Five signs, only five? But didn't I come up with 10 Signs It's Time to Fire Your Agency? Do the folks on the agency side get the short end of the stick?
Yes I did, and yes you do. Hey, that's the business.
Let's face it, there are many more than 10 there, and there are many more than five reasons to fire your client, but what is also true is that there are fewer reasons for agencies because each successive link in the service industry has to survive on the link above it. Don't feel bad: think how the vendors you use -- to do your ad serving, outsourced production, SEM and print work -- feel. (I'll probably only get to write about the two reasons they have to fire you.)
Here's the situation: You love your idea. In fact, it's brilliant. It hits on all the insights, will resonate with consumers and, better yet, it's ownable, differentiating and will make for memorable creative that will really move your client's brand.
Then you present to the client. A myopic middle-manager starts commenting, and the CMO (who really just wanted to get a job in advertising but wasn't talented enough) decides he knows what the advertising needs. As you stare in amazement you think to yourself: "I am sick of this. We will never do any decent work with this client. They are idiots. Why doesn't someone in our agency grow a pair and stand up for our work, or our strategy?"
Why don't you just fire them?
Well, why not? What's happened to interactive agencies? When did they go from edgy to wimpy?
Let me explain. There were a number of reasons, chief of which was the economic internet implosion and subsequent downturn in ad spending. Online advertising was just getting its footing when it had its legs cut off. About a third of the people I knew were out of work. Agencies that had been the toast of Wall Street were now, well... toast.
What that catastrophe did, however, was clear out the also-rans, the opportunists and those who got into the business because it was hot rather than because they had a strong understanding of what moves brands. The people who left understood technology, but when they were asked about the consumer, they looked vapid. The deer wasn't just caught in the headlights-- it got hit by the truck.
Those agencies that made it through that trial-by-fire should be stronger and more resilient. Many are. Unfortunately, like a dog that has been beaten over a period of time, many agencies instinctively flinch when clients raises their hands. Now, most agencies -- good agencies -- are bursting at the seams with work, and can't find enough talented people to handle their current workload.
So it's time for agencies to have pride again! Pride in their work, their effort, their knowledge, their grit, survival and determination to make online work. It is still very rare for an agency to fire a client. In fact, I know of only a handful that have done so. Agencies are fundamentally in the service industry, and in the service industry the client is always right. That does not mean, however, that the client has free-reign to wreak havoc on your agency, be abusive to your people and hurt your ability to make money and retain talent.