No one knows exactly how long the term “creative agency” has been around, but it seems to have been coined in an attempt to capture the widening gamut of content creation and management services that arose with the advent of the digital world. It used to be that when you needed a catchy pamphlet or banner done, you’d reach out to an ad agency. If you needed something with clever language as well as visuals, a communications agency was the place to go. These types of agency still exist, of course, but they now have to jockey for position among marketing agencies, graphic design outfits, and more. Enter the creative agency: the agency to rule them all.

This blog post is all about the essential services you can find under that banner and why more and more firms and institutions are opting to settle on one, rather than outsourcing to five different niche agencies.

  • The creative agency is born
  • Types of creative agencies
  • The 101 services of a creative agency
  • The creative process
  • When and why hire a creative agency
  • The best creative agencies near you

The Creative Agency is Born

You’ve spotted a niche in the market and launched your entrepreneurial adventure, or you just got hire or promoted to Head of Marketing & Communications at an international organization or multinational company. It’s now time to make your mark. Welcome to your agenda;

  • Get up to date on the latest multimedia communications trends
  • Design & branding
  • Marketing & communications strategy design and implementation
  • Graphical charter
  • Logo
  • Tagline
  • Signature video top & tail animations
  • Visual identity
  • Web & interactive design
  • Blog campaign design and implementation for SEO and outreach
  • Smartphone app design & development
  • YouTube channel management, metrics & audience engagement
  • Social media strategy & accounts audit
  • Social media content design, production and posting
  • Social media metrics, engagement and optimization
  • CRM management & email campaigns
  • Google my Business profile management
  • Google Ads campaign design & management
  • Print ad campaign design & management
  • Video production for website, social media and YouTube
  • Copy editing & copywriting
  • Are you getting sick of this?

I could go on, but you get the picture. Now here’s a question: what do just about every one of these to-dos have in common? They’re digital. True, although print can be excluded, but this answer does point to one reason the creative agency was born: the exponential growth of these types of services since we moved into the binary code era. The best answer, though, is content.

Whether print or digital, just about every one of the actionable points on the list above requires the creation of content, multimedia content to be precise: videos, photos, audio, text, graphics. You’ll need all those to get up and running a communications and marketing machine worth its salt.

The quality of the content you can generate will decide whether you remain lost in the throng, making noise no one can hear because it simply doesn’t stand out from the humdrum din of clichés and stock stuff, or, on the contrary, if you ring out loud and clear because what you come up with is original, smart and a cut above (reason one we called our own creative agency SmartCuts).
 
So it’s now that you look around at your team and ponder, “Can they deliver?” If you’re lucky, the answer will turn out to be yes. Some companies and organizations have very astute and well-staffed HR departments that have a marvelous job of staffing the marketing and communications teams with creative and competent people. Not only that, but also a top brass that has seen it fit to earmark a decent budget for content creation. If you’re unlucky, the answer is no.

Image showing various samples of digital marketing work and pull-up banners as examples of creative agency work at SmartCuts Creative in Lausanne and Geneva

The lack of in-house capacity to deliver creative content usually stems from one or more of the following:

1.  Emphasis put on experts, technicians, managers and other jobs, resulting in poor choices of creatives recruited to the marketing and communications department. In the defense of those doing the recruiting, picking out talented creatives is not easy.

2.  Under-funded, strained and drained talent turns dull and demotivated. Many creatives simply can’t handle the workload, don’t have enough support and start reaching for the quick and easy solutions, rather than thinking outside the box.

3.  Ten years on the job, bored but secure and cushy in position = unimaginative, minimalist output that often goes unnoticed because too few people care or keep an eye on the quality of content.

Even when none of the above are afflicting the creatives in a company or organization, our experience is that they are usually multitasking too much to devote the sort of verve and time they’d need to for outstanding content to result.
 
All this to say that far and away most marketing and communications departments are hungry for help when it comes to creative content creation. They might be able to lay down the roadmap and manage the content but actually producing it is a step too far.
 
Another point worth noting is that many companies and organizations simply don’t have the means to hire the wide array of content specialists with both the technical know-how and artistic spark needed to cover all the types of content that make up well-rounded marketing and communications campaigns.
 
Enter the creative agency…or rather agencies.

Types of Creative Agencies

It’s true, although you will see some outfits call themselves just “a creative agency,” (as we do), there are many different types out there. Here are a few:

And so on and so forth. I’m sure you can see by now that “creative agency” can be a pretty catch-all term. So what’s the difference, say, between a PR agency and a creative agency? The short answer is the focus, or even the specialization. A PR firm may be a creative, but you can be pretty sure what that creativity is mostly geared toward. An agency that has chosen to go by the over-arching term ‘creative agency’ probably does PR too, but it does a whole lot of other things as well, so it has opted to avoid tight-casting itself by identifying too closely with one or other of its services.

This is most definitely our case. SmartCuts Creative used to be Smart Cuts Video & Animation. Guess what we used to specialize in? Fact is, over the years of providing video and animation production to clients, we realized most were looking for a much more holistic content creation service, and we decided to diversify to deliver. In doing so, we had a big advantage: its much harder to go from specializing in communications consulting to encompassing video production as well, than vice versa. By its highly technical and equipment intensive nature, video production is among the most costly and complicated of the creative services to add to your panoply. We were lucky to have started out in that field, all the more so because, as we all know, video is the medium to rule them all.

The 101 services provided by a creative agency

The heading applies to agencies, like ours, that have chosen to avoid specialization, and instead offer a wide array of content creation services. Clearly those creative agencies that do specialize will, granted, do one or two things particularly well, but they will offer all the services listed below:

1. Video production.

a. As stated above, video is hands-down the most effective medium to use for top-of-the-funnel, brand awareness type content. It’s snack-sized, memorable and the most accessible of all media that works equally well all the way down the funnel to your advocate’s testimonials.

b. Animation is a subset of video production that’s particularly well-suited to explainer type videos, or videos that would otherwise require too high a budget because of the actors and sets required. See this blog post for more on the pro and cons of animation in creative communications.

Waist up portrait of young woman smiling and holding digital tablet while standing in the SmartCuts Creative in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland.

c. Extended reality, which covers both virtual and augmented reality, should also be included under this category, as should interactive video. All three are poised to grow in importance as they become more refined and more effective. At SmartCuts Creative we are putting special emphasis on developing these forms of video production.

d. Holograms could be considered a category onto their own, but for now we can lump them into video production as they are still in their infancy and still out of reach of most companies and organizations.

2. Photography

a. Less versatile and in vogue than video, but nonetheless, photos remain a back bone of visual communication. They are extremely effective at catching attention and triggering action, such as a click on a social media post. Professionally done and cleverly used, photos are a powerful tool that any creative agency must have top of its kit.

3. Graphic Design

a.    A close cousin of photography, this form of visual communication is just as essential and must imperatively be in line with the zeitgeist. It comes in handy to support text and to create a visual context within which to deliver a message. Good graphic design can make or break a campaign.

b.    Logos and a company’s graphical charter and visual identity clearly fall in this category, which confirms how important graphic design is to a brand, company or organization.

4. Audio.

a.    Sound is a medium that’s often overlooked in a marketing and communications campaign, and yet podcasts can go a long way to driving home a message, raising awareness and providing the sort of specific details that a converted audience craves.

b.    Audio jingles and radio ads fall in this category and play a very important role in any solid and creative marketing and communications campaign.

5. Texte

a.    The written word is, without a doubt, a stalwart staple of human communication. One might argue that it constitutes the base of any marketing and communications campaign. From press releases to web content, blogs, social media posts, newsletters and so much more, competent, clear, concise and creative writing will quickly set a company apart from the rest.

b.    Copywriting, copy editing, ad writing, slogans, taglines…it’s hard to overstate the importance of smart, solid writing.

Elements of a Good Creative Agency

The above covers the type of media a good creative agency can provide to deliver content. They can, of course, be considered services in and of themselves, but they are also the vectors through which the following other services are delivered:

1) Digital marketing

a.  This arguably covers just about everything above and below, so it can be used as a blanket term for creative content creation and dissemination for the purposes of promotion and awareness-raising. The only exception is print marketing, which by definition isn’t digital, although prior to the actual printing process, it’s all digital.

2) Social media marketing

a.   A key part of any marketing and communications strategy today, strong social media marketing requires a lot of savvy, time and resources to pull off properly. It is one of the cornerstones of communications in todays’ world.

3) Web and interactive design

a. It’s important here to distinguish between the design, which a creative agency does, and the coding, which it might or might not provide as a service.

b. Smartphone app design can be included in this category.

4) Print marketing

a.   This service is clearly among the oldest and can be considered a classic of creative communications services.

b.   Brochures, pamphlets, business cards, menus, posters, banners, to name but a few, are part of this important category.

We could continue the list with a number of declinations of the these core services, but between these and the core media further above, we’ve covered just about all the services you could ask of a creative agency.

The Creative Process

So how does a creative agency go about infusing all this content and all these services with the magic that lends credence to their claim of being “creative,” as opposed to just an advertising agency or a communications firm?

Clearly there is no one right answer here. Each agency is different and, stated above, it’s not because a PR firm doesn’t call itself “creative” that it isn’t. Nor is it because a creative agency calls itself creative that it necessarily is, although that certainly would be a let down.
 
Here are a few points and processes, however, that any creative agency worthy of the adjective will possess, in one form or another:

  • Carefully selected staff members that actively seek to think outside the box;
  • Brainstorming sessions with a creative team made up of at least three people spanning two generations;
  • An Artistic Director abreast of trends but not an insecure slave to them;
  • At least one solid writer, graphic artist and videographer on the team;
  • A production process that includes moodboarding and storyboarding;
  • A capacity to listen to clients, adapt and to gauge risk-taking.

Good processes and practices are important to create fertile soil for creativity, but ultimately, it’s above all the quality of the minds recruited that will make the greatest difference. A good creative agency make sure that its team is composed of bright sparks, as motivated as they are able to discern original work from cheap clichés, smart solutions from second-rate fixes. That’s what it comes down to.

When and why hire a creative agency

Let’s face it, even if you work for a big, rich company, you simply can’t outsource all content production. It’s just too costly, and sometimes even impractical. So what to outsource and what no to outsource, that is the question. And here’s the answer:

Outsource anything that needs to shine. This is not to suggest that your in-house team cannot create top-quality stuff, but a creative agency’s very capacity to exist depends on its capacity to deliver content that stands out and has that professional look and feel you’ll definitely want on any top-of-the-funnel output. If you’re going to invest, do so where it counts, so in ads, posts you intend to promote, showcase content that will go front and center on your website or wherever. You may also want to put the money into high quality internal communications content when it’s important to show your personnel that you care, and to motivate them to consume the content.

Also outsource things that are complicated to create. Videos, certainly showreel or ad type videos, are a good example. You can’t improvise a high-end video production, and its often that sort of content that an in-house team is neither trained, nor equipped, to produce competently. You’ll waste far more time and money in the long run trying to slap together videos with inadequate kit and crew. Your image will suffer to boot. Hire that out, and concentrate your in-house firepower on promoting the content you outsourced once it’s done. An example would be posting a video, keeping up with metrics, using parts of the video to post screenshot photos with text content around it, embedding the video on your website, making sure it has the best SEO on YouTube etc. All this takes time and know-how, but a know-how you’re much more likely to have in your marketing team than professional-grade video production skills.

It’s a fact. More often than not, what most people are doing in a marketing and communications department is managing the outsourcing: searching high and low for that rare pearl of an agency that will systematically deliver quality content on time and on budget; writing up RfPs and contracts; project managing content orders from agencies, consultants or freelancers, juggling any number of these to shift that piece of content to this agency so that they can do this or that and then sending it back to the first to finalize the piece.

Some bigger entities will hire an in-house graphic artist or even video specialist. This can be very cost-effective if this person is, or becomes, good at producing a particular type of content that the firm focuses on primarily. It is difficult, however, to hire a person with a sufficiently broad skill set to competently cover the sort of variety in content production that most companies really need to make their mark. So outsourcing becomes a no brainer.

The Best Creative Agencies in Lausanne and Geneva

Clearly we can’t speak for them all. We can only speak for us, really. And we would obviously be biased reviewing other creative agencies in our own area, so we’re not going to try. What we can tell you is that there are many agencies in the Lake Geneva region, what with all the multinational companies and international organizations active here. We can also give you the following tips for picking and choosing among them:

1. Not all that glitters is gold. Be sure to look beyond, and behind, the glossy samples on spiffy websites. Such samples are fairly easy to come by, or fake, and an attractive website is not a big challenge to create nowadays. Contact the company that boasts these samples and ask questions;

2. Look for client reviews. Proof is in the pudding, so to speak, and if an agency can come up with genuine references from clients that have worked with them and been satisfied, especially if this is in a service you’re after, then you’ve gone a long way to finding the right match;

3. Ask about the production process. This is often revealing of how professional an agency really is. If you’re offered video production with no call sheets and no storyboard, be wary.

4. Ask for a live or e-meeting. Speaking with someone directly will give you a sense of maturity, competence and experience. Ask plenty of questions and see if the answers come out clear and confident.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this post on creative agencies and how you can benefit from their services. SmartCuts Creative is, in my humble opinion, among the best in the region, not only because of the years of experience, but also because of its highly skilled and competent team.

Our Services

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me, personally, if you have any questions or if you’re interested in discussing a possible partnership. I head up SmartCuts Creative and will make sure you get all the attention you deserve.

Here’s a shortlist of the services we offer:

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