Finding the right graphic designer to represent your company requires diligence and development of a keen understanding.

Your property’s restaurant sales aren’t quite where you’d like them to be, and you’ve decided that a spiffy new direct mail piece will be just the ticket to showcase your wonderful facility and delicious product to potential new guests. Or, you’ve just renovated your hotel tower, and you’d love to feature the beautiful new rooms in a brochure to send out to regional meeting planners. But where to start?

Unless your property has an on-site graphics department - something that’s getting increasingly rare - you’ll need to work with an outside graphic designer. Chances are that your PR person has experience in working with a designer, and he or she may even have an established relationship with a firm or a free-lancer. But it’s still helpful to know a few basics as a client to help you get the most out of your project.


Do your homework

Let’s assume you’re starting from square one. What’s the first step and where do you go from there?

Ask around. Referrals are a great way to start the search process. Just as with any job candidate, your hire is likely to be more successful if someone you know and trust makes a recommendation. You can ask colleagues on property or through your local business association. A few key questions, including “would you work with this person or firm again?” can help get you on the right track.

Find the right fit for your needs. Many designers specialize in a particular type of work and don’t necessarily span all types of communication vehicles. If their specialty is high-end annual reports or Web design, your print brochure is likely not the right project for either of you to pursue together.

Once you have limited the field, set up a time to meet. Ask designers to bring their book so you can evaluate their work. This is still a 30,000-foot discussion and not about the nitty-gritty of the specific project. Bring your PR person along if you’d like some help with the interview.

Of course, you’ll want to evaluate the designer’s overall style, but also find out his or her approach to business relationships and his or her level of expertise.

Now is the time to assess the capabilities that can make or break your project. Is the designer a good listener? Is he or she a strategic thinker who asks good questions about your intended project, including audience, message and measurable results? Do you feel comfortable that the designer looks at the project in a holistic way, balancing both message and look? How will the designer handle feedback? In short, will there be a good mutual partnership between you and the designer?

You’re getting closer to the starting line, but before your initial project meeting with the partner you selected, you still have some homework to do. Check with your marketing or PR department if there are particular brand standards that your collateral piece will need to reflect. If you’ve seen examples of work that are along the lines of what you’d like for your project - whether it’s layout, paper stock or typeface - collect them and have them ready for your project meeting. Most importantly, be ready to describe your project in as much detail as you can - going back to audience, message and measurable results. Beyond that, be prepared to provide background on why you’d like to create this particular piece of collateral and what you’d like it to accomplish, as well as short- and long-term marketing goals. Think about factors such as style (upscale, slick, aligned with your brand) and tone (warm, friendly, sophisticated, down-to-earth). What’s your deadline? What quantity will you need? And, of course, you’ll want to have an idea of how much you’d like to spend.

Executing on ideas

Now you’re ready. It’s time to get together to talk specifics about the project. A good graphic design partner will bring a list of conceptual and tactical “discovery” questions to ask you at your initial meeting. They’ll cover the items you’ve prepared for, and probably even more things you hadn’t considered. At this point, you’ll want to discuss expectations in terms of process, timing, budget and most important, communication. Who will write the copy? Is there photography involved? Who is responsible for printing? There are a myriad of issues to address on both sides so the project goes smoothly. Neither party wants any unpleasant surprises - the designer doing round upon round of revisions when the direction wasn’t described thoroughly at the outset, or a client who experiences sticker shock in getting the final bill because the project was more complex than anticipated.

It’s never a bad idea to request a written proposal as a follow-up to your meeting. That way, both you and your design partner will be clear on the scope of the work, responsibilities and cost estimates. If an illustrator or photographer will be involved, that should be a line item. Copywriting? Also a line item. Same with printing. The proposal should outline all specific details, including the number of design concepts you’ll have for your review and how many rounds of revisions are included in the base price.

All this, and the designer is just now ready to begin. At this point, you can be confident that you’ve done your part to lay the groundwork for a successful project. Trust in the designer’s creative talent, and communicate often throughout the process.

Remember, even if you’re new at this, you’re more than simply a client - a good design partner will involve you as a collaborator.

Communicating your message in a well-designed, effective way that hits home with the audience and produces results is simply a matter of good planning and good partnership.