You start out the relationship with innumerable hopes and dreams. This time, things will be different. You've got the right partner.

You know how things should be -- what communication, collaboration, and respect look like. The problem is that the reality is often disconnected from your wants. A response is disappointing, an interactions sparks anger on both sides of the table, and the tension is causing goals to be missed. 

Expectations are at the heart of frustration, but oftentimes, our expectations are unvoiced. And when our buiness partner fails to meet our standards, we become disappointed. The relationship can quickly disintegrate from here. 

We asked a few agency executives why agencies and marketers are frustrated with one another -- because recognizing the problem is the first step. 

Constant Change

The agency and marketer relationship has always been fragile. Remember the line from Mad Men: 'The day you sign a client is the day you start losing them.' The anxieties today are attributed to the constant, dramatic flux of all the models. Customer acquisition, measurement, agency compensation, and media purchasing -- among others -- are keeping both parties guessing, dancing, and hoping. Layer on top the failed promise of social media, disruptive businesses (Uber, Airbnb), an over-focus on millennials, and you have tons of confusion. Am I complaining? No way. All of these factors make it the best time to be in the business.

- Jeff Swystun | Swystun Communications

Lack of Risk-Taking

Both agencies and clients genuinely want to find new ways to engage consumers. This is essential to our industry. But here’s the issue: in many client cultures, taking risks isn’t easy. ROI must be 'proven' before any money is spent. So agencies are presented with an impossible ask: deliver an innovative new approach to achieve X goal, along with some case studies that prove your idea will be successful.

I think agencies’ attempts to measure up to the ask creates a morale-crushing cycle of disappointment -- we come up with new and different ideas that excite the client, but these ideas are inevitably killed when there isn’t enough 'proof' to justify the spend. That’s where the frustration comes from. True innovation is possible, but it takes a leap of faith and a strong gut instinct. We’re excited to see more clients earmarking funds for small-scale experiments with new platforms and approaches.

- Sarah Hanson | Partners + Napier 

Disconnect Between Strategy and Tactics

Until quite recently, marketing, advertising and communications efforts have been siloed, and because the larger strategy is often developed by the marketing team, it can lead to a disconnect across all external touch-points if the respective teams aren’t working closely together. Without this ‘big picture’ insight, agencies are often tasked with concepting creative without a real understanding of a brand’s end objective. 

This disconnect is commonplace, and a large reason driving the recent concept of the 'omni-agency' -- a combined hybrid that aims to offer advertising, marketing, PR, and communications under one roof. 

The ability to wear many hats is paramount today, but until that philosophy has been fully adopted, there will continue to be a level of frustration and resistance between agency partners.

- Jessica Adams de Guardiola | Raison D’Être

Clarity and Alignment

All relationships require two key ingredients for success: communication and trust. This takes time to build. All too often, when a brand hires an agency, they 'get started' without defining ways of working and how to define success. Clarity and alignment, or lack thereof, is often the biggest challenge creating tension between marketers and agencies. Why? Because people jump into a project, they don’t spend enough time planning how they will work (setting expectations), they jump to conclusions or assumptions instead of clearly specifying who is required to do what.

Brands hire agencies for expertise and to make their jobs easier, but everyone must participate to make the relationship successful. I think the best two things an agency can say to a brand involve asking WHY and saying NO. In many cases agencies jump to and default to 'yes,' and they end up letting the brand down if they cannot deliver. Whether an agency is one person or 1,000, there are always constraints.

- Pete Sena | Digital Surgeons

Structure of Relationships

Clients who have been working with large AOR agencies for long periods of time can be frustrated because they feel like they may not be receiving the freshest thinking and ideas, so they move to a more fluid, project-based model. On the other hand, agencies find it hard to appropriately staff their businesses on a project-based model. Also, clients that have a solely project-based model with their agencies sometimes experience a lack of consistency when it comes to their brand’s story and messaging.

I think the best way forward is somewhere between the two, where clients have a broader roster of agencies -- some working on a project-basis and some for longer terms. Doing this will keep the work fresh and the competition alive.

- Christian Hughes | Cutwater

Process of Finding a Partner

Over the last year, a ton of digital agencies and design firms told me that they were tired of participating in RFPs and were now saying ‘no,’ even to top marketers. I’ve also heard many marketers express disdain for their current RFP process.

If an internal process like RFPs is causing both marketers and agencies problems, then it is probably time to change the process. The marketing landscape is changing fast, so processes and policies have to keep up. 

Finding the best fit partner demands interaction with a shortlist of agencies, but there is more data than ever for marketers to use as they get down to selecting the right partner agency. 

- Brian Regienczuk | Agency Spotter

Mutual Business Goals

They don’t take the time to consistently analyze mutual business goals (or they’re just not listening). We heard directly, from our latest agency-marketer report, marketers saying agencies too often chase shiny objects (like programmatic or data) while not understanding them fully, while agencies said marketers possess a blind belief in 'anything new,' often pushing in directions contrary to SOW or agency ability.

- Lee McKnight Jr. | RSW/US


Originally published Apr 2, 2015 7:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017


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