The Agency-Client Relationship: Keeping it on Track


Agency-client relationships that aren’t working well tend to decline over time. Occasionally an agency gets fired over a single mishap, like a poorly executed tweet by a young staffer or a major round-up story naming all of a client’s competitors — but leaves out your client.

Even if a key account team member leaves the agency, a good client is likely to give its agency the opportunity to replenish the account.  If team members keep leaving the agency, however — well that’s another story altogether.

Generally, though, an agency-client relationship will disintegrate bit-by-bit vs. in one fell swoop.  Things work much the same way as they do in our personal relationships. Friendships and oftentimes romantic relationships break down over the course of weeks, months and years.  People and organizations can simply grow apart.

The experienced business person can usually see a relationship train wreck coming miles away — despite best efforts to preserve it.   But this is not always the case because us humans have become quite good at camouflaging our honest opinions and feelings hoping things will improve on their own so that we can avoid an uncomfortable situation — the dreaded confrontation.   Or change…because making changes in our lives…both professional and personal…is so darn hard. 

Well, far be it from me to advise anyone on maintaining personal relationships.  But I do know a thing or two about nurturing agency-client relationships having lived through many, great long-term ones and a few that had the shelf life of the average CMO.

According to the calendar, today we are at the exact mid-point of 2014, so it’s the perfect time to check the pulse of your agency-client relationship.  Here are a few questions to consider that will go a long way toward helping you avoid the dreaded relationship train wreck with your agency.

10 key agency-client relationship questions

  1. Does your agency team know your business, markets and your customers at least as well as you do?
  2. Do your agency account team leaders understand your internal pressures or do they only see the world through one lens — theirs?
  3. Is your agency team visible and communicating with you enough?
  4. If not, why not?
  5. Do you think your agency team is too busy working on other accounts or out trying to win new ones?
  6. Is your business important enough to them?
  7. When do you see or hear from the senior-most agency executives — only when there’s a problem or only when there’s good news to share?
  8. Are the agency’s senior client service pros truly engaged with your business, in the trenches with the account team generating ideas and creating insights to propel your communications program forward?
  9. Is your agency listening to you or do they insist on doing things only their way and have a hissy fit when you insist on an alternative approach?
  10. Does your agency hold itself accountable by following through on its commitments or has accountability waned since the early days of engagement?

What would you add to the list?  And good luck with your mid-year assessments!

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