Why Your Agency Relationships Never Work Out
by Jacob Baadsgaard • February 14, 2020
Agency relationships can be tough. If you’re working with the wrong agency, it can be a roller-coaster of emotional highs and lows. In fact, hiring and firing a marketing agency can feel a lot like dating.
There’s the excitement of the initial getting-to-know-you phase, where the relationship is full of promise and the future seems rich and exciting. That’s followed by the hopeful phase, where things aren’t quite going the way you expected, but you still believe they will work out in the long run.
And then, there’s the break-up phase.
You realize that things aren’t working out, and that they probably won’t ever be better than they are now. Maybe you still hang on for a while out of a sense of loyalty or because they promise to make some big change that will make everything okay…but deep down, you know it’s time to move on.
Eventually, you end the relationship and end up back where you started: frustrated, confused and wondering, “why does this keep happening to me?”
While there are plenty of bad agencies out there, if you’ve found yourself in a revolving door of agency relationships, it may be time to look at the one common element in all of those relationships: you.
Creating a True Partnership
When you’re hiring an agency to help with your marketing, it’s easy to see things as a one-way street. You’re paying them to do something for you, so they should just do it. If they don’t meet your expectations, you can just find someone else.
That may be technically true, but your relationship with your agency is just that: a relationship. And you can’t buy a relationship…at least, not the kind of long-term, healthy agency relationship you’re really looking for.
Just like you, your agency partner wants things out of their relationship with you. A good agency will want more than your money. They’ll want to be a true partner, to contribute to the success of your business and to enjoy the time they spend with you.
To create that kind of relationship, both you and your agency need to come to the table with the right expectations. You need to build alignment and shared vision. It’s a relationship, not a one-night stand, so it’s going to take investment from both sides to make things work.
With all of that in mind, here are four reasons why many businesses find themselves going through agency-after-agency. Now, none of these excuse poor agency behavior, but that’s not what we’re focused on right now. Instead, let’s take a look at how you may be sabotaging your agency relationships.
1) You’re Looking for a Silver Bullet
Often, businesses hire a marketing agency because they’re looking for a silver bullet—some secret that will completely change their business. Unfortunately, this “silver bullet” myth is perpetuated by lots of agencies and freelancers, who all promise incredible results using their “methods” or “techniques”.
As a result, it’s easy to believe that you can achieve runaway marketing success…if only you could find the right agency.
The problem is, there is no silver bullet for marketing. Sure, certain tactics, channels or ideas do sometimes produce runaway success for specific businesses, but even if (and that’s a big IF) the approach is generalizable to other businesses, they quickly lose their effectiveness once everyone starts using them.
Agencies exist because there isn’t a silver bullet. If there was, why would you need to hire an agency to help you figure out the right marketing approach for your business? You could just use the same silver bullet as anyone else and reap in the profits.
Unfortunately, running and growing a business simply isn’t that easy. But, if you view your agency as the “silver bullet” for all of your marketing woes, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
Successful marketing requires a compelling vision and purpose for the company, clear goals and success metrics, smart strategy, willingness to fail quickly and a TON OF HUSTLE to make things work. The point of hiring an agency is to get access to the skills and bandwidth you need to accomplish all of that.
If you’re looking for a silver bullet—either because you’re trying to save a sinking ship or because you’re hoping to shortcut your way to results—don’t hire an agency. Just keep looking on your own. If you happen to find that silver bullet, though, let me know and I’ll joint venture the deal with you. 😉
2) You’re Not Really Sure What You Need
Even if they’re not looking for a silver bullet, many businesses still hire agencies because they know what they want…but have no idea how to get there.
At first, this seems like a good reason to hire an agency. After all, isn’t that the point of bringing on an agency—to bring in new skills and expertise that you lack?
But here’s the thing, there’s usually a reason why you’re not getting the results you want: you don’t really understand the underlying problem.
And, if you don’t understand the underlying problem, how do you expect an agency to come in and somehow fix things?
For example, many companies come to us because they think they need more efficiency from their online marketing. What they don’t realize is that their campaigns aren’t really aligned with their business goals and objectives. Making the wrong campaigns more efficient doesn’t solve the underlying problem.
If you’re trying to polish a turd, all you’ll get is crappy results. The right agency will take the time to understand your customer’s buyer journey, your sales process and your company goals and objectives first. Only then will they start to review suggested strategies and tactics that can help accomplish them.
Stop polishing what doesn’t work and get to the root issue with your agency partner even if that means approaching things differently than you originally thought!
3) You’re Focused on “Me”, Not “Us”
There are a lot of agencies out there that would love your money and will say what it takes to get your business. While this is certainly flattering, a relationship with someone who only tells you what you want to hear is destined to fail.
If you expect your agency’s world to revolve around you, you don’t want an agency partner. You want an employee.
To be successful, you need to view your relationship with your agency as a partnership. A partnership is a relationship of equals, which means both sides need to do what it takes to create a win-win situation. If you aren’t fully invested in making the relationship work, your agency won’t be, either.
However, there is a flip side to all of this. When you and your agency are working as true partners, that’s when the magic happens. A good agency that feels invested in your business doesn’t just say what you want to hear, they do what needs to be done to make your business successful.
4) You’re Not Communicating Effectively
All relationships evolve over time. They have their ups and downs. Mistakes happen, priorities change and the unexpected happens.
In strong relationships, these challenges bring people together. Adversity leads to growth. But, if you don’t communicate effectively, those same obstacles can tear your relationship apart.
This applies just as much to agency relationships as it does to personal ones.
If you aren’t putting things on the table, having the real conversations, and realigning your agency relationships on a regular basis, don’t be surprised if they fail. Once a quarter is healthy and proactive, bi-annual is a must, and annual deep dive where you throw away all the sacred cows and almost start from scratch is the way to keep the romance flourishing.
Creating Great Agency Relationships
When you get down to it, your agency relationships are just like any other relationship. It takes two to tango and if things don’t go well, sometimes it isn’t them…it’s you.
So, if you’ve found yourself going from agency to agency in pursuit of something you just can’t seem to find, it may be time to take a look in the mirror.
- Are you expecting the impossible? (or at least, the improbable?).
- Are you looking for a solution to an as-of-yet unidentified problem?
- Are you treating your agency like a commodity, instead of a partner?
- Are you failing to communicate about problems and concerns in a healthy way?
If the answer to any of the questions above is “Yes”, or even, “Maybe”, it may be time to re-evaluate your agency relationships. To develop a positive, long-term relationship with an agency—the kind that will generate real results for years to come—you may need to change a few things.
The good news is, when you take the time to figure out what you really want from your agency relationship and how best to get it, everything will improve. You’ll be setting up your agency for success and, as a result, they’ll be even more invested in your success, too.
You’ve heard my two cents, now it’s time for yours. How do you feel about your agency? Or agencies in general? Do you agree with this take? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.