Help! My Agency is Killing Me!

March 6, 2008 Blog 2 comments

Stop fighting with your agency! (courtesy of edpeach1969)

While reading Vivienne’s post on high and mighty advertising agencies, I reflected upon my own years of experience in dealing with agencies both big and small. Yes, there has been lots of blood, sweat (often cold), and tears throughout the process. However, you do also encounter gems in the business and artwork plus copy that makes you smile.

As a client, how does one ensure that a Return On Marketing (ROM) is achieved without stifling the creativity and effectiveness of one’s hired advertising help? Here are some ideas to start the ball rolling:

What Agencies Can Do

1) Lay out all the cards from the onset. Mystery and secrecy may work in a suspense novel, but not in a client-agency relationship. Manage expectations, timelines, and deliverables from the start and let the client know what to expect. This should include the degree of freedom given in areas like design, copywriting and so on.

2) Take some time to understand the client’s business. Selling coffee powder is substantially different from pushing cosmetics. Similarly, a B2B outfit would have far different concerns from one that hits out directly at end consumers.

3) Impress and wow them from the word “Go” but don’t stop there. We all have encountered pitches by creative bosses which sparkle and stun, only to be let down by inept interns who handle the rest of the design and copywriting process. Be consistent and be realistic about what your team can do rather than go all out to dazzle but fail to deliver eventually.

4) Involve them in the process as much as humanly possible without compromising on deadlines and deliverables. Enlist them in the brainstorming process, ask them many questions and date them out for lunches. The initial part is probably the most painful. However, it pays dividends in the long run when you gain a deep and intimate understanding of your client’s ideologies and idiosyncrasies.

What Clients Can Do

1) Be prepared to take some risks and to lose some control. The whole idea of hiring an external agency versus recruiting an inhouse designer is to trawl for ideas. Don’t always insist on getting the last word in or making the final amendment (easier said than done!).

2) As the Guinness Stout advertisement or Sun Tzu would have said, “Know thy self.” Be honest about your own levels of competence in the various disciplines involved in advertising – photography, design, media placements, copywriting – and enlist professional help when needed. Be willing to listen to them and be open to fresh ideas without losing sight of your end objective.

3) Offer as much information as you can muster. This will mean allowing them to take a peak at your production shopfloor, your back of the house processes, as well as the various outlets. Let them chat with your customers and suppliers. Make them part of your team where possible.

4) Work in collaboration rather than competition. There is no need to show who is smarter, wittier, savvier or wiser. Remember the adage “lose the battle but win the war”. Learn to admit when you are wrong and follow what your hired creative suits advise – if there is a grain of truth in what they say. After all your job is to win customers not arguments!

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. Hi Walter
    Thanks for the mention.

    “Lose the battle but win the war” is so true. It is as much for the client as for the agency.

  2. Clients need to understand that they hire agencies because you think they know, otherwise, why hire them? At the same time, creative types need to understand that there is no one who understands the client’s business better than the client himself. Like you said, it’s all about working together! Good post!

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