During the pitch process, as you were evaluating potential agencies, surely you felt like an especially important potential client. Once hired, as the agency began working on your account, developing a strategy, and putting in place a program to implement that strategy, you experienced a great deal of engagement and connectivity with the agency’s senior leadership team. Recently, however, you have noticed that their attention has waned, that you have been demoted from your VIP status, and that your agency has moved on to focus on “bigger and better” clients.
If you have been experiencing these thoughts, you are not alone. In the past few months, I have spoken with dozens of senior communications and marketing professionals across a range of industries, and you would be surprised to know how common it is for them to feel this way.
In defense of agencies everywhere, I can say that part of the reason for this is the inevitable and often unavoidable state of client churn. I’ve heard it said that agencies lose about a third of their clients each year. Often it has little to do with the agency itself. There could be a change in the client’s corporate leadership, a restructuring or change in the client’s business model, poor financial performance, or countless other reasons why a company elects to part ways with their agency.
The result is that agencies have little choice but to be super growth-oriented, to not only replace the clients they expect to lose, but also to grow top-line revenues to ensure continued profitability. This means that too often agencies take existing clients for granted in search of their next one.
Through my conversations with those responsible for leading corporate marketing and communications functions, I have identified five common threads as to why they feel that their agencies no longer show them the love and attention they once did. These include:
When the agency first began working on the account, a Managing Director or other senior agency leader was present at most, if not all, scheduled calls, and planning meetings. Over time, the client saw less and less of their senior team leader. The reason for this is generally that those at the upper rungs of the agency food chain are incentivized to prioritize new business. They see getting a new client account off on the right foot as an extension of their new business responsibilities, and once they feel the account is on strong footing, they tend to move on to focus on bringing in new clients.
Another common complaint I hear is that too often agencies come in with big, creative ideas during the pitch process, but tend to leave them on the cutting room floor when they develop the actual client plan and strategy. In general, when agencies pitch, they tend to do so with limited regard for the client’s actual budget or the reality of their compliance situation. The ideas look great in a pitch deck, but often are not implementable. The client then wonders what happened to all those great ideas and why their actual program looks so different than what they thought they were buying.
Agencies often tout their disciplined processes when trying to win new business, such as their commitment to measuring and tracking performance, their transparency into how they allocate their time, and the reporting they send to clients at the end of each month. At first, agencies deliver as promised, but often they become complacent and take their eye off the ball. The attention to performance metrics slowly fizzles and reports often start arriving late or not at all. Clients see and feel this, and it makes them feel less than fully appreciated.
Clients want to believe that their agency is focused on promoting them, and not using their brand to promote the agency. It may sound silly, but often clients take careful notice of how their agencies hype, or do not hype, their relationship. For example, one CCO expressed his annoyance that his agency publishes a list of client logos on its website that includes many big brands, but not his brand. Another CCO who works for a large, global Fortune 500 company griped that one of her agencies so prominently displays the client logo on its website and marketing materials, despite her only working with that agency on a small, low-budget project. This is unlikely a reason for a client to fire an agency, but it certainly does not ingratiate feelings of goodwill.
At any agency, staffing client accounts efficiently is always a challenge. When a client expands or reduces its budget, staffing changes are sure to follow. When agencies lose, gain, or promote employees, client account teams often get shuffled. At any agency, staffing changes on account teams are not to be unexpected. What is concerning is when agencies appear to be downgrading staffers on a particular client account. The best employees are often “saved” for bigger and more dynamic accounts. When a company sees its better account team members replaced by those deem inferior, that is a sure-fire sign that the agency, and its staff, views the account as not as important as it once was.
If any of the above sound familiar to you, it could be that your current agency may have outgrown you.
I’m interested to hear more from communications professionals, both in and out of the agency world, on this topic. I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn, or send me an email at email@example.com.