Is your online marketing agency relationship worth saving?

Things started out so well between you and your agency, but now it seems that you just aren’t seeing eye to eye anymore. What can you do? Columnist Jacob Baadsgaard explains how to set things right — or break things off.

Is your online marketing agency relationship worth saving?

You may have heard the news when Katy Perry, Jessica Simpson, Simon Cowell and other stars were dumped by their significant others via text.

Breakup by text? Worst. Idea. Ever.

But if someone breaks up with you via text, odds are that there wasn’t a lot of healthy communication in your relationship in the first place.

Unfortunately, poor communication doesn’t just kill romantic relationships — it can also lead to fallings-out in the workplace. For example, the Agency Management Institute reports that 50 percent of companies that use an online marketing agency have changed agencies at least once in the last two years. That’s a staggering statistic.

There are a lot of reasons agencies get fired, ranging from lack of results to location changes. Often, however, the biggest reason for changing agencies is the same thing that can poison any relationship: a fundamental lack of communication.

Now, if you’re reading this article, odds are that your online marketing agency relationship is on the rocks.

However, before you send off a “we’re through” text, let’s have a quick mental define the relationship (DTR) talk with your marketing agency to determine whether you have a simple communication problem… or if it’s time to move on.

It’s not you… it’s me

Everyone knows that this break-up cliché really means “it’s totally you,” but even so, let’s start by defining what your part in the relationship is.

Have you made your expectations clear?

The main reason 46 percent of companies fire their online marketing agencies is that they are not getting the results they want. The agency isn’t meeting expectations, so it gets the pink slip. Simple as that.

But does your online marketing agency even know what your expectations are?

If you’ve ever done your best on a project, only to discover that your supervisor expected something totally different, you’ve experienced the frustration of role ambiguity.

Is your online marketing agency relationship worth saving?

Any employee or agency is almost guaranteed to fail when they don’t understand what they are expected to do.

Changing agencies won’t solve this problem, but communication might. Have a talk with your account manager and make sure you’re on the same page with the specific purpose, priorities, goals and expectations for your online marketing.

If your expectations are clear, but you’re still not getting results, you might have a legitimate case for considering another agency.

Or… you might need to ask yourself another question…

Are your expectations crazy?

We all want to dream big, but excessively high expectations can set you up for disappointment, both in your personal life and professional affairs. If you are planning to spend $800 promoting your $80 product and make $800,000 in return, disappointment is almost guaranteed.

Changing agencies won’t solve this problem. Communication might.

You can avoid this situation by simply sitting down and discussing your expectations and goals with your agency. If they know your market like they ought to, you can work together to calculate the profit you can expect from a high-performing marketing strategy and a reasonable timeline for achieving your goals.

If, however, your expectations are realistic, but your agency doesn’t meet them, or if they don’t seem to know your market, switching agencies may be your best move.

Are your priorities aligned?

But what do you do if your marketing agency is producing great results… just not the results you care about?

For example, you might be accountable for site traffic numbers, but your agency seems to care more about conversions. They’re very successful from a certain point of view… it’s just not yours.

This can be another side effect of role ambiguity, and again, communication is the key. In these situations, chances are that the agency is not sadistically trying to ruin your business. You both probably have the same overall objective — your success — but different ways of going about it.

When you share not only what your priorities are, but why they are what they are, you can identify the specific areas where your marketing goals and your agency’s objectives differ.

The result of this discussion is usually a compromise between the two approaches — one that makes both parties happy and (more importantly) produces meaningful results for your company.

At the end of the day, though, you are the client, and your agency should put your interests first. If you feel that your priorities are not respected or that your “compromise” is more of a capitulation, you may consider looking for a more accommodating agency.

I’m sure you’ll make… someone else very happy

Sometimes an online marketing agency produces all the results you could ask for, but you still hate working with them. How can this be? How can you hear everything you want to hear and still be frustrated when you get off the phone with your account manager?

The answer’s in the question. In situations like this, it’s usually not the agency that’s as frustrating as the account manager himself or herself. It’s a matter of personality — you just don’t get along.

Is your online marketing agency relationship worth saving?

You want to hear specifics, but he always talks in generalities. You want rapid changes, but she prefers the “slow and steady” approach. You only trust the tried and true, but he always wants to experiment.

This kind of problem can be easily solved by communicating a little higher up the food chain and requesting a new account manager. Changing your point of contact with the company can allow you to keep the results that you want without the frustration of personality conflict.

Your prior account manager probably won’t mind, either. If he/she drove you nuts, chances are that the feeling was probably mutual.

There are situations where this approach doesn’t work, though. Some companies have a “type” that they like to hire. So, if you’ve changed account managers two or three times and can’t get along with anyone, you’ll need to decide whether the results you’re getting are worth the social agony.

We just don’t talk any more…

Up until now, I’ve talked a lot about how important it is for you to communicate with your agency, but it’s just as important for your agency to communicate with you.

Occasional lapses in communication are bound to happen — a late email response or the odd missed update is nothing to get worked up about — but if you’re constantly wondering what’s going on with your marketing campaigns, that’s a major red flag.

If your agency has you feeling left in the dark, there are two likely explanations… and neither is good:

  1. Your account manager is lazy and/or doesn’t care about your business.
  2. Your agency has something to hide.

When it comes to relationships (with your agency or otherwise), dishonesty and laziness are simply unacceptable. Express your concerns to your agency right away. If things don’t change quickly, then start looking for another company to contract with.

I just feel like we’re moving in different directions…

Sometimes, a breakup has nothing to do with you or with your agency. Things just happen. Budgets fall. Mergers occur. Markets change. Executive mandates descend from on high.

What do you do when the unavoidable happens?

You guessed it: Communicate.

When you explain your situation to your marketing agency, they may be able to suggest ways to get through things without severing ties. Even if this isn’t possible, a good agency may be able to direct you to another company which they trust and believe will be a good match for your business needs and your personality.

Open communication about your circumstances will allow for a clean break without hard feelings and can help you transition more smoothly into the next stage of your business plan.


So, is it time to move on? Or does your agency deserve a little extra communication?

Ultimately, that decision is up to you. If you’ve identified with any of the situations I’ve described, please sit down with your online marketing agency and have a real-life “DTR.”

On the other hand, if you’ve communicated all of your frustrations and you’re sick of “making things work,” it may be time to change agencies.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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