Breaking up (with your agency) is never easy I know
October 9, 2012
This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3. With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.
Abba sang “Knowing me, Knowing you” with the chorus being ‘breaking up is never easy I know, but I have to go, Knowing me, Knowing you its the best I can do”. And increasingly I have found that when the incumbent loses the pitch, these words are playing through my head.
Because while the marketers are not necessarily heart-broken about the break up, they are often unsure and confused about how to go about “breaking up” with their agency.
I have had marketers ask me to tell the agency on their behalf. (Poor form)
And some postpone the inevitable as long as possible. (Also poor form)
I have not had anyone break up with their agency by text or email, but I am sure it has happened.
It is the end of the relationship, and certainly there are emotions associated with the process that must be acknowledged and respected.
But it is also a professional relationship and as professionals there are actions that need to be undertaken to preserve the dignity of all parties involved. So here are some Do’s and Don’t from the TrinityP3 team. It is not a comprehensive list so happy for people to make suggestions by leaving comments.
“If you are a marketer who is about to part company with an incumbent agency…”
- Check your contract obligations and even get legal advice on the exit responsibilities, if you have not done so already. Make sure you have a clear understanding of your obligations to the agency and theirs to you prior to contacting the agency. Darren Woolley
- Make sure the incumbent is the first to find out. There is nothing worse than hearing it from your replacement or god-forbid the trade press. But timing is everything so ensure you have the process organised to inform the other agencies on the roster, the other non-successful agencies and the trade press. Darren Woolley
- Be clear about why you’re firing an agency. Like any divorce, it can get very personal, cost a lot and actually be regretted – the grass isn’t actually greener on the other side. Katharine Schafli
- Be fair, open and straight with your feedback, process and dealings – however the relationship ends, and however many toys get thrown out of prams. Nathan Hodges
- When informing the agency it is acceptable to do this by phone, or better face to face, but never by email, text or in this socially connected world – twitter DM. Darren Woolley
- If things get tense, then be ready to suck it up. You’re the client, and it’s not your job and livelihood on the line. They’re the agency, and life suddenly got a lot more precarious. Nathan Hodges
- Ensure there is a transition plan in place, or if not, develop one quickly to implement to the agreed timeline. The transition plan should also include risk assessments and critical steps and processes to ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangement. Darren Woolley
- When informing the incumbent, do not overwhelm the agency with too much information. Make the conversation short and to the point and make a time to provide a debrief and discuss the transition process. Darren Woolley
- Don’t lie. It will bite you in the end. There might be times to finesse the release of information, and yes – that can sometimes be in the interests of the business and the agency team. But don’t use this as an excuse for delaying delivering bad news or letting yourself off the hook. And if you’re asked a direct question, you need to answer it truthfully, whatever the cost. That’s just the right way to do business. Nathan Hodges
- Don’t get into comparisons of one agency over another. It is pointless and futile saying they were better at creative or strategy as these are largely subjective. Better to point towards weaknesses or gaps that the agency can potentially address. Darren Woolley
- Don’t assume the agency can’t handle the truth. You’re not Col Jessep, and this isn’t A Few Good Men. Have enough respect for your agency to let them be part of the process. They have a business to run. Let them have the information and feedback to run it. Nathan Hodges
- Avoid reacting to the agency’s disappointment. While most agency managers are very professional, some may become emotional. Acknowledge their upset and remain calm while suggesting scheduling a time to discuss any issue. Darren Woolley
- Don’t avoid the task, but see this is the ultimate test of your management skill. It’s easy to manage good news and fun partnerships. Any fool can do that, and many do. Much, much harder to manage the bad times and still have the people involved saying, thinking and feeling good things. Nathan Hodges
- Don’t construct issues or complaints about the incumbent agency to justify or substantiate your decision to change. Praising the new agency is more positive and powerful than criticising the old. Darren Woolley
- Don’t immediately cut all ties with the incumbent or avoid them. You need to keep them fully engaged in delivering the current work in progress and involved in the transition process to provide the new agency with as much opportunity as possible to get up to speed. Darren Woolley
Like I said, this is just a start.
I am sure there are plenty more breaking up do’s and don’ts you can offer. I would love to hear them, so why not tell me by leaving a comment here.