What to Do When You're Stuck with a Marketing Agency

There are several reasons why clients stay in an agency relationship:

1. The agency relationship is “good enough.” Simply put, a brand settles because its current agency partner is a comfortable option. 

Perhaps there is a degree of acceptance of the agency’s shortcomings, or perhaps the relationship has become stale.

Either way, when a partnership falls into the “good enough” mentality, it could be at the expense of the brand. Because if the relationship is stale, it’s likely that the agency is not challenging the brand to pursue new, innovative ideas… and brands who don’t innovate get left behind.

Related - Clients and Agencies Should Embrace “The Challenger Sale"

2. Switching partners is not an easy task. Setup has heard the same thing, time and time again from client-side marketers: searching for an agency can feel like a full-time job. 

With the role of marketing constantly expanding, brand marketers cannot allocate increasingly scarce resources to searching for and vetting agencies. Beyond that, even when the new partner is finally selected, more time and resources is spent onboarding a new agency, getting them up to speed on the brand’s business.

Related - Avoiding Marketing Agency Selection Mistakes

3. Brand marketers do not have the authority to change partners. Only so much can be done when an agency partner is “in bed” with the c-suite. If the brand needs to evaluate their partners, the client-side marketer will have to build a strong case to convince leadership that the agency was not a suitable candidate.

Related - How to Evaluate Your Agency Partner’s Performance


What Brands Should Do When They’re Stuck with an Agency Partner

Option #1 - Have an intervention with your account manager.

PSA: Agencies don’t know what they don’t know.

That said, unless brands communicate, the agency will more than likely continue along the same path. It does not mean that they do not care about the partnership.

Related - 5 Things Agencies Wish Clients Knew

Communication is key in any partnership… and the account manager for the agency is the first communication line. If an agency is unsatisfactory, clients need to establish a sense of urgency by setting up a meeting where the problem can be addressed.

When communicating problems to an agency account manager...

  • Be specific about the problem by detailing what is wrong and what could be improved

  • Let the account manager know how this problem is affecting you and your team 

  • Outline an ideal state or goal that would be satisfactory and establish new expectations 

  • Articulate what will happen if the problems are not addressed or objectives not achieved

  • Create a space for the agency to be open about problems they are facing or concerns on their end 


Option #2 - Have an intervention with another, more senior contact at the agency.

Note: Only take this route if you have already tried option #1!

If the account manager does not address the concerns brought up in the initial intervention, it might be time to speak with another, more senior contact at the agency (if it’s a smaller agency, that contact may even be the CEO).

However uncomfortable speaking up may be, if an intervention saves the agency relationship, no agency wants to lose a client over a problem that could be remedied. If the situation is resolved, the agency will not lose business and the brand will not have to go through the arduous process of looking for a new agency. Communicating concerns about the agency-client relationship makes moving forward easier for all parties in the long run. 

Don’t let one negligent account person make or break the relationship. Trust that the marketing agency has the brand’s best interest at heart and wants to retain the business. Joe Koufman, the CEO at Setup, once salvaged a relationship with Hershey while at Engauge because the account person was negligent. Because he stepped in, he managed to save the account and the client continued business with his agency. 


Option #3 - Build a business case for changing agency partners.

A recently hired manager at a brand told Setup that she hated her marketing agency, but she had to wait until she built enough clout in the organization to change their marketing partner.

And she’s right. If you are ready to make the change in partners and you have some key decision maker obstacles to overcome, it helps to have organizational influence. In other words, build relationships across departments and establish yourself in your role.

Related - The Marketing Profession Needs Marketing

That said, people appreciate facts - not just feelings. Once strong relationships are built internally, it’s time to build a objective business case to the key decision makers involved, offering tangible evidence that supports why your company should fire your current agency partner.

When stuck with a marketing agency, brands need to reevaluate their value to the overall marketing strategy.

Tips to provide proof to support your claim that the current marketing agency is unsatisfactory:

  • Document everything that supports your rationale - this could be communications, creative missteps made by the agency, overdue deliverables, etc.

  • Incorporate quantitative reasoning. How are their numbers? Is the the ROI (return on investment) clear?

  • Using an agency evaluation framework can help clients objectively evaluate their marketing partners and enhance enhance credibility with key decision makers.

Collaborative partnerships are built on trust, communication, reasonable expectations, and shared goals. However, if you have exhausted all of your options and still feel stuck with your agency partner, you need to do something about it. 

Ready to get unstuck? Contact Setup to simplify the agency selection process.

What to Do When You're Stuck with a Marketing Agency