You Might Not Be a Good Agency Client If …

Taking redneck comedian Jeff Foxworthy’s approach, here are some examples of tech company behavior that drives PR and other professional marketing service pros crazy. See if your company is guilty of any of these behavior breaches that get clients fired.

You might not be a good agency client if:

  • You treat you agency team as outsiders and unworthy of knowing about the warts and bad news. Effective marketing communications people can handle the ugly. They've seen it before and just may be able to help you deal with some problems. Not telling your agency about problems or approaching disasters you're aware of is dumb.
  • Similarly, if you treat you agency team as go-fers and only give them tactical actions to execute while keeping a marketing or communications strategy a secret, if there is one. Most veteran agency pros have developed effective communications strategies for literally dozens of companies. They're developing campaigns several times a month. How many places have you worked? Tap your agency for this kind of help. Collaborate! It can be some of the highest value you'll receive from your agency. Without a clear competitive strategy nailing your differentiation, companies are burning time and money. Get and use expert help.
  • You're slow-paying and allow your finance department to pull a cash conservation trip on your agency. This is the fastest way of demotivating people who are attempting to help you win the marketing war, period. If the agreement is 15, 30, 60 days, or whatever, stick with it. Agencies are generally small businesses and live and die on cash flow. Your company wouldn't hold up bills from your legal counsel. Don't do it to your marketing communication team that's fighting for you either.

My favorite response to slow-paying clients is, “How many times did you have to ask/wait for your paycheck?” From the agency perspective, it's great when you're on a first-name basis with and have the phone number of the person in accounts payable who handles marketing budgets. Busy marketing managers can forget little stuff like signing off on agency bills. Knowing Bob or Kathy in finance can really help when your bill somehow gets rat-holed. Having the marketing manager, director, VP, or CEO advise Bob or Kathy to expedite agency payments can also be very helpful.

You might not be a good agency client if:

  • You ask your agency account exec for a media outlet's readership profile when they're recommending an ad placement, engaging the editor, or contributing an article. They've probably thought about that well before making a recommendation. They also probably worked with the publication on numerous occasions. This is about as insulting as asking a carpenter what grade of lumber they're using for a project. Don't go there. You hired experts. Second-guessing is bad client behavior.
  • You randomly change your mind about a project , particularly as the deadline approaches. This probably doesn't require illumination. But clients do it. And then they wonder why projects fly way over budget. If you do that, immediately expect to see a revised estimate, probably with rush charges that will make you think twice about the changes.

Once I had a Wall Street Journal reporter interested in doing a management profile story on an entrepreneurial Indian couple who were each CEOs of their successful Silicon Valley companies they'd founded and run. A week before the interview, the husband backed out because he thought he was going to have a flat quarter and that it might come out in the story. (Guess what? Everyone was having a flat quarter.) Boy, did I feel like a jerk telling the reporter my client cancelled the interview. It was a while before I could talk to that reporter. We later quit the client for even more egregious reasons. The new VP of marketing refused to pay the quite modest agency charges incurred by his predecessor. Reason enough?

You might not be a good agency client if:

  • You go MIA for days or more. This may work with some kinds of professional services, but in public relations, near-constant client contact is essential to getting the job done well, as in fast . PR pros don't just run off and make wonderful things happen by themselves. They're most often brokers and arrangers for their clients. I always advise new clients that we don't want to do PR to you. We do it with you — kind of like a health club trainer. Client management team members who will be involved in PR (CEO, CTO, VPs, directors of marketing, engineering, and others) need to carve out a slice of time for PR participation consistently. It's part of management's responsibility to speak for the company. You may not particularly like it or be as great as Steve Jobs was, but don't disappear on your PR agency, especially if it's announcing important news with your name on it.
  • You consistently ignore agency advice on communications activities. Agencies should constantly be developing good ideas for their clients. We don't expect all or even most to be adopted. Budgets are often aren't there for some ideas. But when clients refuse even the most strongly worded advice, like not calling an editor to complain about how the individual feels his or her company was covered in a story, then its likely time for “adios.” I wonder when this is happening if the client also ignores his or her doctor's or lawyer's recommendations? I understand the client pays the bills. But if you're consistently not taking advice and arguing about execution, you're not a good client.

There are many other friction points in marketing agency/client dealings. These are the ones I've seen really screw things up and cause pain and suffering on both sides. Ignore them at your peril!

8 comments on “You Might Not Be a Good Agency Client If …

  1. SRSTechPR
    October 25, 2014

    Great post and absolutely so true. Why do companies hire a professional consultant if the company is unwilling to listen or if the marcom team is afraid of being eclipsed? I have found that the more compentent and experienced the internal marcom team, the more willing they are to listen and value their PR agency's advice. 

  2. Ford Kanzler
    October 25, 2014

    @ Mark – Thanks for seconding my ideas. The ideal situation is when the agency/client team forgets about what it says on their business cards and just works the problem together. That's the scenario where I've experienced maximum success.

    Having a client contact that feels threatened by the agency people is perhaps the worst and wierdest. Then all kinds of crazy stuff happens, such as having the internal person take agency plans and recommendations to their management claiming they developed them without agency help.

  3. Al Shultz
    October 25, 2014

    Ford speaks the truth. Mutual respect is the foundation of all good relationships and marriages — and lack of respect is the hallmark of bad ones.And your marketing agency is your marriage partner whether you realize it or not.

    If you want your marketing agency to always give you their very best work and always go the extra ten miles for you, you need to LET THEM KNOW how much you value and respect them. And you need to PROVE IT in all the ways you treat them.


  4. Himanshugupta
    October 27, 2014

    Ford, Do these situations arise because there is wide gap between the clear understanding on client's part about the agency's role and the formal communication/PR mandate. it might also happen that in the fast changing competition landscape the priorities change due to the alignment of management and project.

  5. Ford Kanzler
    October 27, 2014

    @Himanshugupta  – Great point. Agency pros should be clear on their desired roles, expectations, preferences and requirements (such as payment terms) from the initial engagement on. There should be agreement on that before begining any work together. Often the client contact, at whatever level, hasn't worked with a professional services organization or has worked in notably different manner than an agency requires. Having that out on the table may determine whether a client choses to engage an agency. Clients and agencies get to chose each other. Those should be good choices for the ways they want to work. Being clear from the start is certainly wise.

    Certainly if a marketing services agency wants to just be a go-fer, delivery service, get jerked around by their clients and take any business they can get, then discussing the working relationship in advance may be skipped. But they'll be sorry! 🙂

  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 27, 2014

    @Mark, i don't have a wide sample but i suspect the problems that Ford points to are particularly prevailent in the high-tech sector. We think of ourselves as sophisticated–and we can sometimes take it too far.

  7. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    October 27, 2014

    @Al Shulz, and AMEN to you too. this is good advice for all  the business relationships we have form PR/Marketing agency to vendors, distributors and others across the supply chain.

  8. t.alex
    October 31, 2014

    This article is a very common sense business practice that every businesses should know.There are so many good companies out there so companies do not treat their agencies/employees good will not last for sure

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