Your Advertising Agency Will Get Fired


One of the tenets of my business development system is the understanding that your advertising agency will get fired by virtually every one of your project work and AOR clients. This means that you better be out there finding your next set of clients because your current clients will sooner or later walk out the back door.

To get even more painful, we all need to get over the disastrous track record of agencies that wait till they get fired to get fired up about running a new business/sales program. The standard, awful, message is that the agency was too busy working on its current clients to run a solid business development program. You know, the horrible saying… “we are like the shoemaker who can’t make shoes for his kids.”

I’ve written in the past about why advertising agencies get fired – right here. This post expands on that review. But first, here is a key finding I wrote about a couple of years ago:

Why do advertising and digital agencies get hired and fired? A key reason for getting fired (other than the new Marketing Director’s need to look active; and an agency’s failure to keep up with the rapid pace of change) is very often the very same reason clients hire agencies in the first place…

It has a lot to do with interpersonal chemistry according to Darren Woolley of Australia’s TrinityP3, a leading global advertising agency search consultant and client advisor. I love this point: “Its all about the relationship.”

Why You Will Be Fired & How To Stop It

There has been a bunch of research about the primary reasons that clients fire agencies. While getting fired is somewhat inevitable, I think that agency management must be very cognizant of the reasons and manage their agency and staff accordingly.

The smartest, most aware agencies get fired less frequently. 

Let’s walk through the reasons you will get fired. I’ll be brief because I believe that most of these can be managed down without a huge effort.

It’s Much About KPI’s and Return On Investment

I counsel all of my agency clients that return on investment, the client’s investment in their marketing programs must yield a positive and calculated sales return on every dollar they spend. Obvious, right? That said, it is amazing to see how many advertising agencies cannot calculate ROI based on a client’s KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators). Some agencies do not even ask about key performance metrics.

KPI’s can be based on one or more of a broad set of goals.

  • Financial KPI’s include sales goals, profit growth, year-over-year metrics, and cost of goods sold, which includes marketing expenditures – even, what you cost.
  • Marketing KPI’s include sales, spend to sales ratios, customer lifetime value (CLV), cost of acquisition and retention, visits (broadly, think of visits to a store, visits to a website, the number of active Instagram followers, etc.) and, less so every year, good old-fashioned brand awareness.
  • Innovation KPI’s. This is a tough one but think of how happy your client might be if their goal is to be as good at influencer marketing as the hustlers who brought you the eventually failed Fyre Festival were. Fyre was a failure. But, not its launch marketing program.

It Is About Service

Over the span of my advertising career and business development history I have heard many clients tell me that poor service was a key factor in firing an agency.

To avoid this highly avoidable issue, I suggest thinking about these service goals.

  • Listen to the client. Agencies by nature think they are brilliant. However, like any good marriage, you have to understand your client’s goal’s and dig deep into their issues and opportunities. Act like a good partner. Act like you give a shit. Do you?
  • Manage your account management. Ensuring that your account managers know how to service clients is critical.
  • No surprises. A major element of account management service is for the agency to get past ever surprising the client. Think like your client and try to answer questions before they are asked, or worse, fester.
  • CEO involvement. Too often, advertising agency CEO’s evaporate after the initial pitch. An agency CEO must appear interested. Again, an obvious point? Maybe you should ask your clients if they perceive senior agency management interest.
  • Have a clear strategic, creative and production process. Share the process with your clients. Everyone will sleep better.

You Do Not Understand Your Client

It is about personas, baby. If you run a smart business development program, you have built personas for your set of prospective clients. Why not do the same for your current clients?

  • You need to understand your client’s business and, importantly, their personal needs and motivations. CMO’s are skittish. CFO’s want to lower costs. CTMO – Chief Technical Marketing Officers need to know that you get their tech mindset. Junior clients want to succeed. It is all too easy to not work to get into your client’s head.
  • Understand client motivations and, yes, I know, sometimes they cannot articulate their business goals. I used to ask my clients, even after they told me their sales goals, how their management judged them when it comes to bonus time. Believe me, if a client thinks that you are helping them make more money, personal bucks, they will tend to want to keep you around.

Back To Innovation

Your clients need to believe that your agency is on or understands the cutting edge. Given the fast pace of change in marketing communications; you must continuously convince your client that you are an innovation resource. Prove this to your clients via smart white papers, or blog posts that you directly send them (please note that your wonderful clients probably do not read your blog); speak at industry events; write for third party websites or magazines… Bottom-line, know what the heck is going on and share your educated POV.

Another way to look at this. A way to ingrain the need for constant innovation in your head is to know that you need to:

Always Be Learning. ABL.

Do Me Two Favors

One: Ask if your clients are happy.

Review your agency client relationship on an ongoing basis. Consider scheduled sit-downs and/or a written client satisfaction survey. Do not count on your AE’s to tell you how the agency is doing. They are too close to the relationship. A great tool to determine customer satisfaction is employing the Net Promoter Score. This means asking your client, on a ten-point scale, if they would recommend your agency to a friend in need of marketing communications. If you are a 9 to10 – bravo! If a 7 to 8, start to ask your clients questions about your service. If less than a 6 or 5 get very nervous.

Two: Run that 24/7 inbound and outbound (Account Based Marketing) sales program. Remember, you will eventually lose every one of your clients.

The sales concepts of… ABS and ABC creep some agency leaders out. Hey, ya got to get over this.

ABS – Always Be Selling.

ABC – Always Be Closing. 

The last point, call me, I can help.












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