AdVice Articles by Sam Harmon

The following article was published in Media Inc. Magazine

But Do They Know Advertising?

Freelance designers are the greatest creatures on Earth. Just ask one. They will proudly tell you how they practically invented Adobe. How their website creations can make your bed and fluff your pillow. How they can produce faster than a burger flipper after a Starbuck’s binge. Many are telling the truth.

The talent pool of Northwest freelancers is truly outstanding, and crowded with veterans and newbie’s alike. All scratching and clawing to be in your stable. So, besides having an obedient disposition and a pocket full of Altoids, what makes some freelancer’s easier to work with than others?

Understanding advertising.
Oh for the days of uninhibited creative spontaneity and regurgitating wild reckless ad ideas before researching all the cumbersome parameters of the marketing strategy. Or fidgeting through tedious planning sessions, listening only for slight fragments of direction that would unleash the creative behemoth that has been waiting to trample the throng of helpless consumers below.

A freelancer who knows advertising understands that effective creativity doesn’t evolve that way. Rarely does a creative director or project manager have the time or tolerance to reiterate the fundamentals of the campaign itself. When a freelancer understands the intent of the material they are producing, they are able to independently make design decisions that simply work. They see the content as the end-user sees and are able to engage elements that will engage the target market and fulfill the agencies vision that hired them.

Great designers have mastered the meaning of design elements and how to visually engage the consumer in the right direction before a single word is read or said.

Finding a fluent freelancer.
Use your eyes, not your ears. The clues are in the diversity of their portfolio and how well each sample fulfills its goal. The portfolio should have samples ranging from conservative to in-your-face, from image to retail. Diversity represents a freelancer’s ability to interpret each marketing strategy individually and with an open mind. To a project manager/creative director, this means the freelancer has the flexibility to understand and execute what YOU envision with minimal nurturing.

Even more important is how well each sample fulfilled its advertising goal. Look at each piece for 2 seconds. You should immediately know the intent and target market. Ask the freelancer what their role was and level of creative input in the production of the impressive and the worst samples. See if there is a pattern. And of course, look at the little details such as letter spacing, line breaks, photo-editing, etc… You may also inquire how many rounds did the proofing go with the client.

Freelancers, be ready.
It’s never too soon to flip open that worn-edged portfolio and look at it from an Ad Agency’s point-of-view (see above). Hopefully, you’ll say, “I AM the greatest creature on Earth!” If not, here’s an idea that may head you in the right direction: Go find an ad and make it better (and hope the agency that created it isn’t the one you’re meeting). online, magazines, direct mail, billboards…opportunities are everywhere and many are in desperate need of help. Show the ‘before and after’.

If you did your advertising homework, you’ll know why the original ad needed help, and how to help it. When presenting your interpretation, share what you did. Most agencies will be impressed with your discipline and even more impressed if you make a significant improvement. Another potential reward may come from trying to sell the idea to the original business!

Unless you are an agency who focuses on certain types of clients only, or a freelancer who wants to narrow project opportunities, these insights may help save the time and money when choosing a freelancer that is easy to work with and has fresh peppermint breath.