Working with a communications and marketing agency is the best way to boost your company’s success. However, sometimes things don’t work out. If you’re unhappy with your agency, or if you’ve just arrived in the role and you’re not happy with the way it’s working, it may be time to look for a new agency. Here are some things that will help you identify if your communications agency is not working or if it is worth a second chance.
Communication with the agency is not fluid
The relationship between agency and client must be fluid. Your communication and marketing agency should be like an extension of your function: the agency is part of your team! If, when you need their help, they are not accessible by phone, or if they take days to get back to you – or don’t get back to you at all – you have a problem. Within reasonable response times and schedules, the agency’s job is to be available when the client needs them (and not when it suits the agency manager).
Your contact at the agency is not clear
Another red flag is when you struggle to identify who is the main point of contact in your agency. Some agencies – wisely – create simple emails (e.g. email@example.com) that include all members of a team. This is very useful when the client needs to forward information or reply to your agency in a simple way. When the client’s email arrives, all team members receive the information and act in the client’s best interest. The problem is that there are agencies that confuse this tactic with a kind of assembly service in which everyone responds to the information that arrives and no one acts as the main point of contact, assuming leadership and responsibility for the actions that are taken for the benefit of the client.
The solution reaches its point of maximum inefficiency when those people who respond have not even been introduced to the client, generating a feeling of distrust and lack of control that usually ends in what in technical terms we call a ‘screw-up’ (or a succession of screw-ups until the final screw-up) (!).
When this happens, it is a symptom that the agency is undergoing internal changes and staff turnover. It may be due to the growth of the agency (check if you are still an interesting client) or because of a staff restructuring due to a merger between agencies (be careful if the new agency works for you and also for one of your competitors), or directly because the business is not going well and they have had to lay off staff.
Your agency is not proactive
Face it. Marketing is exploration, innovation and the search for new ideas. If your agency hasn’t come up with anything new for months, it’s bored with you. One of the main tasks of a communications and marketing agency is to propose alternative ideas and projects, providing information about the market and its competitors, anticipating the client’s needs. In the process, they should proactively contact you with updates and suggestions. If you have to constantly follow up and they don’t take the initiative, there’s a problem. How long has it been since your agency has come up with a good idea? Maybe it’s time to find another agency that better serves your interests.
Content is inadequate
One of the most common reasons for changing agency – even before modest results – is that the content the agency generates is not right for the brand. In most cases, the error lies in the texts that the agency generates. In this case, the texts that the client receives often contain typos, confusions in terms or – directly – are illegible. This happens when the copywriting team lacks expertise (or does not exist).
If you want your agency to solve it, tell them to bring specialized copywriters in the industry where your brand operates. At Incógnito we are experienced journalists and we have the (good) habit of using senior writers to write texts for our clients. This ensures that our press releases, opinion forums, case studies and websites are of the highest quality. Good marketing and communication content helps to generate good results.
You don’t see the agency’s work results
If you are not seeing enough visibility of the agency’s work, it may be time to re-evaluate your relationship with your agency. It may be time to set up a meeting where they present you with a cumulative results report for the last three, six or twelve months. It is important that you give them a few weeks to prepare the document. This will ensure that the information they present to you is not incomplete and, incidentally, if the results have been really weak, you can give them a few weeks to step up a gear and come up with something decent.
Any investment in a marketing or communications agency must be associated with a return on investment (ROI). Sometimes this ROI is quantified in terms of web traffic, social media followers or directly in sales, while other times ROI is associated with more qualitative elements, such as media presence, visibility or the number of forums that corporate spokespeople have attended thanks to the agency’s work.
Sometimes perception is not reality. There are agencies that, out of a desire to please, lack of experience or naivety, focus all their efforts on generating good results for their clients… and then forget to report them! They think that their clients are omniscient and that they are able to see what the agency is generating. If this has been the case for you, rejoice because you don’t have to change agencies. Just work with them to make sure they report their results in a timely manner. We at Incognito create dashboards based on Google Data Studio so that our clients can access the results we generate in near real time. And every quarter we use this data to analyse the evolution of the results and provide keys to improve the campaigns or correct any deviations they may have.
Either way, if your marketing and communications agency is not delivering the promised results, it is advisable to change agency sooner rather than later. Whether it’s an SEO agency, a creative agency, a press office or an agency dedicated to lead generation advertising campaigns.
The agency did not set realistic expectations with you
Often, the selection of an agency is preceded by a tough merit-based competition in which creativity, the work team… and the price that the agencies offer for their services count. In theory, this process only has advantages for the client who selects the agency, because it ensures the best offer from among the best candidates.
The reality is quite different. External factors come into play in the agency selection process. Perhaps the agency has lost a good client and needs to minimise costs in the short term. It may be that the extra revenue provided by the agency competition will help to save the bottom line in the short term. It is a common phrase: “We’ll win this account any way we can”. And “whatever it takes” means throwing out prices. Or setting absolutely unrealistic target results. It doesn’t matter, as long as you get the ball rolling and stay in the market.
Agencies should set the bar for results at an ambitious but achievable level, warning of the challenges that will come in the common journey of client and agency. After all, we are the same team, aren’t we? As a client, your job is to make sure that the agency understands what is important to your business and sets realistic goals. Be wary of magic formulas and promises that are too good to be true.
If in doubt, the best way to quickly tell if your agency is bluffing is to ask them to provide you with a clear timeline for milestones (deliverables), the tactics they will undertake with those deliverables and the results they expect to deliver… within a specific timeframe. A weekly schedule will suffice. Although there are always deviations due to imponderables, in four to six weeks you will know if those objectives are not going to be met.
If there are noticeable deviations from these deadlines, it could mean that someone else within the agency has taken over coordination responsibilities without informing you first… or that there have been further changes in your staff.
Your agency doesn’t understand your brand strategy
If your agency does not understand its brand strategy, it is probably doing a lot of things wrong. Brand strategy is not only about the products or services you offer, but also about how you want to be perceived by your customers, the market and other stakeholders. Your agency must breathe your brand values, as much of your content is generated by the agency. If it doesn’t understand you, neither will the market. And it will waste hours and hours of work in continuous corrections, disappointments and misunderstandings.
In most cases, the cause of this situation is a lack of seniority and dedication in the agency team. Sometimes -it is worth remembering-, the client must also dedicate some time to train, educate and impregnate the agency with the values of its brand. There are companies such as IKEA or Five Guys that dedicate their first weeks of relationship with their agencies to integrate their team into their work routines as if they were a member of the company they serve.
You feel that your project is not important to your agency.
We said in the post How to choose an agency, that it is relevant to know the weight of your account in the agency’s bank account, to know the interest of your brand. However, sometimes your agency’s lack of interest is not motivated by a modest fee but by laziness. If you notice that the account manager is often absent from work meetings or that the person who attends you is the most junior member of the team…. Stand up for yourself! Maybe you are no longer important to your agency but they haven’t told you because a few extra euros is always nice. Or maybe your team is demotivated because they work too hard (and get paid too little) and share too many clients and not enough brains. If you have this problem, it might be best to look for a new communications agency that brings more dedication.
Your agency fails to meet deadlines
If your agency consistently misses deadlines, don’t give it a second thought. One delay after another is a sign that they’re not prioritising your project… and it could cost you your job. If your agency doesn’t set realistic deadlines, it will cause you unnecessary stress and undermine your professional standing with colleagues and peers. In addition, missing deadlines is a sign that your agency doesn’t know what it’s doing.
If you are unhappy with your agency, give them a shout or start looking for a new one.
If you’re not happy, it’s OK to look elsewhere. After all, you are the client. Your agency should want to keep you happy and working with them. If not, there are plenty of other agencies that will be happy to work with you. That said, the process of changing agencies should not be taken lightly as it is time-consuming and certainly draining on many levels. Even within your own organisation.