Mind if we hold your pay-check for as long as you’re holding payment to your agencies?

When I started my own business ten years ago, I promised myself I’d only work with people I truly liked.

For the most part I’ve been incredibly lucky – met some amazing people, worked with some outstanding clients and – I hope – made a difference by helping many marketing teams navigate their way through times of challenge and change.

Recently though, I can’t help but wonder how long it’s going to be before we come face-to-face with some of the behaviour that seems to be passing off as ‘acceptable’ or ‘normal’ towards agencies and other marketing support services.

If you’ve got an agency or supplier relationship that you’ve engaged or requested – you owe it to all of them, those you mentor and who look up to your company and yourself, to act with the same responsibility and respect you’d expect from them.

In case you missed it last week, AB InBev was rumoured to be demanding ‘punishing payment terms’ in a Campaign article about their upcoming global media review – pushing payment terms out from 120 to 150 days.

But before you’re tempted to spill whatever beverage you may be holding, AB InBev later put out a statement denying a global review was in the works and would not “comment on false or misleading speculation about our RFPs or their commercial terms.” They say however, that they are “seeking to confirm an optimal 2021+ media structure and agency roster that will be able to deliver: best-in-class capabilities and martech integration, strategic and operational excellence and strong commercial value.”

Time will tell.

Woefully underwhelming client behaviour from marketers who should all know a great deal better is – unfortunately – not uncommon which is why this touched a nerve. So, since we’re on the subject, here in my opinion, is a timely reminder of the four worst examples you might like to ponder:

Free Work

I’m not sure when free work has ever been an acceptable ask, but we’re seeing it more frequently than we should. We’ve seen pitches where clients insist on spec work that’s not paid for. And we’ve seen an existing client that asks for a ‘quick favour’ or asks ‘just mock-up such and such’ which then happens over and over. But the agency is reluctant to say ‘no’ because they don’t want to upset an otherwise stable client / agency relationship. Which leads me to ask, ‘do you give your customers free stuff just because they have the audacity to ask?’

Extended Payment Terms

90, 120, 150 or even 180 day payment terms have now seeped their way into agency and supplier agreements to a point where they’ve almost become the ‘norm’. Why would any client think unreasonable payment schedules are ok when they wouldn’t contemplate it from their customers? My phone provider bills me thirty days in advance for the following month’s anticipated phone charges. My credit card allows me 21 days to pay my bill or I’m clobbered with a 23.99% annual interest rate charge. So why do some clients then think it’s ok to potentially delay payment for up to six months or more? Would it be ok to hold your pay check for as long as you hold payment to your agencies?


Why is it that anyone thinks it’s acceptable not to return an email or a phone call from someone they’ve either worked with or asked to pitch their business? The agency or supplier (a word I hate) comes in, does a presentation at the request of the client; weeks later the agency asks what the status is and the client doesn’t answer. Crickets. Does anyone else get it? Because I don’t. And neither should you. It’s real simple: If you ask an agency to come in and pitch their wares, have the decency to return their call when they ask if you’re still interested. It’s not difficult. And you’re not that f***ing busy (or important) to dodge an answer. Get over yourself and pick up the phone.


And speaking of respect, your agencies are your chosen partners in helping you solve business problems. They deserve the same respect as any one of your colleagues in your office. Agency resources that are shouted at, ignored, viewed as mind readers, magicians, people who should automatically work nights, weekends or holidays, order takers, manual labourers or something you’d scrape off the bottom of a shoe have the right – and absolutely should – treat you in exactly the same way you treat them.

I wish I was exaggerating, but I’m not. This is a very sorry and all-too-familiar state of affairs in our industry. And it’s not ok.

I don’t care how much pressure you’re under.

I don’t care if you’ve set or committed yourself to unrealistic expectations that you can’t deliver.

And I particularly don’t care if you think you’re just too ‘busy’.

If you’ve got an agency or supplier relationship that you’ve engaged or requested – you owe it to all of them, those you mentor and who look up to your company and yourself, to act with the same responsibility and respect you’d expect from them.

Please. And thank you.


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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