What if it’s you and not them?

Whether you’re a marketer or an agency, chances are you’ve got better things to do than start or participate in an agency review.

So unless you’re at the mercy of an international alignment, competitive conflict, takeover or some other extraneous event, we’ve got an important question for you… What if it’s you and not them?

Yes, agency reviews are often initiated because the relationship hasn’t been reviewed, discussed, maintained and / or adjusted to best suit everyone’s needs along the way. But they’re also initiated because both parties haven’t done some of the most basic exercises of all – ask themselves whether they’re (really) doing a good job and ask for (real) feedback about how they’re doing. 

So what’s the best way to get your yourself and (more important) your organization, to look itself in the mirror and find how it’s (really) doing?

Start by listening

First thing to do is listen. Start by listening to what your team has to say about what’s working and what’s not, and how they think the agency / client relationship is or isn’t working. For best results ask individuals -not groups – because if there are personality clashes, you’re more likely to uncover problems individually rather than in larger groups. In all cases, ask for their suggestions on what should be done to improve. Above all, listen and don’t challenge.

Temperature check

Second thing is to do your own temperature check by talking to your client / agency directly and asking for their honest view of how the relationship is / isn’t working. Ask for specific examples wherever possible and solicit suggestions for how your team might improve.

But what if your team has said it’s ‘them‘ and not ‘us‘?

If your team is pointing to the client / agency as the problem, ask for the client / agency perspective on your team’s feedback. While some might suggest that’s a risky move, I’d suggest there’s no better opportunity to open the door to a constructive conversation by saying ‘hey, I’m hearing from my team that x may be an issue in our relationship… do you have any thoughts on that…?‘ The goal here is not to solve the problem on the spot, but open a dialogue that will lead to a collaborative solution.

Relationship evaluation

For a more formal look in the mirror, regular third-party evaluations can save both sides time, effort and a lot of angst. Most important, a good third-party evaluation will help answer that gnawing question – is it them or is it us? Or perhaps both. An evaluation conducted once or twice a year will help proactively address issues before they become relationship killers, and keep the dialogue focused on creating a valuable relationship for both sides.

What about your contract?

Sometimes it may not be them or you. It may be your contract. If your agency contract hasn’t been looked in the last two years, re-articulating needs, requirements, expectations, remuneration structure – even staffing requirements – can help improve the health of your relationship. 

In some cases issues come up for discussion during the contract review that the other party wasn’t aware of. Dealing with them in contract form can give both parties the opportunity to articulate and negotiate potential solutions – way more expedient than triggering an agency review.


The number one issue we hear that’s creating an issue is money. If costs are creating pressure in your own client / agency relationship, a cost benchmarking exercise can help diffuse tensions by bringing clarity to your agency cost structures. A good benchmarking exercise proactively takes the mystery out of costs and enables both marketer and agency to have a meaningful dialogue around cost expectations – without fracturing the rest of the relationship.

The key to preventing an agency review – whether you’re a marketer or an agency – is always to ensure dialogue around issues (even potential issues), is grounded in factual data rather than emotional supposition.

What tools do you use to manage your agency / client relationships? Or do you need help to find out if you’re the problem instead of them?


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: quapan

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