Five Agencies Brands Should Avoid

Yesterday I posted a piece on matchmaking between bloggers and brands that seemed to go over pretty well. Today’s focus is going to shift to the relationship between a brand and their agency. In particular, there seem to be a few tried and true ways of weeding out those who’ll constantly disappoint or, at the very least, annoy the hell out of you.

Agency Type #1: The Flag Planters

Unfortunately Agency life isn’t like Ricky Bobby’s Talledega Nights: Just because you’re first doesn’t mean you’re also not last. Claiming to be the first to do anything without measurable evidence that it matters is like saying you were the first to punch yourself in the face: it’s great for parties but not really a solid proof point as to why I should hire you. This also means that the agency’s going to try and sell you on buying a punch in the face, which, even on paper is a bad idea. The solution? Demand proof that their innovation actually works instead of buying in on the hype.

Agency Type #2: The Hipsters

This one might seem a little controversial, but it’s never a good idea to bring on an agency where you can’t tell who the adult in the room is. Don’t get me wrong – tight jeans, Converse All Stars and retro t-shirts are wonderful for your weekend or after-work wear, but any agency that thinks they’re making a statement by doing is this: they are too cool for school and don’t really respect your business or your culture. Also? Agency Type #2a to avoid is any agency that uses “Rad” to describe a strategy, concept, person or idea. The Exception: Acceptable when you’re working with a surfing or skate company.

Agency Type #3: The Big Talkers

This type of agency is pretty easy to spot: they have senior people who seemingly do nothing but appear in the media, blog, tweet and are known for their own “persona” without having actually done anything. Think about it this way: You’re inadvertently funding all of that overhead when you hire that firm, which means you’re not getting 100% on your business. These types of agencies are also the ones that are doing a lot of flag planting and are the first to tell you and everyone else they know that they did it first, even if they don’t have any goods to back up the talk.

Agency Type #4: The Bait ‘n Switchers

You’ve been there before: an agency walks a dream team into the room for a pitch, only to have their senior folks all pull a vanishing act once the actual works starts. The solution? Hold them accountable by demanding that the pitch team is comprised of the people that will actually work their business, from their Managing Director or Practice Leader all the way down to their junior staff. Know who’s working your business — otherwise they’ll wrassle up who’s unbillable and jam those folks on your business. If you’re really bold you’ll write a clause in the agency agreement that hold their feet to the fire and can be used as grounds for termination. As an agency it’s flat out deceptive to trot the CEO into the pitch knowing full well he or she isn’t going to touch the business once it’s won.


There’s certainly value to branding and making sure people understand your corporate culture. And working in communications means that you have to tell your own story for sure… But for cryin’ out loud, if three weeks of your staff’s time every month is spent developing a catchy YouTube video, a monster Flash site or you are tweeting non-stop it shows me a few things: 1. You have a lot of time on your hands, 2. You’re not billable, and 3. You’re not actually doing any client work. A typical excuse you hear from these sorts of agencies is “If we do it well companies will hire us”. And if you think there’s a heck of a lot of truth to that statement just ask the personal branding and social media experts how that’s workin’ for ’em.

The Bottom Line

As someone who’s worked in-house and on the agency side I can tell you that it’s a tough world out there, and cutting through the B.S. is only half of the battle. The client/agency relationship reminds me a lot of dating: there’s a period of courting, some posturing, promises to do great things together and  ultimately accountability. Just remember that forming a relationship with your agency isn’t easy but it’s exactly that: A relationship. There will be growing pains, there will be give and take, there will be highs and a lot of discussion when there appear to be lows. It’s a long term proposition that requires commitment, dedication and patience from all parties. Get to know them, make them understand your culture and the hurdles you’re facing internally and you’ll find it can be a mutually beneficial business relationship.  Otherwise it will surely end in divorce.

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