Your Creative Agency Sucks but It Ain’t Them it is You.

Creative agencies are hired and fired perhaps more than any other 3rd party service provider serving the marketing industry. Why is this? Why, in this advanced age of digital, social and mobile communication, should we hold a key member of our creative team in contempt? What is the source of the frustration that can strain our relationship with our creative agency, and tax our ability to get the value for our monthly retainer that we believe we are entitled to?

Too frequently we look at our creative agency as a vendor that delivers very specific tactical assets. Assets that we expect to be delivered painlessly and swiftly. Our experience, however, may quickly begin to turn into an unpleasant and seemingly endless effort to ‘get it right’. A back and forth that eventually ends up with our agency telling us that we’ve consumed all of our hours for the month and if we want to make that one last change we’re going to have to pay the contractually agreed upon blended rate.

Sound familiar?


It is an alarming reality, one that may be getting worse not better.  Consider the fact that the media landscape demands more from our marketing and sales efforts today.  We have no choice but to claim our slice of the media pie, and we can only do so by producing content that is well informed and well received by our targeted audience.  It is this reality that typically drives us to bring a creative agency into the team because having our content well received is often thought of as a production value problem. We want our visuals to be consistent, grabbing, and help us to stand out.  We want them professionally produced, so we seek out professionals to produce.

So it is a paradox of sorts.  We see the need for a higher production value, but we are quickly frustrated when delivery of high production value leads to endless bandying about of ‘not quite right’ versions of our creative. In this instance, one of two things happen. We fire agency A and hire agency B (and fire B to get to C one year later).  Or settle on the not quite right while secretly harboring contempt because our agency couldn’t help us nail it unless we paid through the nose to get it.

Yup, it can get that bad, and sadly the repetition of this possible scenario sets us with an expectation of agency failure. We become ‘prepared’ to be disappointed. It gets to the point where we don’t even enter the relationship with any sort of excitement.

What is perhaps most shocking is that the problem is, more often than not, ours and not the agency’s.

Yeah, you read that right…it is you and not them.


If you face some of the frustrations we just walked through, it usually means that you as the client do not have your story down, or worse (and unfortunately in most cases) are simply not willing or prepared to allow your creative partner to help you find and develop your story.  Frustrations with creative partners post not you themrise because there is never a clear articulation of the story that is going to be centric to the development of all related created.  Sadly more often than not agencies do not care if you have your story down, and are happy to deliver to the letter of the contract.  They behave as vendors ready to ring you up for a piece of copy, video, or graphic, content if they protect their 20% margin.

So how do you avoid the frustration of not getting out of your agency investment what you want? By entering into the relationship with a level of trust, and selecting your agency by first determining whether or not they are going to be willing and capable of creating a bold story on which you can build your entire marketing and communication plan.

Let’s state that one more time; determine whether or not a potential creative partner is willing and capable of helping you find and build your story.

This approach will help you immediately disqualify potential agencies that are bidding for your contract from consideration. More importantly, it will allow you to have very productive and provocative conversations with the agencies you are considering. Through these conversations, the best and most natural fit for you and your organization are going to emerge because the conversations are not going to be about hours, campaign ideas, or design preferences. Rather the conversation is going to be squarely focused on your marketplace your buyers, your comfort across varying media options, your tolerance for pushing the communication envelope, identifying between those internally who are going to need convincing and those who are going to be raving fans

The first step in getting out of your creative investment what you want is to understand that content production has to start from the very foundation of the story that you want to tell to your marketplace.

Unless and until you are willing to engage an agency from that perspective (and you are prepared to find one that can deliver in that context) agency frustration and churn will continue.

*this post originally appeared on the Element Three blog.

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