Plumbers vs creativity firms. Who’s more professional?

This week I had lunch with a friend, who, like me, happens to be the owner of a business creativity company in Malta. Our topic of conversation was one that we seem to revisit over and over – institutionalised practices that bring about dissatisfactory consequences in our business relationships. Our discussion was inspired by a simple email request that we both received from a local law firm searching for a creative organisation to help rebrand their company. They enclosed a list of pre-identified communication pieces to cost in order to be considered for the position. Presumably, there would be some sort of elimination process based on the total cost. Needless to say, neither of us gave this any serious consideration.

At this point, you may be thinking “Why not? What’s wrong with that? Everyone is doing this.” It’s hard to argue with this because everyone really IS doing it. We’ve all seen prominent ads in the press by some of Malta’s largest companies. Even most government departments indiscriminately broadcast invitations to bid, alone, as a starting point to finding a suitable creative company. What’s more, this is not something that Malta has a monopoly on. However, all these things don’t make it any less wrong and without wishing to disparage any particular agency, what does it say about the Maltese creative economy that so many misguided firms accept to work in this way?

This article is aimed at people responsible for hiring creative talent. If what you are projecting about your company isn’t enough to persuade you to start behaving more professionally, let’s get into some specifics and outline some of the major issues with starting your rebranding project in this way.

Successful relationships are built on respect and suitability
I’m reminded of a pub sign I once saw (see above). What makes this funny is that we would never invite interest in ourselves like this and realistically expect to build a successful relationship. You will note that the chap in question makes no effort to offer any information about himself. In his mind, the only thing that matters is what he needs and it seems like any woman will do, as long as she has a boat and a motor!

Trying to find a creative partner for a rebranding project (or any other creative project) using a ‘bid request’ is only slightly less crude than the above pub sign and equally effective at building a picture of the sort of client you are. I can scarcely fathom why anyone would willingly partake in actions that speak so negatively on behalf of their company. What a way to kick off your rebranding effort!

A bid request used in this way marginalises critical initial communication
Any responsible creative company will not only want to know the details of your project but they will also want to gauge what kind of client you are going to make, before committing their own brand to work with yours. Successful creative projects cannot be conducted with one-sided responsibility (from the creative company). This initial communication is probably the single most important moment in the life cycle of any creative project. It is impossible for both parties to responsibly commit to one another without comprehensive initial discussions.

It indicates that you don’t understand the rebranding process
Rebranding efforts are ultimately about becoming a whole different company, not just changing graphic recognition elements. Deciding on communication vehicles before you’ve even met the creativity company is about as strange as a tail wagging a dog. Each rebranding project has very specific contextual parameters that can only be determined by someone with extensive experience of managing such work. It is irresponsible to try and seize control of the project at this stage, rather than allow creative professionals to apply their expertise on behalf of your company.

Only irresponsible creative companies will commit to a rebranding project based on a bid request

This process fosters competition only to win the project fee rather than the pursuit of successful outcomes that are in the client company’s best interests. Let’s consider this in a different industry. How useful would it be for a plumber to estimate the cost of repairing a faulty faucet, only to arrive on site and find that the faucet is fine but all the pipes need to be replaced? An even better question is, would most plumbers ever do this? How about creative companies? Enough said!

Doing business professionally requires the fortitude to go against accepted norms in a country that has been misinformed and under-educated by our creative industry as a whole. In such a scenario, there are no winners. Practitioners that should know better, help give rise to the impression that our industry is a commodity service through a lack of principles and professional standards; while the organisations that hire these firms, commission work using unprofessional practices that hamper their projects long before they have been launched.

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Click here for a similar post in ‘Design Comment’ about design professionalism.

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