There are so many creative agencies, so why do you keep working with one that lets you down?

Are you happy with your creative agency? Really happy?

If you are, that’s great. We want you to be happy. We’re nice like that. But research tells us that there are a lot of marketers who have less-than-wonderful relationships with their agencies. And that makes us sad.

Are you among that group? If you are, why do you put up with a relationship that’s going nowhere because your agency isn’t  responsive or takes forever to respond to a simple question. Every project is a struggle. You get tired or recycled ideas. Your budget is abused.  And you always feel like you’re working for them.

Sound familiar? I get why clients find it hard to leave bad relationships with agencies, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are a few thoughts about moving on.

You’re never really too busy to make a change.

You’re busy. But nobody should live with bad performance because they don’t have time to fix it. I get it – change can be daunting. When you start looking around at options, it’s paralyzing. Elm Street in Greensboro, North Carolina is rarely confused with Madison Avenue, but I know of at least a dozen agencies I could walk to from my front door. There are too many choices. How do you know who to trust? Who do you consider? Do you look at the marketing trade pubs or talk to the last shop that left you a voicemail or pitched you on LinkedIn? But here’s the thing: You have to invest a little time now to save a lot of time, money and frustration in the future.

A little authority doesn’t mean they own you.

An agency with the keys to your social media accounts or website can be difficult to kick to the curb. For them, that’s a feature and not a bug. If you own these assets and are afraid to ask them to hand over control, it’s a sign that the relationship needs to end.

Familiarity breeds laziness.

Some clients tolerate bad agency relationships because they can speak in shorthand. The shop has all the images and logos so the process is streamlined. Clients don’t have to collect assets or educate new people about brand standards or any of those quirks every brand has. Familiarity isn’t always a bad thing, but it shouldn’t be an excuse to accept bad work because no one wants to put in a little extra effort.

Here are some helpful hints to get out of that dysfunctional relationship.

Make a list.

Start with what’s important to you and your brand. This will help you narrow your search. If you manufacture a B2B industrial product you likely don’t need a shop with a lot of fast food client experience. Be sure to make your list realistic. Ignore all the shops that have an impressive TV reel if the only thing you produce is an installation training video. Every agency has an area of expertise. If they sell themselves as full service, cross them off the list.

Look at their website.

It surprises me how often we have been involved in a new business pitch and the potential client hasn’t even looked at our work. An agency portfolio shows you what the agency can do. Don’t be too specific but look for broad category and media expertise. Evaluate the thinking as well as the execution. This is what the agency views as their best work. If you’re not impressed with the portfolio online, it is unlikely you’ll be blown away by the ideas they create for you. And one word of caution here. If they don’t show any work on their website run far away. There is no bigger a red flag than a creative shop that doesn’t show their work.

Ask around.

Once you’ve narrowed your list, reach out to folks in your network and on LinkedIn and ask for their opinion. They may not be able to help or they may have some valuable intel. Only ask folks whose opinion you value and trust and be ready to act on what you learn. Go through this process before you get too attached to an agency.

Consider a pilot project.

Before jumping from one relationship to another, give an agency that’s caught your attention a pilot project. Pick something that shows you how they think, requires creativity, and forces them to showcase their communications and project management skills. This is not the same thing as asking agencies to do free work for future consideration. Agencies who are worth their salt understand their value and avoid these client “test drives.” An agency that says yes is one you should avoid.

Pay a lot of attention to intangibles.

Solid creative work is the cost of entry for agencies. What sets great agencies apart is their ability to listen to their clients, offer candid advice, deliver creative solutions on time and within budget, and always remember that the client is the client.

Yes, all of this requires a bit of effort. But somewhere there is the perfect creative partner for your brand. We’d love to show you how much better your relationship with your agency can be. Give us a call.

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