8 Reasons Your Agency Experience Is Disappointing You
Everyone said they were great. And they did that great thing for that great brand. And you’re paying — a lot. So what’s up?
It’s no one’s fault. And we can all make it better.
- They have a sense of entitlement. It’s a new era. One of equality. Collaboration. Realness. At least we think so. Yet some of the old attitude lingers, from what we hear from clients and have experienced ourselves. Killer offices, tempermental attitudes. If you sensed a little of that at the pitch but were drawn in anyway (or maybe because of it), you may have set up a situation where it continues. You never have to accept work you don’t like or can’t use. Have a heart to heart. A crystal clear, super straightforward one. No one wants to lose a piece of business.
- They’re stamping out the same work they’re known for. It’s just not what you happen to need. You hire that killer agency that did the branding for <insert disruptive B2C that just got even more funding here>. Only problem is, they’re still doing it. The exact same way. For everyone. Work with people who have great taste, are smart and nimble about what they do, and will actually care about your brand.
- You’re hemming them in. Sometimes when you bring in an agency (and I’ve been on both sides), the internal team hopes for something really different and amazing. But when they get something different, they panic. Then they slowly set about making it not different. Combining multiple concepts, bringing in previously accepted language, quieting the colors. When you finish doing all that, you get watered down creative. In other words, the reason you called an agency in the first place.
- You let them play Wizard of Oz. Too often an agency wants to do the very old-school thing of working in a silo with a big “ta-da” at the end. A setup for disappointment. You don’t feel you can give feedback when the work is supposed to be baked at that point. And they don’t feel they should be making any changes. A business should explain early on that they want to work collaboratively and only select someone open to and familiar with doing that. Make sure you’re seeing behind the curtain at regular intervals — or better yet, that there’s no curtain at all. It’s about great work that does what it’s supposed to, not a big reveal.
- The people you thought you hired aren’t doing the work. Lots of big agencies stay up all night working on that pitch. Then they bring the big guns in to pitch it. But once they win, making it profitable may mean reducing the hours people are permitted to spend on the work, or swapping in more junior talent if you strangled the budget. Ask who will be doing the work day to day. And don’t strangle the budget. Work with someone you can afford to pay, and pay them what they’re worth.
- You’re not providing reasonable, actionable feedback. See #4, too, because to provide actionable feedback, you need to see creative when you can impact it in a meaningful way. But this past year we’ve been brought into multiple situations where a killer agency did work at a cost of $800k plus — and most or much of it was unusable. To me, that’s a phenomenon. The client should have regular conversations about the work, look at moodboards, and give feedback that’s not subjective creative feedback but about ensuring the creative work for their business. We can’t operate from that place where anything creative is untouchable, which is what I suspect happens in these situations. While creatives want to respect for their work, I’m sure most want to see come to life than be shelved, in tact. Your feedback can’t just be “I don’t like this color.” But of course it can be “I’m concerned that this feels too downmarket.” (And your creative team should jump in and assist when you’re struggling to put words around what you’re reacting to.)
7. There wasn’t a brief that everyone understood and that the right stakeholders participated in. I’ve seen work for an online brand that wasn’t usable online. And work that took the brand in a completely different tonal direction without any agreement to do that. Sometimes you can tell there wasn’t a shared understanding from the beginning. The client and agency should together write a brief in the kickoff phase, and make it as thorough and detailed as possible. On the client side, circulate the brief to your UX lead, your CX lead. Savvy people whose opinions you believe in. They may see an angle others miss. And the work shouldn’t be accepted as final until it meets everything agreed to in the brief.
8. There are saboteurs. Sigh. Sometimes when you bring an agency in to help with overflow, or because you want to try something new and the internal team is too taxed, or because you want fresh thinking from someone unburdened by the day-to-day, the internal team feels threatened. Whether they realize it or not. There’s that innate instinct to poke holes in the work when you have built a brand, know it so well and feel deeply passionate about it. Rather than drop the new team into the mix, have your existing creatives participate in the hire. Make sure they are heard. And be super clear on the “why” with them and how this will free and help them.
And here’s something that helps with all of the above: Talk in person. Face to face. “I’m feeling…” “I’m sensing….” “I’m concerned that …” are all good ways to start. You will be so. glad. you. did.
Honor Code Creative is a new kind of non-agency agency. We try to tell the truth, work collaboratively, find killer partners, respect fellow creatives, and keep it about results, not ego.