Soft Skills That Can Make Or Break Client / Agency Relationships

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As marketing management consultants, we’ve seen many agency relationships delivering on functional skill sets, but failing on their soft skills – overriding their functional capabilities.

Make no mistake, soft skills pack a punch with marketers when agencies are being evaluated. Wikipedia define soft skills as follows:

“Soft skills complement hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities. They are related to feelings, emotions, insights and (some would say) an ‘inner knowing’: i.e. they provide an important complement to ‘hard skills’ and IQ.”

When defining agency requirements, it’s relatively straightforward to establish a framework of requirements – whether that’s around business expertise, specific capabilities or perhaps technical knowledge. But soft skills aren’t so easy to define and quantify because they require marketers to really understand themselves, and what attributes enhance their own unique business environments.

While soft skills are different for all marketers, here are eight of the most common attributes that we’ve seen make the difference – even when agencies seem to have the functional capabilities but the chemistry doesn’t seem quite right:


As the marketing ecosystem has become more complex, innovation has steadily risen in importance for marketers when they’re choosing or evaluating agencies. The caution here is that “innovation” isn’t just another word for “creativity”. Innovation can take any number of forms – but it’s most often quantified around the strategic thought process and how insights are extracted.


Again, the complexity of the marketing ecosystem has spurned a growing requirement for multiple agencies to perform specialized roles. Agencies that can’t demonstrate an ability to collaborate and play nice in the marketing sandbox are typically ruled out faster because marketers want to focus on their own business, not their agencies.


Yup. It’s that complexity issue again. Now more than ever, marketers are looking for objectivity in their marketing mix modeling as ecosystems expand. Agencies that default to broadcast positions, or aren’t open to other agency partners leading a campaign launch, are often less appealing than those that demonstrate real neutrality in their approaches.

Accepting criticism

We’ve seen marketers test criticism in agency pitch situations because they want to understand how easy agencies are to work with. This absolutely does not mean marketers are looking for agencies to roll over and agree with whatever’s being said – but it does require a balance between confidence in a point of view and taking input and criticism constructively.


Because plans change on a dime all the time, any agency that can demonstrate the flexibility and ability to adapt is appealing because it means the agency isn’t weighed down by rigid or layers of process that can’t flex when marketers have earthquakes. (And they do).


Having a sense of curiosity typically enables an individual or agency to excel in problem-solving and gain a significant advantage over competitors. And when an agency displays a natural inquisitiveness towards a marketer’s business, it usually makes them more attractive than one that only has functional proficiency.

Working under pressure

Whether it’s a last minute change of plans, high table stakes or virtually no time, working under pressure is a normal occurrence in marketing. So how the agency team can handle and deliver under pressure is a reassuring attribute that sets agencies apart.

Embrace change

Any agency that demonstrates an ability to adapt and embrace change can give marketers confidence any given agency is the right choice for the long-term. And mid to long-term agency choices are generally more appealing than short-term quick fix solutions.

These are the top soft skills that we’ve seen make a difference in some of the evaluations and searches we’ve been involved with. And the more marketers can be aware of their own organizations and what soft skills are really important in their own business, the better the long term fit with your agencies of choice will be.

Got you thinking? What work could you do to define the soft skills that are important in your organization?


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 / follow me @StephanArgent

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