Too busy to listen? Or you just don’t want to…?

Do you (really) listen to your agency when they present, provide strategic counsel or make other recommendations on your business?

All the time? Some of the time? It depends? No? Or, you gotta be kidding…?  The more we talk to clients, the more we realize the position we hold and the services we offer are like those of a “corporate psychiatrist” – we spend a lot of time listening before we can really help diagnose a marketer’s real issues – and even then the job is to help the client see the issue for themselves.

So, when it comes to the question of do you listen to your agency – marketers often confide that they don’t – at least not all the time.

Surprising?  Or is that ringing a little too true for comfort? 

Well, if it’s ringing true for you, take comfort that you’re not alone.  A surprising number of marketers have confided in me that they don’t listen to their agencies all the time. And it’s not just senior level marketers who are tuning out – it’s manager level marketers who are also multi-tasking their way through agency presentations.

There may be any number of reasons for not wanting to listen, but in my experience these can be distilled into the following categories:


Trust – or lack thereof, is the number one reason for not listening to agencies. And this is worrying.  If you’ve retained an agency to help drive your business, you should be trusting you’ve made the right decision and listen to what your agency has to say.  Unfortunately we hear time and again that marketers don’t “trust” their agencies so they’re frequently tuned out.  And there can be any number of reasons for this. Read on…

Lack of experience

One of the reasons that causes clients not to listen may be a lack of perceived experience by resources assigned to the business.  But the other issue around experience is one that’s directly related to business acumen: Does the person I’m talking to have seasoned business experience to be really counsel us on how to help build our business?

You know your business better

Similar to lack of experience, marketers quickly tune out an agency’s point of view if they believe there’s a real gulf between their own knowledge and an agency’s understanding.  And true enough – most agency resources will never understand your business as well as you do.  But are marketers overlooking objectivity and outside perspectives when they take that view?


One issue that appears to have marketers really tuning out is when the creative agenda overtakes the business issue that’s being addressed.  Nobody questions the power of creative when it comes to communicating a message, but when the conversation moves to minutia marketers tune out with frustration. 

Business objectives get lost

At the end of the day, it’s business.  And marketers want agency activities to be aligned to specific business objectives.  When activity or conversations move away (or appear to move away) from the business – the less attentive marketers become.


This is perhaps less about not listening at all and more about a shorter listening span.  Whenever costs go up and budgets get jeopardized, the listening window gets shorter because marketers want to get to a solution – not rationalize budget overruns. 

Lack of proof points / ROI

In today’s ROI driven world it’s not surprising that marketers are looking for proof points to support agency rationale. If those proof points are weak or ROI calculations aren’t abundantly clear, marketers are going to be less inclined to listen (and / or trust) what the agency has to say. 

Other priorities

And sometimes it’s just a question of priorities. With marketers under so much pressure and so few resources, even good ideas can fall by the way-side and not get a full hearing because other issues are – well – just more important.

Any of those sound familiar? The trick – perhaps for both marketers and their agencies – rests in timing and defining a framework for the types of conversations required.

And it needn’t be complicated. Marketers and agencies should consider setting just a few simple parameters to manage conversations and increase marketer engagement for a healthier, more productive relationship.  Consider some or all of these approaches:

Pick a time for issues

If you or your agency has an issue that needs to be discussed – take time out to talk about it. Sounds overly simplistic perhaps, but dedicating time to discuss whatever it is will almost certainly make for a better outcome than if you try and talk about it on the fly.

Create a process for new ideas

If you want new ideas – you need to be receptive to hearing them while not being distracted by something else.  A weekly, monthly, quarterly – whatever it is – session dedicated to just new ideas will almost certainly yield positive results. 

Set a standard for ROI

If you’ve not developed or shared preferred metrics for measuring ROI, setting a standard by which you want work measured will almost certainly improve the relationship between you and your agency.  The agency will know and be able to work towards what you expect.  And you’ll be more attuned and attentive to what’s being said because it’ll have meaningful metrics attached.

Know when to rebook

If you’re swamped, distracted, overwhelmed, too busy, sick – or perhaps just grumpy – rebook the call, lunch or meeting – to a time when you’re not any of the above. Everyone will get more out of it. (No kidding).

So if you’ve found yourself not listening – some of the time – or perhaps even all the time – take time to think about why and put a framework in place to make your agency conversations more valuable.


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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