Red flag: When your agency just isn’t that into you

Bored woman sitting at a laptop (Photo by on Unsplash)

Red flag: When your agency just isn’t that into you





Red flag: When your agency just isn’t that into you


Tony Hallett
Managing director

Tony set up Collective Content in 2011 so brands can more easily become publishers and tell stories. This built on 15 years in media, from reporter to publishing director at Silicon Media Group, CNET Networks and CBS Interactive.

Maybe it’s like dating. What if all the person across that restaurant table does is talk about their great abs or how much money they make? What if they never look into your eyes and are never really interested in you? In that case, I’d bet you’re looking to catch the waiter’s eye. Or even about to bolt for the door.

In a client-agency relationship, you could say this starts at the chemistry stage. Before any pitch to win your business – if there even is a pitch – you want to know you’re clicking with your potential agency. And that’s got to be about them showing a deep interest in what you do, where you’re trying to head to and what’s going on more broadly in your industry.

Recently, I attended a webinar by agency/client org GO! Network and one slide really caught my eye.

GO! Network webinar slide - Unsuccessful vs successful chem calls

If you look at the top result in either bar chart, you can see that a potential agency not showing interest in or understanding of a prospect’s brand is a red-flag relationship killer.

There’s no amount of enthusiasm (ranks fourth on the right) or practical capability (fourth on the left) that can make up for this. Even ‘people and culture fit’ came second on the positive things that a would-be client wants.

Is this debatable? I guess so. In a recent LinkedIn post, a CMO laments the amount of rework that agencies do, in particular the long run-ups they take on new accounts, when she says her in-house team already has this deep knowledge and she values the outsider perspective that a new agency brings (I paraphrase). Her post really hit a nerve and she concludes: “The current agency model is broken.”


To that I’d add – yes, for certain large agencies. In the niche space, where more specialist agencies generally have smaller accounts than hers, I’d say it’s more common to see short projects that lead to churn and clients that feel a string of agencies never really ‘got them’.

For anyone with experience in the financial world, you’ll know the term ‘KYC’ – short for Know Your Customer. That’s about regs related to fraud, money laundering, etc. But I’d add that an essential part of finding a good agency is that chemistry ‘click’ that comes when you feel they have a ‘know your client’ mentality.

Your agency doesn’t have to know you as well as you know you. That’s understandable. But they shouldn’t just focus on themselves – that’s a red flag. And they definitely shouldn’t talk about their abs.

Let’s talk about how we help you start conversations with customers.