episode 12: Agency Work


  • Nolan, Troy and Sandy talk about the world of presentations and how it intersects with creative agencies – both in terms of agencies creating presentations in-house for their own purposes and selling presentation design to clients.


Let’s talk about our own experience with agencies.

  • Nolan: My first on-staff job was for a smaller marketing and comms agency in New York that was owned by Omnicom, one of the larger massive holding companies of creative agencies. After about 5 years there, I went to Edelman, the world’s largest independent PR agency.
  • Sandy: Like Nolan, I come from the agency world. For 10 years, I worked at Minneapolis agencies, in an account role, like Campbell Mithun and Carmichael Lynch, on accounts like Zyrtec, Zithromax, Depend, and Porsche. Since that time, I’ve worked with agencies all over the country to help them pitch business and provide presentation design services for their clients.
  • Troy: This is a topic that is a bit outside my world. I work with several agencies, and more internal Marcomm and PR Firms, but almost all of our work is developing presentations for end clients, not the agency internal needs.


What kind of agencies are we talking about?

  • Troy: Creative agencies come in many shapes and sizes, especially as digital takes over the world. Agencies are changing to keep up with the times so what everyone perceives as an agency, may not be what they really are today. For our Mad Men and Bewitched fans, you’ll be familiar with the ad agency model. Advertising is really where things started, but then evolved into marketing and PR agencies, and out of those digital and social media agencies evolved . Today, the big agency buzz word is “integrated agency” which offers a bit of everything.
  • Nolan: Agencies tend to think they can do it all – but I feel really they cannot. These days, I actually have regular training gigs with at least two of the major holding companies, so I still have a lot of insight into the agency world.
  • SandyWe should mention that over the last 20 years, as agencies grew, most independent agencies got bought up by large international holding companies like Omnicom and Publicis who might own over 1,000 individual agencies doing all sorts of different work.


What kind of presentation work are these agencies doing?

  • Nolan: The first kind is the agency’s own internal work, such as new business pitches. Agencies are constantly pitching for the next job. Different agencies care about how their pitches look to different degrees. Some might have a staff designer take a break from client work to whip something up while others might have a large design department dedicated to doing nothing but new business pitching.
  • Troy: Like I was saying earlier, when the agency has a client, they often develop presentations as part of their offering, and that is where TLC does most of its agency work. We work on end client presentation projects.


What are our own experiences working with agencies?

  • Sandy: As I mentioned earlier, I grew up on the account side of the ad agency world, so I see both the business side and now the design side of the agency world. That experience is valuable to understanding the mindset of the folks coming to me to create templates and presentations for their clients.  I think a lot of agencies have put themselves in an order-taking position when it comes to presentations because their clients often know more about PowerPoint than the agency creatives do. The lack of knowledge around presentation software, design and messaging at agencies is astonishing. Of course, I love working with agencies when they haven’t given consideration to the presentation design, they have creative concepts for other media that I can leverage in the presentation work.
  • Nolan: I’m generalizing here, but I think a lot of creative agencies not only have little knowledge as to how to properly create and sell presentation services, but they also don’t have much respect for it either. There are exceptions, but this has to do with graphic designers, in general, turning their nose up at anything that isn’t created with Adobe software, which also goes back to their design education – another podcast topic.
  • Troy: For TLC, working with an agency so far has been similar to working with any client. There are some huge pros. An agency brings creative direction, messaging and assets so design projects have less of a ramp up time.


Agency rates

  • Nolan: We are talking about agency rates to their clients, not the rates we, as designers, charge them. $250 hour and up is not uncommon. But that also might be just for a designer’s time, then there is project management, creative direction, and anything else they can get in there. In my experience, the rates agencies pay freelancers for presentation work can be quite high because, as we’ve discussed, there are so few people that do this kind of work and do it well. I know some designers and show operators that get booked up a year in advance for a big event because they’re in such demand.
  • Sandy: I summarize agency rates as ungodly high. And I have never had an agency bat an eye at my fees.
  • Troy: Agencies have a lot of manpower and overhead, and yes their rates are very different than a design studio.


In your experience, do you think of agencies as industry driven, specialty driven, or other?

  • Nolan: I would say it’s all over the map. A lot of presentation designers in NY work for smaller agencies that specialize in producing big events like product launches or company meetings.
  • Sandy : In the past, agencies split up between B to B and B to C. Today, however, I see a trend toward specialty-driven, as the smaller, more nimble firms grasp digital more readily than the traditional firms.
  • Troy: I think I lean toward agencies being aligned with an industry. But that may just be how I interact with them, in that I only see the group involved with a specific industry and do not interact with the other groups.


Are there other entities, or names, that agencies go by?

  • Troy: We do a lot of work with PR firms and internal MarComm departments. I am not certain how each is defined as a business, but for TLC, we pretty much treat all  the same. They have a client with presentation design needs, and we are handling the presentation design on their behalf.
  • Nolan: These days, PR agencies do a lot more than they used to.
  • Sandy:  I would say ad agency, marketing firm, PR firm, Design firm, marketing communications firms, and consultancy are all names that are grouped together from our perspective.


Any last things to say about agencies?

  • Nolan: Sandy said earlier that a lot of times, agencies have no real idea of what they’re doing when it comes to presentation, and can’t we all tell when we receive a template or deck from a client that needs to be fixed or worked on that it came originally from an agency they hired?
  • Sandy: If I’m supposed to create a presentation based on a bad template, I usually make a complete rebuild of that template a prerequisite. That way, the client gets a great presentation from me that they can continue to customize as needed, without compromising the design.
  • TroyAgencies, as a business, handle a lot. Many I have worked with know more about the client financials than the client, or the brand standards than the client. They really become an extension of the corporate client, handling everything from messaging to industry analysis. So, as long as they acknowledge presentation design is not their strong offering and bring in talent to make it meet the level of other high offerings, they are doing great. But it they feel a presentation, and especially a template, is something that does not require expertise, they are hurting themselves and their client.
  • Nolan: As I said, there really are some agencies that do great presentation work, but if anyone is thinking of going to one for presentation, I would really ask a lot of questions and ask to see a lot of prior work.


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