There has been a great deal of discussion lately about the role of adaptation agencies in delivering work for CPG organizations. Ultimately the goal for all is to get the best work and find efficiencies in getting it done—and the best work requires the right tool for the job. Choosing the right tool requires understanding the work to be done.

First, let’s frame the problem. You’re a large CPG organization with massive SKU lists, customer- or channel-specific packaging and a constantly changing list of competitive claim updates and minor line extensions. Your core branding is solid, and the communication of pillar differentiation and tiering is clearly defined and understood.

You are partnered with a strategic design agency that understands your business challenges, the category and your competition. The agency brings you strong thinking and great creative, and is a key resource when big opportunities arise. So what’s the problem? For many, it’s budget.

Your superstar design agency is worth every cent when you are doing large strategic work, but the agency is harder to manage from a budget perspective for the day-to-day competitive response and minor channel-specific requests. The high-level talent you need to generate breakthrough design and think through complex brand problems is, by nature, a more senior, more expensive resource.

Enter the adaptation agency. It’s not new really. SGS, Schawk and other organizations saw the opportunity years ago and have been working toward it. Many packaging agencies have viewed this as a threat, but it’s time the paradigm shifted.

Picture Disney Concert Hall, Frank Gehry’s celebrated architectural work in Los Angeles. This stunning, gravity-defying structure could not have been built without incredible, talented contractors and trades-people. Gehry’s team of architects, engineers and acousticians created the vision and the literal blueprint, but it took an army of contractors and specialist tradespeople years to create the physical manifestation of the vision.

For packaging, this is a paradigm clients and agencies should embrace. The strategic design agency, in partnership with the client team, is the creator and the architect. The adaptation agency is the highly skilled contractor team who will ensure that the vision is executed with accuracy and craft across the entire system.


Strategic Design Agency and Adaptation Agency: Different Teams for Different Tasks


Look for an agency with big thinking, broad experience and talent that will have hands-on involvement in your project. The deliverable should be all core “new to the world” design—a clear blueprint for how to extend and deliver that design in keeping with the aligned vision. This agency should have strong creatives and design architects capable of defining large and complex systems.


Look for a team that can scale easily as priorities change and has experience bringing defined design visions to delivery without sacrificing aesthetic quality or shelf impact—and is an active team partner. The team should include skilled craftspeople with exceptional project management.

Once you’ve found the proper partners and defined the roles and relationship clearly, the work to market should be better, faster and more budget friendly. The important shift to understand is that these two organizations are not competitors, they are groups of complementary professionals—and should be viewed as such. Every time you admire a beautiful piece of architecture you are admiring the result of just such a complementary team.