How can fledgling brands wanting to punch above their weight get the most out of their budget when it comes to branding and design?
Naomi Schillinger, owner of North London Head Gardeners

Fledgling brands should focus their time and budget on getting really good foundations in place from the start. Hire the best people you can afford to help you get a good brand core in place early on and you’ll benefit from a great platform to build on as your business (and budget) grows. It’s also efficient – not least because it can be tricky (and ultimately more costly) to try to put things right that weren’t done well earlier on.

Beyond this, one fledgling brand’s requirements can be very different from another’s, so you need to think carefully about your priorities – those age-old questions like who are your customers; what are your objectives for the next year and the next five years; what are the channels for building your business, and so on. Clarity in these areas will help you to prioritise how you spend what you have left and hopefully ensure that even if you don’t have a full suite of brand assets right away, with the right foundations in place, they can easily be added to as the need arises.

Seek out like-minded partners to work with – many agencies love the idea of working with an early-stage company but they won’t all have the infrastructure to really provide what you need. Finding someone who’s got an actual track record in working with businesses at your stage of development can save a lot of heartache later down the line – and if you can find partners who also have an affinity with what you do, you may well find there’s a will to go the extra mile or think creatively about how to work within any budgetary constraints.

Lastly (and this is not just advice for fledgling brands), transparency on budget is a massive help to everyone. It’s not a trick question! Many agencies (us included) are able to work with a wide range of budgets but it’s far easier to know where we stand from the start.

What are the critical questions to ask of a potential agency to ensure we end up with a good fit?
Lorraine Metcalf, Chief People Officer at Quantexa

Understanding your long-term client relationships ultimately comes down to two broad categories – what is important to you (as an individual and as a team), and what is important to the business.

When it comes to the former, of course chemistry is vital – the tricky bit is how to assess whether the chemistry is right as, of course, it’s far more than just whether you ‘got on well’ in the initial meetings or pitch. You need to establish whether you share the same values around transparency, creativity and process. Do you want someone to socialise with? Or is it exclusively about the work? Do you need a high-level sounding board, or someone to pick up the slack? Will the agency give you the feedback you need, delivered in a manner you can work with? And will they take feedback from you in the same spirit?

The second point – what is important to the business – is often overlooked in favour of chasing the elusive chemistry but is arguably much more important. The key question you need answered is: ‘Do you believe they can handle the brief, based on what they’ve done so far?’ So ask about their track record of successful outcomes, past and current clients, and what they’ve done that specifically relates to your needs. Be clear with them about potential challenges within your organisation that may affect their work and find out how they’ve dealt with this kind of situation in the past.

Of course, over our 16 years, there have been times when it hasn’t worked out – it’s never going to be 100% fool proof. Sometimes, we have to just chalk it up to experience and move on!

What advice do you have for new design graduates looking to get started on the career ladder?
Emily Briselden-Waters, Lecturer in Graphic Branding & Identity at London College of Communication

It’s certainly a very different environment for new design graduates compared with when we started Rare Breed and now, more than ever, it’s really important to embrace all offers of support or help from people already in the design industry. Set up a LinkedIn profile and take the opportunity to connect with design professionals – whether that’s mentors on your course, people giving talks or anyone hosting events at your college or university. Don’t be afraid to engage with them – everyone has to start somewhere.

Make the most of social media by following the kinds of design businesses you’re most interested in joining on LinkedIn, Instagram etc. as well as the industry bodies and publications most relevant to you. It will help you to get a feel for the different kinds of businesses out there and narrow down which ones might be a good fit for you, as well as increasing your knowledge of what’s going on in the industry as a whole.

Find yourself a mentor (plenty of people in the industry will be really happy to do this – and even if they can’t, they will be flattered you asked). Use your time with them well, asking as many questions as you can to fill any gaps in your knowledge.

The other point is about the small things that make a big difference when it comes to interviews or internships. Thankfully we’re not in a ‘suit and tie’ kind of industry and would never expect an interviewee or intern to look, dress or speak in a particular way – but being prepared, on time and well presented in your own particular style does make a difference. Give some thought to the obvious questions you’ll be asked like which areas of design excite you and why. Don’t feel you have to downplay your interests outside of design – great design benefits everything from politics to pop culture so anything you’re into is relevant.

Ultimately though, it is your work – and how you present it – that’s the most important thing – the thing that will transcend everything else. So really think about how you’re going to share the work you’ve done. There are no rights and wrongs about what it should look like but you have to think about how the person sitting opposite you will experience it. What’s the story thread that runs through it? As a graduate, no one will expect your work to be the finished article but if you can share it in a way that demonstrates your ideas, your attention to detail and your ability to make something look great, you’re on the right track.

As designers and brand builders, what would be the dream project and why?
David Ross, Director at Weber Shandwick

This is the kind of question that many designers may think is the open brief they’ve been waiting for – an opportunity to unleash their creativity onto something fabulous.

In reality, it’s a question we find almost impossible to answer. In many senses, an abstract idea of ‘the dream project’ diminishes the excitement of not knowing what you’re going to be dealt, the pleasure of working out how to address a problem or challenge – and the pride in seeing a business thrive off the back of your work.

There are of course ‘passion projects’ we’d love to do – as animal lovers, sports fans and interiors enthusiasts, anything in these areas would be welcome! But we actually think any project has the potential to be a dream one, which is actually a rather brilliant thing!