Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Agency Headaches and Heartbreaks

The breakdown in agency-client relationships

Agencies will pull out all the stops when pitching to win your business -- from marvelous rich-media presentations to charming meet-and-greets with senior management. But once the hoopla is over and the agency is settled in as an extension of your business, what happens when there is a breakdown in the relationship? Is it a minor headache or an intense heartache?

Addressed in an article from BNET Editorial from, agency-client relationship expectations need to be discussed both during the selection process and as the relationship matures -- for better or for worse. It is important to set clear expectations up front.

Following is a list of typical comments clients offer in frustration, as well as reasons why agency-client relationships break down:

  1. "I don't think the agency 'gets' our business." The agency does not have a solid grasp or understanding of the client's business.
  2. "I explained the budget up front. Why are we so far off?" Expectations like budgets, deliverables and quality are not met by the agency.
  3. "Why do I have to push them to get things done? Shouldn't they be able to manage my needs?" The agency is devoting too little time or resources to the account.
  4. "I don't feel they are bringing new ideas to me anymore." The agency is losing enthusiasm for the account or the relationship becomes stale.
  5. "I brought them in to help me with my challenges, and it has backfired on me." The agency feels that poor results are caused by problems on the client side.
  6. "Why do I have to tell them the same thing three times? Are they listening?" A communication breakdown prevents the agency from understanding or responding to the client's real needs.
These areas of frustration can quickly change from headaches to heartaches if they are not resolved quickly. However, the first step is to be proactive and set expectations right away. Both parties need to level-set to understand the needs and wants of both sides. From there forward, setting structured review meetings to discuss the relationship and expectations is very important in developing a strong long-term partnership. Expect there to be headaches, and be prepared to swiftly resolve them.

At Creatis, we frequently have companies approach us due to frustrations with their agencies. Either the agency has told them that they are a full-service agency but have failed to deliver on their promises, or the list of headaches have mounted to the point that they need to make a change. Although Creatis is not impervious to the issues that can arise from a breakdown in the relationship, we are driven to understand expectations up front, and to manage the headaches with open communication and forward-looking problem-solving.

Consider the alternatives

BNET mentions, "Many agencies claim to be good at all types of marketing and call themselves 'full-service agencies'. However, a single agency may not always be able to meet your requirements in all areas." Take note. Some of the headaches may be coming from agencies' struggles to live up to full-service expectations. Consider appointing alternative or specialty firms, such as Creatis, to handle specific services such as marketing planning, creative development, media buying, social media or product development.

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