Agency Feedback: How Do You Tell Them They’re Ugly?

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They’re ugly. Or it’s ugly. What do you do?

I’m talking about agency feedback here, people. So it’s perhaps worth asking ‘do you ever give feedback to your agency…?

Surprisingly, some clients often shy away from providing feedback – either because they fear confrontation, or very simply – they don’t know how or when to do it. In some cases feedback is either never given and the relationship left on autopilot, or feedback is left so late that it turns into a bombshell that can potentially destroy the relationship.

Constructive feedback is one of the most powerful exercises a client can undertake with their agencies because if done correctly it can help:

  • Pinpoint specific roadblocks that are slowing progress or impeding development in a particular area
  • Improve visibility into under-performing areas within the relationship
  • Improve communication between client and agency teams
  • Create better collaboration between agencies
  • Drive better business results
  • Avoid bigger and unwelcome service failures

And with a list of potential benefits like that, it’s probably worth thinking about the best way to provide feedback so that it’s well received and achieves desired results.

Sound good?

Then here is a list of do’s and don’ts that can help any client maximize the value of feedback to any agency – no matter how the relationship maybe faring today:


    1. Prepare. Gather feedback from colleagues and those dealing with your agencies day-to-day and structure your feedback so that it’s organized and clear. Write down what you want to say – or at least bullet point your feedback – and include examples.
    2. Provide feedback in person. No matter how tough some of the messages in your feedback might be – make sure you deliver it in-person. In-person feedback underscores its importance of what you have to say, avoids miscommunication that might creep into an email and allows the recipient to clarify or ask questions.
    3. Ensure seniority. Feedback is best provided on a senior, top-to-top basis. Not only is this a sign of respect, but it also enables more fulsome management discussion around specific resources if necessary. Feedback can then be disseminated respectfully to individuals if needed afterwards.
    4. Be clear. Even when your feedback might be tough, be clear about what you want to say and the action items or behavioural changes you’re looking for. If you’re not clear or you bury important messages by being longwinded, your feedback may be misunderstood and won’t hit home.
    5. Listen. Just as important as providing feedback is listening to what the other side has to say – even if it’s during a follow up discussion later. Feedback should always be viewed as a discussion and never just a one-way proclamation. Sometimes even the most challenging feedback can provide an opportunity for improvement or changes in your own organization.


    1. Let feedback fester. If you’ve got something to say or there’s something that needs to be discussed – don’t sit on it for weeks on end – discuss it promptly. Informal check-ins with your agencies or more formal feedback should be provided on regular basis – at least once a quarter – and outside the context of an annual evaluation.
    2. Get emotional. Even when something’s gone sideways in your client – agency relationship (and yes it does happen), don’t let bad news or a bad day spark an emotional response and unbalanced feedback that may not be representative of the broader relationship.
    3. Get personal. While there can be strong or challenging personalities on any team, it’s important to remain objective. If there are specific resource challenges within the team, then deliver the message with examples at the senior level and allow the agency to manage concerns appropriately.
    4. Shy away from difficult messages. While feedback may be challenging at times, it can also be downright difficult when you have some really tough messages to share. No matter how tough the message might be – be clear, direct and support whatever you have to say with specific examples. Anything less short-changes both the recipient and your own organization.
    5. Forget to follow-up. Once you’ve provided your feedback, a follow up with a summary of the discussion and expectations – with timelines if necessary – will help underscore what you’ve said and provide a reference point for your next regular feedback session.

Hopefully these simple do’s and don’ts will help your next agency feedback session and provide a framework for some constructive discussion in building a stronger relationship. And if you’d like to give us some feedback on this or any other agency relationship management topic, let’s talk.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed 

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