Agency Turnover – What Level is Acceptable?

18 08 2009

An article cited in a LinkedIn discussion caught my eye and ire.  The topic:  agency turnover rates at 41% as revealed on another blog (

The original posting offers good information for folks looking to enter in to a new agency relationship but the turnover rate is something I still cannot get beyond.  Why?  Because success of an agency relationship is a two-way street.

I think open communication/access to information and synergy are key. I was on the client side of the desk for 14 years and have been on the agency side for 8. From my point of view relationships often fail because creative is seen as the end result of branding rather than an evolutionary process that may first lead to the need for operational improvements, strategic recruitment or steps to address larger issues.

Branding or rebranding should be based on fact rather than emotion. Too often folks view a brand as a series of ads and overlook the fact that the brand must woven in to every aspect of an organization and must be embodied by every staff member. It could be months before the “new creative” launches – even years if significant operational enhancements are built in. Research should always be the first step followed by extensive education on findings and implications before creative is even discussed. I have been part of an extensive brand process which ended with no communication at all. Not what folks were expecting but they understood the process, the implications of the findings and supported the recommendations.

I recommend individuals do their due diligence when hiring an agency. Talk to current and past clients. See what makes the agency tick. Don’t just believe the sales pitch — ask if they really follow a process and about the roles they played. And be sure you endorse their process. If they say they start with research then don’t be surprised when the first project is research. Branding is a fact-based discipline. Any agency that starts work on your brand without thorough understanding of your current situation, future direction and the true perceptions of consumers, physicians, leaders, etc. is not going to be able to provide anything other than good looking ads and you will never know if you changed consumer perception.

I also recommend that folks express their concerns. As a client you have a right to ask for new players on your team and are expected to treat the agency as an extension of your team. This means you have to share information and communicate frequently. Your agency team should know enough about your organization that each member can proactively work for you — adding value along the way and anticipating opportunities.

I believe that agency turnover is higher than it needs to be. One challenge is that turnover of marketing leadership is also high. In many cases the first major task of a new marketer is to evaluate the agency relationship and make a change. Why? I think it is a matter of comfort and control. We all like to work with people we know, like and respect. And there may be valid concerns related to past work. A change in partners shows one is ready to step up and take the organization in new directions.

I also believe turnover is higher than it should be because we take each other for granted and don’t take the time to build a true partnership. When you hire a consultant you are paying for ideas, recommendations and even opinions. That does not mean you will always agree. Neither side grows if you don’t take risks. If expectations of both parties are in line and you are a good fit, you should challenge each other and the relationship can prosper for many years — and friendships can even develop.

You don’t have to outgrow an agency relationship if both parties are committed to communication. But if there is no synergy and you don’t see eye to eye after conversation, then it is time to move on. And that goes for both sides — remember agencies can and should dismiss clients too.




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