Working with an agency or a brilliant freelance creative team isn’t cheap. It shouldn’t be either. You want something bold and inspiring, that sets your brand apart but still expresses exactly who you are. Engaging the right team to do that with you shouldn’t be a relationship you rush into. Like any fruitful personal relationship, a client-agency relationship requires communication, respect, and mutual understanding.

Getting together shouldn’t be a painful or daunting process, so we’ve laid out some guidelines for how you go about finding those special somoeones who will produce the right creative to express your brand’s promise.

Part 1: Finding the team to work with.

1. Keep this simple.

Finding and engaging a creative agency shouldn’t be an overly complicated process that brings in a full committee to give their opinions on every little detail. This should be something that the project owner believes in and champions, getting sign offs and opinions only at the appropriate points. It should start with knowing what the goal is and then just starting to look for creative that inspires the whole team.

2. Start thinking about what you like.

Leaf through magazines, watch some YouTube videos, get lost in the internet looking for creative that inspires you, or as Ogilvy puts it in his Open letter to a client in search of an agency,

“Tear out the advertisements that you envy.”

They are, after all, who you want to be: the message that stands out. Find out which agencies produced the creative, removing the ones working with any of your competitors, and that should be your short list.

3. Make sure there’s personal chemistry.

When you have the list, meet the creative director of each team. You and the creative director are going to be in it together. You should feel good about how each other thinks and communicates. More than anything, you should feel like you get along. It’s a lot easier to talk about your desires and concerns with someone you trust.

Moreover, this person is also going to lead the creative team. There’s a chance that you won’t ever meet all the copywriters or designers working on your account. He or she will act as the filter between you and the creative team, so it is important that you are both on the same page.

4. Know their work.

When you’ve narrowed the list. When you’ve found the creative directors that you get a long with and removed the ones you don’t. Ask to see the prospective teams’ best work. Simply put, the team whose best work excites you should be the team you work with.

5. Be fair when it comes to the contract.

When it comes to signing the contract, ultimately the thing to remember is that this is a very close relationship so defining terms and settling on compensation and contract terms should be civil and accommodating to the needs of both sides fairly. The golden rule applies to client-agency relationships: treat others as you would like to be treated.

When it comes to pricing, often haggling and deep discounting actually leave both parties feeling like they aren’t getting the full value from the relationship. And performance-based compensation is usually a bad idea. It motivates short-term focus and diminishes creative exploration.

When choosing your agency of record, longer term relationships are usually preferable for both sides. You are looking for a creative partner who will get to know your brand intimately. You want a partner who enjoys meeting with your team and working on the account. You want your creative team to be as inspired by your brand as you are.

Part 2: Briefing and Production

1. The Brief

The brief is the most important part of any creative work. It will guide the work from start to finish. Last week we published The Art of the Creative Brief, looking at the elements of a creative brief. Today we published the Percolate Creative Brief Template. Take this part seriously. It will set the tone for the rest of the work.

2. Assignment

The Association of National Advertisers’ recent survey of agencies and clients revealed some of the frustrations faced on both sides around client-agency assignments. The ANA reported that “76% of agency professionals felt their role in the clients’ business strategy was important, while 65% of client-side marketers thought the same.” Communicating roles and agreeing on expectations is the only way to resolve any discrepancies.

This is where the roles and responsibilities must be established. Is your agency going to help define strategy? What about positioning and messaging? Are they also going to handle production of the ad? How about media buying? Who has final sign off? These are the questions that should be settled at the onset, so everyone feels like everyone else is doing his or her job.

3. Approval workflow

Excessive approval workflows will threaten the output of a creative team. That’s why the brief and the assignments are so important. If the brief is effective, then it will clearly lay out the brand criteria and the work shouldn’t be wildly far off from where it needs to be to pass approvals. It might not be perfect on the first round, but that why assignments are so important. Assignments will make it clear who the owners are so that there is an equally clear process for moving work through approvals.

Approvals shouldn’t be just a yes or no either. Feedback should be coherent and meaningful, but gentle. And when something is good, praise it. Remember that good creative is produced by people who have feelings. If you want good work, be mindful of those feelings. A great client can actually get a team inspired to do their best creative work.

Ultimately, your relationship with your agency is like a good marriage. You have a good idea of what you are getting yourself into before you walk down the aisle. You communicate your needs and expectations. You figure out money early so you don’t fight about it later. And you know who is responsible for what. If you want your relationship with your creative team to be lasting and fruitful, you must set a communicative and respectful tone at the very beginning and work on maintaining it throughout your time together.