How To Rescue A Client / Agency Relationship

Whichever side of the proverbial fence you sit on, I don’t think anyone would say that agency reviews are fun. Agencies don’t like them because they create revenue pressure and uncertainty and clients don’t like them because they can be disruptive and create additional work for those who have to manage them.

And despite being known as a company that predominantly manages agency search processes, the truth is our projects extend far beyond that, and in many cases actually prevent searches from being initiated in the first place. In fact, the earlier we can get to a client / agency relationship that is under stress – OK, let’s call it like it is – perhaps even ‘falling apart’ – the more likely it is we can help re-strengthen the relationship.

So, what happens when you’re in a situation where you have a client / agency relationship that’s coming off the rails? Both sides are likely irritated with the other. And if you’re the client, perhaps you’re mulling the notion of calling an agency review.

What can you do? Here are three initial steps that can really help make a difference:

Make the correct diagnosis

In many cases the solution can be elusive because there’s too much emphasis placed on finding a solution, rather than spending time diagnosing the real For example, if you’re faced with a situation where you think your agency’s ‘creative is weak’ – it may have nothing to do with the creative team and more to do with your own weak briefing or perhaps overly restrictive guidelines.

I’m over simplifying, but you get the idea. Diagnosis can be difficult when you’re in the middle of it and you or your team may be part of the problem, so it’s often helpful to bring in a neutral third party to help ensure the right diagnosis before starting to address the problem.

Listen as much as you talk

Where there is conflict – or even the seeds of conflict, you have to take time to listen as much as you talk. A one-way shouting exercise isn’t going to help your blood pressure and it’s unlikely to solve the problem, so take time to arrange your thoughts or concerns and articulate them clearly. Just as important is to listen to what the other side has to say with an open mind because, chances are they have a viewpoint that maybe helpful in resolving your concerns.

Ask your stakeholders

 In cases where the diagnosis and / or solutions don’t present themselves clearly, a deeper stakeholder interview process can help uncover issues and pinpoint problem areas for more effective resolution. Good stakeholder interview processes typically involve both client and agency resources and need to be conducted by an independent third party to receive more authentic responses.

With the problem or challenges correctly identified, corrective measures can then be agreed upon to get the relationship back on track. Typically these involve both client and agency working together as in any relationship – they take work. In our experience, the most common resolutions to client / agency tensions are these:

Define your action plan

Whatever it is that’s caused the client / agency disconnect, a clearly defined action plan – with milestones – is required to ensure the problem is laid to rest. The plan can then be reviewed at later dates to ensure that all aspects of the issue have been resolved.

Review your scope of work

In many cases issues are caused either by scope creep, or as a result of a shift in the kind of work being requested by clients. The resulting tensions cause for a re-articulation of desired scope – something that is becoming increasingly common with the migration of dollars towards online initiatives.

Review the contract

Agency contracts are frequently drawn-up at the very beginning of new agency relationships and then forgotten. But in today’s rapidly evolving marketing environment, contracts are increasingly having to be revisited more regularly to ensure they accurately reflect the scope that was originally planned.

Know what things really cost

One of the biggest disconnects in client / agency relationships is the question of cost, and clients often believing they’re paying too much for the services they’re requesting. One of the fastest and most robust ways of dealing with cost disconnects is to conduct a cost benchmarking exercise to accurately determine market rates for services provided.

Rescuing a client / agency relationship need not be as daunting or difficult as it may first appear – providing tensions haven’t reached fever pitch. And in that event, the only thing left maybe to cure the fever and be left with the pitch.


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

Photo: Martin Fish
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