Client Agency Relationships: Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind

Last year, we saw an unprecedented number of agency reviews which – in our view – were caused by four contributing factors that created a perfect storm for reviews:

  1. Agency searches that were delayed last year because of uncertainties caused by the pandemic, that were given the green light and added to the normal cadence of reviews that would otherwise have taken place.
  2. Working remotely highlighted and exacerbated flaws in process – whether within agencies or client-side – that were perceived as impeding progress.
  3. The great resignation created such a monumental turnover of resources, that marketers had to re-evaluate agency capabilities with a view to stabilizing staffing on their businesses elsewhere.
  4. With agency resourcing becoming unstable, marketers moved up their agency internalization strategies from ‘test and learn‘ to standard operating procedure.

This year, agency reviews appear even more active than last. And with the pandemic dragging on, there’s now another catalyst that’s becoming an increasing irritant for marketers. As my industry colleague Patrick Hotte at the Association of Canadian Advertisers so elegantly puts it, ‘loin des yeux, loin du cœur ‘- which, literally translated means ‘far from sight far from the heart‘.

While it’s our continued view the storm will subside once things begin to normalize and resources become settled in new environments – marketers and agencies need to find ways to guard against the increasing risks of far from sight far from the heart‘ and do everything they can to remain close and engaged with with their client / agency counterparts.

In our experience, agency reviews are generally called for only a comparatively small number of reasons and, for the most part, many reviews could potentially be avoided if the underlying reasons were properly diagnosed and addressed in the early stages of their first symptoms. While that may sound a bit like a surgeon’s health warning, the analogy isn’t far off.

Aside from pandemic turmoil, corporate governance, realignment or conflict, other risk factors include:

  • Lack of trust with agency counterparts
  • Costs that are out of alignment with expectations
  • Weak performance against corporate objectives
  • Material changes in scope
  • Lack of senior resources assigned to the business
  • Weak execution

These aren’t the only factors that kill agency relationships and cause clients to call agency reviews, but they are all irritants that can sour otherwise healthy relationships. And more often than not, it’s rarely one single issue in isolation that causes a marketer to pull the trigger on an agency review process, which is why regular agency evaluations are helpful as early warning signs of potential trouble.

So if you’re contemplating an agency review but haven’t identified the root cause – take time to do some introspection on your own organization and how your teams might be able to work differently to resolve some of the pain points.

And more than anything, guard against loin des yeux, loin du cœur‘.


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.

Photo: Mirko Tobias Schäfer

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