The Insights Blog

Agencies behaving badly

Agencies behaving badly

Agencies behaving badly

Clients catch a lot of well-deserved flack in agency land. 

180-day terms! Negotiating down to near unprofitability! 6- or 9-month reviews! Short agency tenure! Focus on hours and not results! 

There is a lot of truth to how some (a small number, I believe) clients have behaved very, very poorly at the expense of the agencies that are simply trying to win their business and help them succeed.

At Mercer Island Group we have managed a record number of reviews this year to-date (hooray!) and have made some great matches and dealt with wonderful clients and agencies.

And unfortunately, several agencies have behaved VERY poorly. It’s important for the agency community to know that a small number of agencies can spoil the industry’s reputation, just as a small number of clients can.

We have seen some really horrible agency behavior recently. Some examples:

Pulling Out of a Review Because the Agency Didn’t Like Tissue Session Feedback

Yes, this happened. It really, really happened. The feedback was clear and respectful.

This doesn’t seem like an agency that anyone would want to work with.

Failure to Transition Client Owned Digital Accounts to the New Agency

We recently managed an agency transition (from the outgoing agency to the new agency) and the outgoing agency refused to transfer the Google account. This was a very performance driven client and the client’s locations needed Google Search to drive traffic. After managing hundreds of agency searches, this was the first time we had ever seen such bizarre behavior.

Google search accounts, while often handled by an agency, are owned by the client. It’s the client’s money, after all. Just ask Google if you don’t believe me. They are readily transitioned from agency to agency in most reviews.

After much back and forth, the agency finally agreed but only if the client signed a legal agreement indicating the client would hold the outgoing agency harmless regardless of what they found when they had access to the account. Hmmmm…

Failure to Transition Basic Strategic Decks

Recently an outgoing agency refused to share (with the new agency) the past strategic decks that the agency had prepared for the client. The agency claimed these materials were the agency’s property and proprietary. The client had of course paid for these documents and recommendations.

I don’t know what the outgoing agency was thinking.

What I know is that this kind of behavior triggered several extra meetings and phone calls and was an incredible waste of time.

Failure to Transition at All!

In this case, the outgoing agency simply refused to interact with or participate in any transition meetings with the client or the incoming agency. This. Really. Happened.

Maybe some agencies feel a need to really one-up each other in poor behavior?

Threatening to Sue the Client and the Incoming Agency

In a different review an Account Supervisor from the outgoing agency saw a job posting from the incoming agency and applied for the job. The new agency did not proactively pursue this person. The new agency hired the exec.

The outgoing agency promptly threatened to sue the client and the incoming agency. Really?

Pulling Out of Reviews Halfway Through Because the Agency Got a Better Offer
This is so unfortunate, as:

If you’re an agency executive, you can certainly make a case that an agency that pulls out of a review doesn’t owe the client anything and the agency team must do what they believe is best in managing their business. That is all very true!

And look at it another way: there are A LOT OF FINE AGENCIES. If your behaviors make it hard for us to consider your agency, you’ll simply get less chances.

A Few Final Thoughts

We love agencies. And the vast number of agencies do their best and are respectful, win or lose. And that is a nice reflection on themselves and the industry.

While few and far between, there are some very poor behaviors that are so memorable that they are hard to forget. If your agency has done any of the above behaviors, we suggest you reconsider your approach next time. You simply are not representing your agency in an appealing fashion.

Luckily, these are largely isolated cases. We will remember them because we must if we are to counsel our clients. Luckily, we don’t have to remember too many of these poor experiences.

Steve Boehler, founder, and partner at Mercer Island Group has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Ulta Beauty, Microsoft, UScellular, Nintendo, Kaiser Permanente, Holland America Line, Stop & Shop, Qualcomm, Brooks Running, and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles, and Jif.