, design, and marketing can play a large role in the success of your winery, careful consideration of your creative firm is essential.

Leif Miltenberger is one half of the small, but experienced, creative firm Hired Guns Creative that specializes in providing services to the beverage industry. www.hiredgunscreative.com

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