I'm having problems with my creative agency. What should I do?
A few years back, we met with a prospective client who—during the meeting—revealed that they had been given less than stellar service and extremely poor work quality from a few, local agencies. One look at their brand, strategic planning and marketing communications quickly affirmed that was the case. I won’t speculate on why the agencies weren’t doing their job in a fashion that even remotely approached professional, but I can tell you one thing with 100% confidence: It was not the client’s fault.
Ok. I will speculate: I think the agencies simply took this client for granted. I don’t think they looked for, or found, the client’s potential and couldn’t think beyond the “I need a trophy client” mentality. I just don’t think they cared enough to try to truly help this client succeed so they locked themselves into an approach that was lazy and mediocre.
Nearly four years later, that prospect is id29’s largest client, our work for them is a creative director’s dream and they’re growing by leaps and bounds. Plus, they deeply appreciate and recognize the strategic, creative and executional value that we provide to them. To put it mildly, they are an absolutely fantastic client.
So, what if you are faced with an agency that is underachieving, under delivering and taking you for granted? Well, here are a few things worth considering:
As you notice even smaller problems, makes sure that your agency is aware of them. Document your concerns and communicate them as they happen. Be respectful, specific and timely. Challenge your agency and keep them honest. You might be surprised at how quickly your agency turns things around.
Be honest and ask yourself if you’re intelligently managing your agency. Are you communicating with them effectively and efficiently? Are you providing clear, decisive feedback and direction when needed? Are you treating them as a partner or just a vendor? As harsh as it may sound, looking in the mirror may give you some insight as to why your agency relationship isn’t where it needs to be. That said, it’s up to your agency to challenge you, keep you honest and improve the relationship as well—though some simply don’t want to rock the boat out of fear that you will flee.
Consider that you’ve outgrown your current agency and their capabilities. Ask why did I hire this agency in the first place? How have my needs changed? Is this agency capable of meeting those needs? The dynamics and challenges of marketing are changing dramatically. The new environment is complex. What you need from your agency is probably changing as well.
Talk to the agency principal. There’s a possibility that your account person is the culprit; and that’s frequently not an easy thing to determine. As the nexus of the client/agency relationship, the account person is essential to making it all work. If they aren’t sharp, disciplined and an extremely proficient communicator, the agency may not be getting the information it needs to provide you with superb work. In many ways, your account is as important to the agency as the account person makes it. Discussing your needs and specific areas of concern with your agency’s top management may provide insight (or get you a new account person). On the other hand, agency management and their priorities may be the root of the problem. Listen to your instincts.
Give your existing agency a chance, but keep the rope tight and give them a very short window of time to turn things around. Tell them and make sure they know what you expect from them. Consider service metrics. Schedule a follow up meeting to review progress. Don’t wait. Problems will not get better by ignoring them. Whatever you decide to do, act quickly and follow through.
Be Realistic and Pragmatic. Here’s the reality: The average client-agency relationship lasts less than three years and yours may be winding down, despite everyone’s best efforts. It can take quite a while to find the right agency. At the first sign of trouble, you should consider doing some homework and preparing a short-list of candidates to replace your existing creative agency. See my article regarding a handful of not-so-obvious questions you should ask those candidates.
There is an agency out there that will truly care about you and your work. An agency that will share your priorities and objectives. An agency that will be absolutely delighted to have you as a client and give you the quality of work that you deserve. Find them!