Resentful Client, Cringing Agency: Six Ways to Mess Up the Relationship

I knew it wouldn’t last. I gave Linda six months in the relationship before she cracked. Theresa, grumpily dealing with her own recently terminated relationship, gave it three weeks. The rest of the Women Who Market Too Much were more charitable and suggested Linda and her new knight in shining armor might see the one-year mark before it all went to hell.

That it would go to hell was never up for debate. Sooner or later, that shiny new agency you hired is going to piss you off, and guess what? You’re going to piss them off too. From there, it’s a slow, sad trip to the land of Resentful Client, Cringing Agency.

Agency reviews and RFPs are a pretty terrible way to pick one of the most important vendors your company will engage. Just as Resentful Client, Cringing Agency: Six Ways to Mess Up the Relationship image truth in advertising sefatResentful Client, Cringing Agency: Six Ways to Mess Up the Relationshipyour potential life partner is not going to admit on a first date to leaving wet towels on the floor, humming while they eat or liking NASCAR, neither is your agency going to own up to terrible billing, a digital strategy group on the brink of quitting and not quite telling the truth about their understanding of Eloqua (trust me, at least someone in your agency routinely confuses it with shawarma).

Just like in real life, the longer the relationship drags on, the more mothers, house plants and cats there are to complicate things when it’s time to part ways. So you don’t. And months turn to years and years turn into habits and you go to marketing functions hoping someone hates their agency more than you hate yours.

It is little comfort that up the road at the Ad Club, your agency is quietly confiding to a friend that they’d like to take a shot at asking your competition to the big dance.

So how do we get there? How do we go from a room full of competent, well-intentioned, excited people to a bitter, resentful place where tolerance is about as good as it gets? There are six reasons, and here are three of them.

  1. You Didn’t Get a Pre-Nuptial Agreement
    To be sure, the pre-nup talk is an awkward conversation with your partner, but when it’s your agency, it’s called a Service Level Agreement. And it’s here that you need to lay down the law about a bunch of things. Things like how your billing will work, how often your agency will update you, your expectations on response times, not leaving gross stuff in the microwave, work turnarounds, rework on stuff they screw up, measurement, reporting and all that other messy stuff. You don’t get to complain that your account manager never calls if you haven’t defined never for them. Don’t sign the contract until you have the SLA locked down.
  2. The Wrong People Are on Your Account…
    Did you notice that the attractive people in the nice suits have mostly vanished since you signed on with your agency? That’s because they’ve gone off to sell another deal and now it’s just you and your account team. If your agency is big enough, they’re probably pretty unhappy to have been assigned to your boring B2B work. They want to be where the real action is with payday loans and personal hygiene. The time to deal with this is now. Kind of like setting some ground rules for your partner’s really gross friends who started coming around when they figured out you could cook. Before they trot out the resentful crew that will support your brand for the next few years, it’s important to ask to review and approve the team. I like to ask for resumes so I can weed out the relatives of the agency principal, the unpaid interns who moonlight as roller derby referees and the burn-outs who had nothing better to do. More on Preventing Agency Suckiness here.
  3. …And They Are Doing the Wrong Work
    That SLA has a partner too. It’s called the Statement of Work, and it’s the thing you should do every year so you and your agency have a common understanding of what it is they are supposed to do for you. They will open with things like “build your brand by winning lots of awards for our work” you will open with things like “do all the terrible shite I can’t be bothered to deal with”. The answer, friends, is some place in between. Sit down and work this out before you sign the contract or master services agreement or what have you. If it’s all too icky, get your Keebler Elves and P-Cube involved. They live for this stuff, and they’re way meaner than you are.

Next week, we’ll peek at three other reasons you’ve been singing Suspicious Minds in the stairwell while you swig cough syrup.

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