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Your Agency ... Is it Time for a Change?

By: Andy Marken

In his nearly 25 years in the advertising/public relations field, Andy has been involved with a broad range of corporate and marketing activities. Prior to forming Marken Communications in mid-1977, Andy was vice president of Bozell & Jacobs and its predecessor agencies. During his 12 years with these agencies, he developed and coordinated a wide variety of highly visible and successful promotional campaigns and activities for clients. A graduate of Iowa State University, Andy received his Bachelor's Degree with majors in Radio & Television and Journalism. Widely published in the industry and trade press, he is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).

Creativity.  It's the almighty brass ring in marketing that you and your competitive counterparts are constantly reaching for on the business merry-go-round.  If you don't get it with one agency, you switch horses and try again.

Every year, across the country and throughout the industry, companies switch horses.

For all of the reasons agency changes are made, people place creativity as the number one reason...whether or not it is the real reason for the change is always debatable. But it is an important factor.

It far outstrips the other reasons for an agency change. It's far ahead of poor account people...lack of knowledge and experience in the apathy...and complacency.

The reasons most companies must come to grip with an agency change or (in order of most frequently mentioned):
  • Lack of creativity
  • Poor account people
  • Lack of knowledge and experience in the field 
  • Agency apathy or complacency 
  • Inadequate client service 
  • Lack of marketing ability
  • Lack of special skills
  • Poor billing practices
  • Agency size
  • Poor detail follow-up
  • Personality problems
  • Late work
  • Agency greed
  • Lack of advertising competence 
  • Disagreement on advertising approach
  • Inattention by agency senior management
Regarding creativity, the most frequent comments are:
  • The agency couldn’t develop and execute a strong positioning statement for us
  • The agency felt "cute" was creative
  • The agency couldn't synthesize our unique selling position (USP)
  • The agency thought too small 
  • The agency couldn't get any life in our advertising
Regarding the competence of the agency's account people, most changes are made in this area because the key people on the account are either inexperienced or downright incompetent. The other most frequent problem is the fact that there are frequent account and creative changes at the agency. This requires the client to be constantly training new people.

Just as in a marriage, money is one of the major stumbling blocks.  All to often, management get bills which are late, thus totally confusing the marketing budget's cash flow. Or, they get bills that are not detailed regarding what the client is paying for.

Many times, client management says the agency change was necessary because the agency was too greedy, and had been squeezing every dollar possible out of the account.  But, that is also a double-edged sword.  From the agency side of the discussion, agency principals state that they weren't totally compensated for all of the work being performed.

Too often, corporate management wants all of the best work from the agency, but isn't willing to pay the tab to receive it. In short, they don't mind if the agency makes a profit on the other accounts they handle, but they don't feel a profit should be made on their account.

After all, isn't the creative satisfaction enough?


It's only good business practice that you make a reasonable return on investment on all of the business you handle...both within the company and within the agency.

Lack of special non-advertising skills is another reason for agency switches. Companies are becoming more sophisticated in their marketing communications efforts.  As a result, they demand more services from their agency. These include such areas as publicity, trade show support, direct mail, collateral, and research.

Agency size is another important factor for making a change. But it works both ways. Most often, management will changes agencies because their past agency was too small to provide the support needed. That means that either the company didn't encourage the agency to grow and expand, or agency management wasn't willing to grow as aggressively as the client required.

On the other hand, many times the client realizes that they would be better of with a smaller agency, because they are not of the size that demands attention within the agency, and they get lost in the shuffle. In these instances, the client finds they are getting second or third tier support, because their budget just doesn't warrant major agency attention.  However, at a smaller agency the budget and requirements would be important, and would receive the attention of senior talent.

While there are, or can be a lot of reasons for making an agency change, there are even more compelling reasons why the company and agency should work hard to "make" the relationship work.

First of all, it is just plain expensive to make a change  in terms of education of new people, becoming accustomed to each other, and lost time in the program's development and execution.

But if management has done all it possibly can to make the relationship work, and it just doesn't happen--make the change swiftly.

The client/agency relationship is a lot like a marriage. There really can't be any type of live-in relationship.  Both parties have to make a commitment to be on the same team, working toward the same goals for the company. That means there has to be adjustments on both sides, until thinking and acting is done in harmony. Then the relationship is smooth, harmonious, profitable, and mutually rewarding for all concerned.

But if it doesn't happen, divorce is inevitable.  At that point, sever the bonds that bind quickly and smoothly.  Look for and choose a new partner, and start all over again.

Hopefully, this marriage will be the one that will stick so you can grow old together.

© Copyright 2001, G.A.Marken, Marken Communications

Other Articles by Andy Marken

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. MarcommWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. MarcomWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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