How to contact a design agency

By Toward,

January 2014


I get around 5 emails per week from students and graduates asking for work placements or experience, the chance to come in to ask questions, or asking if we have any job openings. That's 260 emails a year. So how do you make yours stand out?

The people we hire at Toward are creative thinkers, problem solvers, imaginative and persistent. These are the traits you need to show when contacting an agency.

I'm writing this post following a tweet by Andy Clarke who replied to a student asking for the same sort of things. The email sounds like it broke all the basic guidelines I'd recommend, so I thought it would be good to write them down here.

Before you start

You have one opportunity to catch my attention, one chance to make your mark. If you think that drafting a generic, mass email that you can send to 50 design companies is the key to making that mark, you are mistaken. Any piece of communication, whether that be an email, a tweet or a hand delivered letter needs to be personal and specific to each recipient. Sending 5 really great emails that take you a couple of hours is much more likely to get a reply than sending 50 completely generic ones.

In 2013 starting your approach with "Dear Sir/Madam..." just doesn't cut it. Neither does "Hi!". With one click on our website you can find my name, job title and a link to my Twitter. Call me Tom. You'll usually find these details in a company's About section. I'd recommend you'd try to find the details of at least a director of the business, but if possible the creative director. If these details aren't on the agency's site, be persistent.

If you Google Toward Directors you'll find around 5 pages of links to our names. This will work for pretty much all agencies. If, by some miracle it doesn't, pick up the phone and ask.


Once you know who you're contacting, research the agency. In your email talk about us. Tell me about a piece of work you like, or even one you think you could improve on. Read our blog. Write about a post you liked, or one you disagreed with. We're a very open company, we tweet and Instagram regularly. Tell me how you'd love to have a go at PotBall, or that you want to play with our He-man figures. As Andy said, "show you care" enough to put in the effort.

I can't tell you how much more effective that is than saying "I have enclosed my CV for your consideration with regards to any vacancies that you may have within your organisation."

Get the tone right

This is also part of your research — find out how the agency speaks. Read their site. Look at their Twitter feed. If their tone is professional and clinical, get straight to the point and be equally professional. If the agency is more relaxed, use the same sort of tone. Tone is one of the main ways you can connect with someone.

Why you?

Once you've shown that you've taken the time to research the agency you should take the opportunity to sell yourself. Explain not only what you'd gain from getting valuable experience from a placement, but also what you could offer. You're full of fresh ideas. You worked on a project recently which you learned some new skills. You've spotted one of our clients you have a great idea for. Give me a reason to reply to you, which is more compelling than the other 259.

Your folio

You're enquiring about a design position or placement at a design agency. There's a clue there. Show me your design work. I'm amazed by how many people don't send examples. It's what you do.

But — don't send everything. My advice is to pick your best piece and just send that. Send a PDF, with an explanation of what the work is, who it's for, why you made the decisions you did and why you think it's successful. In the PDF include enough visuals of the work to explain it, but not too many. By showing your very best piece, it's more likely for me to want to see more from you.

I receive way too many emails throughout the day. It's likely that yours will be one of many that's left unopened until later in the day or evening. I don't want to be downloading a 15mb PDF on my iPhone, so keep it as small as you can. Pro tip — Save PDF's in RGB not CMYK, otherwise they'll look horrendous on an iPhone/iPad.

If you're showing examples of web design, give me a link to a live site. I don't want to see pictures of websites. Make sure the site is live, and the link is correct.

Make sure you include links to your Twitter, Instagram, Dribble, Behance or any other sites you're on.

The details

Attention to detail is key for designers. Spelling and grammar errors are inexcusable. As are poorly written emails — Ask someone to proof read them for you. Spell my name right.

Only send the email to me. As I mentioned earlier, mass generic emails will get you nowhere. Emails with 50 other people copied in will certainly get deleted in the blink of an eye.

Think about what time you send your email. My advice would be 12 noon. That way you'll catch the person at lunchtime when they might have more time. Don't send it at 3am. That's when most of my junk comes in, and you'll look like you just got in from the pub.

Following up

One thing that surprises me is that people almost never follow up emails. If you care about getting the placement or position that much, follow it up. Don't pester, but an email, call or tweet a couple of days later to check the email arrived safely is acceptable. Don't ask for feedback unless it's offered, just check it arrived.

In short

So to wrap up my advice for contacting a design agency here are my top tips:

  1. Research the person and the agency
  2. Use the persons name
  3. Make sure your tone is appropriate
  4. Show you've read up about the agency
  5. Explain why you'd be great for a placement
  6. Keep your folio small and perfect
  7. Be precise, take care over your words
  8. Make sure we can find you and your work online

I hope you found this post useful. If it helps in some form to get one person into a placement or job it'll be worth it.