So you’ve invested hours of research into finding the right marketing partner for your business. You’ve likely spent countless hours poring over the site; reading through each page and trying to gather as much information about the agency as possible. Maybe this is the first agency you’ve worked with or maybe it’s the second or third. Every agency will vary, but you’ve confirmed they’re a good fit by vetting pages on their website that verifies:
- That they have the expertise to position and lead your marketing and sales strategy
- That they’ve solved problems similar to the ones you’ve experienced
- That their services add value to your business and their pricing is an investment for your organization’s long-term success
- That you’re an ideal fit client
And you’ve checked out pages like the Our Team, Careers and maybe even the company Instagram to see how the company treats their employees and more importantly, to make sure there are real people and not robots doing the work. You’ve been subscribed to their company newsletter for months now (maybe even years) and have even crept on a few LinkedIn profiles of key employees at the company. (If you’re from St. Louis, you’ve probably discovered that you went to the same high school.)
From what you can tell, things look good and you’re ready to take an even deeper dive.
You’ve gone through the process of reaching out to the agency to learn more, you’ve looped in your CEO and key decision-makers at your company and you’ve gone through the agency’s Discovery process and have been presented a roadmap of recommendations on how to proceed.
Phew! That was a lot of work, right? You’re probably thinking that you’ve made it through the hardest part. The 40-, 50-, 60-plus hours you’ve spent researching the agency should pretty much guarantee that the client-agency relationship won’t fail. Yep, you’re right! And that’s actually where this article ends. Thanks for tuning in, folks. See ya next time!
Okay, I’m obviously kidding.
Unfortunately, client-agency relationships can fail even after you’ve gone through an extensive vetting process. But here’s the thing — they don’t have to. So let’s start by identifying some of the key reasons why client-agency relationships fail when they fail. It requires an honest evaluation on your end, but by identifying these critical areas you can proactively take careful measures to eliminate the chances for a partnership failing.
Your internal business organization isn’t structured to support your marketing strategy
Let’s say you need to get from point A to point B. What does that look like for your organization? Is it a pretty straightforward path where there may be a few stops along the way but the time and effort it takes to get from A to B are relatively short and effortless?
Maybe it’s more like you’re running through a maze and in that maze, the walls are 15 feet high and you’re blindfolded and there’s constantly something grabbing at your feet trying to slow you down?
Or, maybe it’s like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and it’s that scene where you’re looking for the lever so the spikes don’t close in on you?
Be honest with yourself. Is your company structured like the first example? Or are you more of a Maze or Temple of Doom structure?
If the right structure isn’t in place, then the client-agency partnership will require tremendous time and constant effort on both parties to keep things from falling apart.
Your organization needs to be structured to support you and your marketing strategy. An article by the Harvard Business Review, “Is your company actually set up to support your strategy?” goes into detail about the importance of your operating model.
Think about what they said here:
“If your company’s operating model can’t deliver on your strategy, or needs to be upgraded to match the evolution of that strategy, start the redesign with your leadership team not by digging into the details, but by pulling up and agreeing on a few basic principles.”
In that same article, it asks if your model has the right combination of people, process, technology and tools. What we see from our perspective is that it can fall on one person on the client’s side — our main point person. It shouldn’t, but it does. And why is that? My guess is that a lot of the “defects” in the operating model come to light because a partner (your agency) is brought into the mix. All of a sudden, things that weren’t a huge issue before becoming a bigger problem. Now you have to hold your team accountable in the delivery of projects in order to work with this new partner. No longer can the weaknesses in your structural organization be put on the backburner to address at a later time.
Now think about the person that’s assigned to be the day-to-day contact to your agency. All of a sudden, the weaknesses in the structural organization fall on one single person. Usually, it’s a marketing director or a marketing coordinator. And they already have one of the most important roles that determine the success or failure of the client-agency relationship. No pressure, right? That means having the right person in the right seat for the role.
Let’s break down that combination a little more with a few examples. How many of these can you realistically agree with for an existing or future marketing partnership?
- I have five to eight hours a week to devote to my marketing partner
- I can delegate tasks out to my team and know the task will get completed
- I have decision-making power for day-to-day tasks
- The person I report to supports me and my mission
- I have the involvement (both the time and attention) of the right people. Including the C-suite. *Read further down for more on this
- My C-suite and team trust my decision-making
- I can look at the high-level strategy and big picture without getting bogged down by the details
- My company’s operating model allows for the successful delivery of projects
- I can get approval on projects in a timely manner
- If there’s a roadblock, I know how to navigate it
- I can introduce new processes to my team and after some coaching and training, my team is willing to try out and adopt these processes
- I don’t have to micromanage people or projects
- Technology / tools
- I can overcome any hurdles in technology
- I can introduce new technology to my team and after some coaching and training, my team is willing to try out and adopt these processes
How many did you agree with? If you agreed with the majority, you’re in a good place. If you didn’t, it might be time to honestly evaluate and grade yourself and your internal business structure. Doing so will help you set yourself and your team up for successful integration with your marketing partner.
Your agency doesn’t have a direct line to your CEO
When asked what makes a successful partnership with a client and an agency, one of the most important things is having direct access to your C-suite.
Their involvement helps:
- Serve the company’s business goals and objectives (meaning you’re all on the same page on what Q1 – Q4 goals and expectations are, what your one-year, five-year and 10-year plan looks like)
- Eliminates the “big reveal” (meaning it saves you a bunch of rework and frustration)
- Helps with “buy-in” for all the hard work you do (the CEO is on your side!)
- Creates a clear brand vision (they know your brand better than anyone)
This one is so important that it deserved its own article.
Your communication with your agency and your internal team is poor
In real estate, you’ve probably heard the cliché of “location, location, location.” Well, when it comes to the client-agency relationships, it’s “communication, communication, communication.”
Communication comes in a lot of different forms. At some point, almost all client-agency issues go back to communication. Here are a few of the biggest culprits:
- Unclear expectations and goals. Your marketing goals should be aligned with the overall business objectives set by your C-suite. If it’s not, then what’s everyone working towards?
- Poor information sharing. This is between you and your agency and between you and your team. Whether it’s about a great lead that turned into a sale or a high-level business discussion, keep your agency in the loop
- Lack of transparency and honesty in feedback. If you’re unhappy with something you need to speak up
- Too many cooks in the kitchen. There should be one clear line of communication so your agency isn’t chasing down everyone you work with
- Unresponsiveness. Regular communication is essential. You and (your agency) shouldn’t do a disappearing act
Everything regarding communication is a two-way street. This isn’t to say that it’s all on you. Far from it, in fact. This requires both parties to be excellent communicators.
You don’t value the agency as a strategic thinking partner
“Wait a second, isn’t that what I hired you to do? I want your strategic thinking!”
Yes, it is what you hired us to do. I thought I’d slip this one in as a reminder. It’s easy to remember that early on when we’re all in the honeymoon stage, right? But what about when we get down to the nitty-gritty work? Are you still listening?
Ah, time to insert the ol’ doctor prescription example *cracks knuckles*. When you go to a doctor and you describe your symptoms and your doctor recommends what you need, do you question it? Or do you trust them since they’re the expert?
Did you hire us for our strategic thinking or did you hire us to debate over the shade of a call-to-action button in a newsletter? Catch my drift?
Trust me, there’s no one who knows your business better than the people in your organization. That’s why we insist on interviewing your subject matter experts. Our conversations and interviews with your team, our hours of research into your business and our areas of deep expertise in marketing strategy are what formulate our recommendations.
At this point, you might be thinking, “If I check all these boxes, does that mean we’re doomed for failure?”
If you’ve made it this far, it means you’re willing to learn and ready to take on the challenge of building and maintaining a long-term relationship with your agency. It’s never too late to turn things around and it’s most certainly a challenge that can be overcome together.
Think you’re up for the challenge? We should talk.