If you’re working with an agency, it has crossed your mind to fire your agency each time something goes wrong with your campaign. Deadlines not met? Designs not per the brief? Media campaign under performing? SEO project not leading to increase in traffic? Yup, fire that agency.

Wrong answer.


Firing your agency is the easy way out to a problematic situation. Constantly jumping partners is not a sustainable solution.

Constantly changing an agency has huge cost implications. Time spent on looking for new agencies and actually calling for the pitch. The teething errors your new agency will make all over again once on-boarded. The time you and your team spend on again bringing your new agency up-to-date with your brand, campaign, goals and vision. Giving them time to review past work and draw up a new strategy. All this time could be spent on implementing new ideas, challenging your competitors, gaining market share.

If you find yourself in a situation wherein you have had to constantly change your agency, maybe you are the problem. Either you are not undertaking due diligence during the agency recruitment process or are simply managing them poorly.

I’m not saying that agencies should not be fired. There are many situations where you need to immediately get rid of your agency, but here are some questions as a brand manager / digital lead you might want to ask before you consider the guillotine for your agency partner.

Did you write a brief for the campaign?
Calling your agency and answering questions they have does NOT count as writing a brief. Giving a verbal brief on the phone or in meeting does NOT count as a brief. I am not one to talk about writing a brief. The gurus or marketing and advertising have talked about the importance of writing a brief. And writing it right.

Yes, you wrote a brief. But did it have any depth?

A classic response to, “Who is your target audience?” The answer, “Male, 25-40, urban.” That’s it. That is ridiculous. I have seen this answer for brands ranging from cell phones to life insurance to tv channels. If this is all you can say about the person you expect to buy your stuff, its really sad.

It means you have no clue who your customer is and maybe before having a marketing campaign you need to spend some time understanding your customer. OR find someone in your company who does and get the answers from that person.

How much does he earn, where does he work, how educated is he, what other products does he buy, what influences him, what are his family values, why does he buy your product over others, why does he buy other product over yours, what music does he listen to, what are his political views, what are his views on social issues, etc.

The more data and insights you can provide your agency about your customer, your brand, your competitors, and your industry, the more innovative they can get. The more likely your campaign/website is different from your competitors. More importantly it is more likely your campaign will truly target your audience’s needs.

Is your digital team managing your agency properly?

It is good to have faith in your team. But it is important to question if they are managing your agency properly. Remember, you spent a lot of time and energy selecting your current agency. You chose them because they were right for your brand, at the right cost, over other agencies pitching for your business. They must have done something right. They (most likely) manage a whole bunch of other clients, both bigger and smaller than you.

Do you have a digital manager equipped to manage your digital agency? Is your digital manager “a SEO guy” trying to implement website development? A “media planner” working with your social media agency? All red flags.

Find out if your agency’s recommendations are being implemented or the ones of your team. Are the delays in implementation are at the agency end or at your end?

Have you motivated your agency to work hard(er) and smart(er) for you?
Any agency thrives on three types of motivation factors. Not necessarily in the following order.

Money: You went through an extensive pitch process. Selected a top agency. And then you squeezed their margins. What a victory. Remember, at the end of the day, any agency is operating a business. Just like you are. Top dollars get top talent. If you have squeezed the margins a bit too tight, it is likely you are not getting the top resources to work on your brand. Relook at your agency remuneration. Offer substantial incentives for (over) achieving targets. Remove penalties for not meeting them (especially if your agency is already on thin margins). Enough in the business world has been said on the power of incentives versus the threat of penalties.

Respect and Appreciation: Just as you enjoy working with a boss, colleagues and subordinates that respect you, an agency loves working with clients that treat them with respect and appreciation. Constantly threatening your agency resources to escalate issues, fire them, not pay them or mentioning what a terrible job they have done is unlikely to help create better work. Appreciate good work. Send thank you emails. Send pizzas for successful work. Buy your agency team lunch if you have called them at lunch time. Or if they did a good job. Disproportionately celebrate small victories. Send free samples of your product. Take your agency team out for drinks and don’t discuss work. But also be there for them during tough times – motivate them when deadlines are tough or the campaign is underperforming, support them when they goof up. In the long run they are very likely to more than make it up to you.

Creative freedom: If you have hired an agency to think creatively, make sure you give them the freedom to do so. This does not mean you let them run amuck. Question ideas, ask for data to support them. But there is a fine line between being cautious and being stifling towards new ideas. Find that line and your agency will work harder for you. Stifle them and they will send you boring ideas, safe media plans and clichéd social media concepts. Give them freedom and you’ll have resources within the agency fighting to work on your brand.

Tried it all? Have you had the chat?

Written a great brief, got great resources to manage your agency, paying top dollar with tons of motivation and freedom, and yet facing challenges with your agency? Then it is time for the chat.

If your agency is an issue, call in senior management / business head / servicing head for a chat. Explain the issues. Brainstorm on possible solutions. Be open to feedback from your agency. Avoid threats in your first few meetings. Threats might prevent your agency being honest with you.

I have seen too many brands change an agency surreptitiously, not giving the agency to voice their concerns. Only much later they find out they missed some of the crucial questions listed above.

AmitThaker [About the author : Amit Thaker has over 10 years of experience in digital marketing, with 7 of those at India’s largest digital agency, Interactive Avenues. I was lucky to work on some of India’s top brands, across industries – banking, ecommerce,automobile, FMCG, insurance, online media, and travel.  I have worked on a range of travel brands and enjoy backpacking. Having just returned from a six month sabbatical, i am working on a travel start-up. Struggling to merge passion and profession. ]

[Image credit : shutterstock]