Made to Measure: The Advantage of Using a Marketing Firm with a Network of Freelance Specialists — an Agency Without Limits

When we first opened our studio in 1980 we believed even back then that the model that best suited our business and my beliefs was to have only a small core group of key people while having access to best talent in their field on a freelance basis. It’s always made sense to us, and now more and more companies are starting to see the value.

Especially with the emergence of new media channels, it’s more effective to get the best specialists to engage audiences across platforms that are hard for generalists to keep up with. In the past, it might have been about newspapers, TV, billboards, and direct mail; and now we’re adding in websites, social media, pop-ups, sponsored articles and web content, and more. Marketing has been getting increasingly complex as ways to engage with consumers have multiplied.

While firms have popped up that specialize in things like online advertising, influencer marketing, social media, mobile marketing, and brand activation, it’s often difficult for companies to manage relationships with multiple vendors who aren’t working together and could be sending different (or conflicting) messages across channels. The client is then tasked with the unenviable role of managing their contractors — which could make them feel like the ringmaster in a three-ring circus.

The client has the difficult job of measuring the value they’re getting from each independent contractor, and it’s not always clear if, say, the website or a sponsored content campaign is leading to more conversions. There just isn’t visibility across different channels.

When it comes to marketing, clients need specialists who know a particular field, but they need to have a big-picture approach so all their marketing efforts fit into the company’s brand objectives.

Our agency takes an approach where we have a core team with a deep understanding of the fundamentals of marketing but we also have a network of trusted freelance specialists to draw upon. We can manage multiple contractors on your behalf and measure their impact — all while saving you time and money.

You could think of it as a “made to measure” approach. We bring the best talent to each project while keeping overhead down and getting the results. Clients are constantly looking for ways to keep their costs down and they’re asking their agencies to sharpen their pencils. This is especially so in this uncertain economy which both agencies and clients will have to continually deal with.

Our untraditional approach (which more agencies are moving towards) means we can get the best talent on-demand while still keeping costs low, which ultimately means we can provide more cohesive, affordable and effective marketing.

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Use a Design Template or Break the Mould?

Blue umbrella in a row of white ones

There have been several online marketplaces that have sprung up to provide templates for things like brochures, email newsletters, flyers, logos and even websites. The idea is that you could buy a template and assets like images to make something unique and that represents your business.

This is obviously appealing, but there are at least a few flaws to this approach:

The design might not look unique

People choose your business over competitors because you have a unique value proposition which help your customers choose you. Your marketing should draw attention to these things that make you stand out from your competition — like price, service, features, etc. When your marketing looks like all the other companies, you don’t stand out from the crowd.

Not all templates are easy to manipulate

These templates don’t follow a set pattern, so some might be easy to change while for others, they might be difficult or impossible to shape into something that works for you. In the case of email newsletters and websites, they could require complex coding to make changes that seem simple.

These resources are a starting point, not an end point

A template can help a designer create something faster by providing some of the groundwork for the design. But to truly make the design fulfil its marketing function, it needs to be customized for the particular needs of your business.

A template is designed to be used not by one company for one person; it’s made to be used by thousands of companies for thousands of purposes. One size doesn’t fit all.

It’s certainly possible to use a template as a starting point, but it’s almost always a good decision to further customize it into something that properly represents your business and what you want to communicate. An experienced graphic designer is in an ideal position to understand your business needs and how to communicate them.

To stand out, you need to break the mould.

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When your unique idea has already been done

Say you’ve got an idea that seems fresh, unique, clever and original… you might find that it’s already been done.

We’ve seen movies with similar themes (so-called “twin films”) come out nearly at the same time like when two movies about Truman Capote (Capote and Infamous) came out within months of each other.

In the world of technology, the phenomenon of “simultaneous inventorship” can be particularly surprising. Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray filed separate telephone patents on the very same day, with the Supreme Court ruling in favour of Bell despite his prototype not functioning at the time.

In the creative industry, we obviously value ideas that are innovative, fresh, and unique. It can be really hard for us to see a design that’s similar to ours by out-and-out copying or even by chance. After all, there are 7 billion people in this world and the odds of two people having the same idea are very likely, and there’s a certain synchronicity of ideas because we consume a lot of similar media and share influences.

There have also been a few times where we’ve created a design or marketing concept we like, only to find out later that it’s similar to something else in the market.

This is a natural part of the design process, and it can be disappointing to find out that something we thought was unique has been done before.

As designers, it’s important for us not to get too caught up in researching other designs because it could limit what our creativity. Once we’ve come up with a design, we’ll do research to make sure it hasn’t been done before. Sometimes this will mean abandoning the concept and trying something new. Again, this can be disappointing, but that’s part of the design process.

Coming up with a similar concept is natural because we may have similar design influences and ideas to whoever came up with the design first. Coming up with the same design as someone else isn’t an indication that you’re not brilliant and original, but it does require going back to the drawing board and coming up with something that people haven’t seen before.

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Better Planning Starts with Getting to Know your Client


In one of our very first blog posts, we wrote about how answers to just a few key questions help us provide clients with quick and accurate estimates. More than that, talking to clients and understanding their needs results in client trust, and the effective project outlines we’re able to create lead to better outcomes.

We developed this checklist to gather information we needed, and we think the checklist approach could help out in any line of business. In this post, I want to elaborate on how important it is to get to know your client.

Consulting with Clients to Helps Us Help Them: We Don’t Mean to Pry (actually we do)…

Fields like law and medicine give us a very good example of how talking with clients is crucial to identifying the nature of the their problem, and gathering information to understand how to reach a potential solution. A lawyer needs to know their client really well to best represent them in a legal matter, and a doctor needs to understand what their patient is experiencing to develop a diagnosis, but a provider of professional services should also know their client well to suggest an effective solution for them.

Talking to a client and learning about their issues also helps establish a trusting relationship with them. By actively listening to a client, they’re building their trust in you — they will be comfortable that you understand the issues they want solved, and that you’re committed to helping them.

We think there are a few major areas where you need to gather information to ensure the project moves forward with as little hassle as possible and with the most trust between you and your client:

  • Gathering Basic Information — It’s important to have the nuts and bolts of the project including getting the correct client contact information to ensure you can connect with the right people to move the project forward. From a marketing perspective, you may want to survey their current marketing materials such as their logo and websites, and any collateral such as photographs, illustrations, or graphs and charts that could be useful.
  • Understanding Your Client and Their Market — We first determine the scope of the work by understanding what product or service is being promoted, its benefits, how it’s distributed, who is the target customer, how it’s perceived by the market, and what other competitors it’s facing. We also want to know what key message or messages the client wants to communicate.
  • Knowing Your Constraints — Important considerations for projects include things like the potential budget, important deadlines, and possible regulatory or legal obligations.
  • Understanding how you can best serve your client — We think about the services we offer, and how they meet a client’s needs. In the case of marketing, this means suggesting a course of action involving a variety of services such as a marketing plan (if none exists), design, copywriting, public relations, and website development to meet the client’s intended outcome.

In our experience we have found that many businesses, especially small ones, don’t put enough effort into getting to know their clients, which can result in wasted effort, projects not meeting budgets, and unmet expectations.

Remember — great creative moves people. If you’re looking for design and communication services, we’d like to develop a solution for you by first understanding you and your needs.

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The Story Behind Our Calendar for 2016, The Creative Year that Lies Ahead


For over 20 years we’ve been sending out our annual calendar to business partners, suppliers and friends with quotes and images we hope will make their year brighter.

Over the past five years, we’ve collaborated with our photographer and friend Kathryn Hollinrake, who has produced incredible images for each calendar. This year, we chose antique musical instruments as the subject.

She recently wrote a wonderful blog post detailing her creative process and also showed one of the images that didn’t make the calendar.

In brief: To find objects to photograph, we went to Toronto’s Prop Room, where there are thousands of antique and period props for filmmakers, photographers and theatres. Her signature lighting style required darkness, so she positioned the objects when it was just light enough to see, then shot between sunset and midnight. I didn’t realize the mosquitoes would be out in such force, and I left the photoshoot with a number of itchy bites.

It was interesting producing the images in the dark. It reminded me of the days of film photography where a skilled photographer would have to setup their work stage an image and they might not necessarily know how the image turned out until days later. Of course, shooting digital lets you see the results of our work immediately and try out different things without burning through rolls of film.

Some beautiful images didn’t even make it to the calendar because there are only so many months but also because we had to make tough decisions on which ones fit the calendar best. Editing is a huge part of our job as creatives, and it would be fair to say that the majority of our work never sees the light of day.

As creative professionals, we could think of each year as being a sum of experiences where we encounter new things, and learn new tricks. The musical instruments shown in the calendar reflect a foundation that we continue to build upon as we try new things.

Our calendars, and, really, all our projects have stories behind them. The new year is a work in progress; think about the days and months as time to experiment and create new things. Don’t forget to enjoy the process.

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Design Isn’t Just About How Something Looks, It’s Also How It Works


Design tools and technologies have made it easier for anyone to make things. Going far back in time, the invention of the printing led to the end of hand-crafted illuminated manuscripts. More recently, desktop publishing did away with manual typesetting. There are also many tools and services now available to create a web presence without having to touch code.

Some blog posts have argued that technology has effectively killed design and others say it’s still alive. We certainly agree with the latter.

The growth of design tools may have changed certain aspects of design, but the true practice of design has continued to persist throughout these technological innovations. For instance, a designer may use Adobe Illustrator instead of a drafting table now, but their basic job remains the same.

Designer don’t just use these new tools to make things that look pretty; they design things to achieve a goal — an outcome. This could mean effectively communicating with your audience, converting customers, creating brand awareness, or whatever other outcome you’re trying to achieve.

For businesses, design isn’t just how something looks — it fits into the overall corporate strategy. Brands often do the majority of their communication with customers through design and marketing. Clearly, design strategy is key part of the business strategy.

While there are many tools and templates available to fit a certain aesthetic, this may not ultimately achieve the outcomes you want from your marketing. It might have the right look, but it might not effectively communicate. For that, you’ll need a designer.

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Using the Power of Context in Real World Advertising

There’s a lot of hype around online “contextual advertising” these days. Basically, contextual advertising is when user data and algorithms are used to place online ads in front of a particular individual when and where they’re most likely to be contemplating a purchase.

For instance, someone searching online for a new pair of sneakers might see an ad for a shoe brand when visiting a running blog they frequent. The effect is that the ad is presented precisely when they’re trying to make a purchasing decision, so that they’re more likely to make that purchase.

Context comprises the target audience, their needs, and the environment they’re in. Rather than be only in the realm of online advertising, it’s something that factors into all forms of marketing — both online and in the real world.

The following is a billboard for Toronto public transit on one of the city’s major commuter expressways, Allen Road:

Embedded image permalink

An ad for public transit displayed on a traffic-clogged road is a good real world example of contextual advertising because at the moment that drivers are stuck in traffic, they see an alternative way of getting around that could be faster.

It all comes down to the importance of placing an ad when and where people are looking for a solution to their problem. When it comes to real-world ads, this isn’t figured out using an algorithm, but rather comes down to understanding who your customers are, where they are and what they see, and what they’re in need of. This can produce some very effective advertising.

Contextual advertising requires thinking about how your advertising is seen from the perspective of the customer, imagining how they see it within their context.

Thinking of using the power of context to amplify the power of your ads? We’d love to help you out. Phone or email Finesilver Design + Communications today!

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Negotiating Creative Decisions with Clients Gracefully


At its best, design is a collaboration between the client and the designer. A crucial part of our design process is to understand the client, including their needs, their position in the industry and their target audience, in order to produce messaging that best positions the company to succeed. We listen to the client, and use our design expertise to produce effective marketing that we think will work based on our experience.

But sometimes a client requests a change we disagree with, or disagree with one of ours.

Whenever possible it would be best to show why you are arguing for or against a change, showing the client different versions, and walking them through why you advocate for your position.

It’s important to realize that clients are suggesting changes to make things better, and sometimes their suggestions are on-point, but there has to be a logic to the change. Major design changes, however, should be aimed at solving a problem. Before agreeing on making a change that seems wrong, it’s good to ask the client why they want to make the change. “This isn’t an attempt to be difficult, but it does sometimes challenge clients to make decisions on more than just a whim,” Zach Dunn of design firm One Mighty Roar and Robin wrote. “If you consistently make revisions without cause, you risk losing consistency of overall user experience and efficiency.”,

Robert Bowen in a Smashing Magazine blog post also mentions that it’s important for designers to explain the rationale behind their decisions. “We owe it to our creative work to argue for whatever serves the design beyond all else, even though the client is footing the bill. We may end up having to give in to the client, but at least we tried.”

Sagi Haviv of Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv makes the great observation that design decisions shouldn’t be taken personally. “It’s not about what one likes or dislikes, it’s about what works.”

At the end of the day, the design decisions we’re making with the client are not about personal taste and subjective preferences, but rather about the strategy you’re producing to drive value to the organization.

We hope this perspective on the designer-client relationship  gives you some insights that you can apply to your line of business. Let us know in the comments if you tips on negotiating creative decisions.

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What to do Before a Product Launch to Increase Your Odds of Success

Space Shuttle Launch

Even the best product or service can go unnoticed if a company doesn’t put the necessary planning and resources into its launch.

The term “soft launch” is used to describe where the company itself doesn’t make an effort to call attention to new products and services. A product is sometimes given a soft launch because it isn’t entirely ready for the public, or the company doesn’t have the budget for a larger launch. But sometimes a soft launch isn’t a conscious choice, but the product of a lack of planning and putting the necessary resources towards the launch.

This is why it’s important to consciously think about what you can do before a product hits the market to ensure it has the best possibility for success.

The planning can be simplified down to the following basic areas:

Reaching out

Get early adopters and testers to have access to the product before the official product launch. Notify current customers that the new product is on its way through email marketing, blog posts and social media.


Understand how you want to position the product or service to the public. Get your Web presence right before launch. Have blog posts ready for the launch, and have relevant social media channels (such as Twitter and Facebook) ready and branded for the launch. Create the necessary collateral such as pamphlets, catalogs, and signage.


Have a traditional PR strategy including creating press releases and reaching out to media. As Fast Company notes, the Internet has made it easier to get people to write about your product or service. But while “getting ink” is easier, getting and keeping audience attention has become extremely difficult as “ ‘newer news’ pushes your announcement out of the collective mind share.” That’s why it’s important to supplement the PR push with digital strategies to keep audience attention through viral content and social media. Also, find opportunities to attend trade shows, hold public speaking engagements, get endorsements, and even hold contests to build hype.


Ads can create awareness, and online ads can even lead customers to a pre-order page. You can use advertising such as print and online ads, but also think about the possibilities of using search-engine marketing such as Google AdWords.

The Bottom Line

Customers might find out about your new product or service on their own, but a well-executed launch can give it the push it needs to reach its potential and reach the right people. For inspiration, Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District provides a good theoretical example of a company’s pre-launch strategy. Putting the right preparation into a launch pays off once your product or service gains traction.

Interested in launching a product or service? We’ve helped large companies and startups through all the marketing and communications aspects that go into launches, and would love to help you increase your chances of success. Feel free to give us a call or send us an email today!

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How Education and Culture can Build Great Customer Relationships


The customer experience isn’t just about the sale transaction — it involves all interactions before, during and after the sale. Focusing too much on transactions can mean ignoring crucial aspects of the customer experience that help build customer relationships.

Many things go into the customer experience — including helpful customer service reps that lead individuals through a purchase decision. But investing in marketing that informs customers and builds relationships has proven to be an effective and economical way to improve the customer experience.

Educating Customers Through Marketing 

There are tremendous changes in how buyers discover, understand and choose products and services. Forrester Research Principal Analyst Lori Wizdo notes that buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of the way through their purchase journey before reaching out to a vendor. Instead of going directly to a sales rep, customers are increasingly doing their own research.

It’s therefore important to provide marketing materials such as brochures, articles, ads, catalogues, web pages, blog posts, and online videos that answer their most pertinent questions.

Communicating Culture Through Marketing

Customers often make a purchase decision — not only because it’s something they need — but because they feel connected with the brand’s message. A brand might want to connect with its main demographic using content and imagery that speaks to them and their aspirations.

This is especially relevant for a lifestyle brand that aims for its products to be culturally relevant. For instance, iconic UK clothing brand Burberry asserted its hipness among its intended audience by commissioning a series of short videos featuring young British musicians performing in Burberry clothes.

The Bottom Line

The right marketing not only gives customers information they need to make a transaction, but it also helps show how the purchase fits into their life and identity. Brand loyalty also extends well beyond the initial transaction, often resulting in repeated transactions and customer recommendations.

And it all starts by focusing on all elements of the customer experiences, not just sales.

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