Iliyana's Blog

The Agency-Client Relationship is Broken

[fa icon="calendar"] 07-Feb-2017 09:30:00 / by Iliyana Stareva

agency client relationships are broken.jpg2017 or not, the agency-client war still persists. 

Agencies want to be responsible for more, marketers don't trust them to let them. 

That's the major finding in a recent study done in the US but I think it's quite relevant for the rest of the world as well.  

Marketers at clients complain that agencies lack technical and data-savvy teams who can work on their accounts and that too many agencies still haven't transitioned from old media to new, lacking the expertise clients need in the digital age. 

Agencies, on the other hand, say that clients are unwilling to become true partners by taking work in-house that really should be done by the agency team and so showing a disrespectful unwillingness to commit to quality work. 

If you look at the comments below, you'll see how the language both parties use is rather judgemental and certainly doesn't show that they see the other counterpart as a partner: 


top concerns agencies and marketers.png

It looks like marketers and agencies are completely at odds, having more or less opposite views and expectations of each other: 

agencies and marketers completely at odds.png

Other concerns that clients have about agencies include: 

  • Claiming to be a full-service agency, but lacking expertise
  • Shallow understanding of the brand(s), company, industry
  • Erosion of value for agency fees
  • Decline in innovation
  • Sacrificing creativity for technology
  • High turnover of key agency staff
  • Inability to understand metrics and use data insightfully
  • Championing metrics that aren’t business drivers
  • Ineffectiveness in integrating across multiple channels
  • Outdated business model that is slow and cumbersome; lacking agility
  • Weak on strategy
  • Poor listening skills
  • Cookie-cutter solutions; “recycled ideas”

And here are the rest of the concerns by agencies about clients: 

  • Leadership turnover amongst their clients
  • “Timid” leadership
  • Integrating messaging across media and communication channels
  • Politics and organisation pressure that impede planning, cause indecision
  • Risk aversion; playing it safe
  • Growth of in-house agency resources
  • Unrealistic expectations for ROI
  • Excessive expectations for digital and social media
  • Settling for “good enough” rather than excellence
  • Consolidation – of companies/clients and of agencies
  • Eroding expertise in branding and marketing strategy
  • Expansion of project work vs. AOR
  • Resistance to data-driven marketing
  • Emphasis on content development rather than distribution

I find all this fascinating and so very familiar because I hear similar complaints every week at my job. I'm an agency business consultant so my goal is to help my agencies overcome this type of challenges and become strategic business partners to their clients who fully trust them. 

It's not easy, though, but it all comes down to communication. 

Both parties need to learn to communicate with each other better and more effectively. 

Clients need to bring up their concerns, ideas, needs and suggestions. Agencies then need to listen, devise strategies and fresh ideas, and present to the client. The client then also needs to listen and again, if needed, raise any issues. It needs to be an ongoing, trusted dialogue with a common goal, rather than judgement and assumptions without ground. That's key because both parties need to not just know why they are doing what they are doing but agree and fully commit to those objectives. Every time there's a problem, then these objectives need to be revisited and that's the question that each party needs to be asking itself: "If we do this and that, how is this going to bring us closer to our goals?"

Lack of alignment on objectives, roles and responsibilities is what drives this agency-client war. 

At the end of the day, both parties start this relationship with certain expectations and hopes for a long-term fruitful partnership so do each other a favour - be honest and transparent and avoid childish scenarios of judgement and resistance to communicate what you want and need and how you see things and why. 


How can agency-client relationships be improved? 


Topics: Agencies

Iliyana Stareva

Written by Iliyana Stareva

Iliyana Stareva is the author of Inbound PR - the book that is transforming the PR industry. She's also a keynote speaker and a consultant in inbound and digital for fast-growing companies and agencies. Currently, Iliyana is Chief of Staff to the EMEA President at ServiceNow. Before that, she held global and EMEA-wide positions at Cisco and HubSpot. She is also certified by the PMI as a Project Management Professional (PMP)®. In her free time, you can find Iliyana writing for her blog, dancing salsa or travelling the world.

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