Defining Value

Is Your Agency in the Business of Client Disservice?

By Starr Million Baker


“My agency didn’t bring me new ideas.” “They always waited for me to tell them what to do.” “They weren’t proactive enough.”

Do these statements ring a bell? We hear it over and over again from our potential clients when they talk about their previous agency experiences — the same song with a different tune. These agencies – and maybe you yourself – may have the misguided belief that client service means saying yes.

After all, “the customer is always right.”

But are they really? At INK, we believe applying a “yes” mentality to client service is a huge disservice to clients. Sometimes it’s comfortable to have an execution-only partner, but a partner who only says yes could be hurting your program.

If you’re wondering if your partnership falls into this category, check out the symptoms of a yes agency below.

The agency simply takes your word for it.

As the client, you bring a lot to the table. You will always have more information about the business you work in than your agency team. You know the subject matter experts on your team – you might be a subject matter expert – and you live and breathe your industry. But this access to information can also cause a bit of blindness when seeing the bigger picture. Therefore, your agency team should still do their research. They should question the assumptions. They should ask why this decision or that market or those products. If they just swallow what you give them, you have lost one of the unique values of paying an agency partner – outside perspective.

Think about it: do you go to the doctor and tell them exactly how they should treat your illness? Or do you tell the doctor your symptoms and rely on them to advise you of the treatment? The same is true of your agency partner – you bring the experience, but they should bring the expertise.

The agency waits for you to call.

There are two things wrong with this picture. First, one of the reasons you hire an agency is to share your team’s workload. It’s not much of a partnership if you have to babysit them to get the work done. Yes, your agency will need to ask smart questions to prepare a strategy. But they should use this information so when you say, “Let’s do a press release!” They can say, “For this news, we recommend a different distribution strategy.” They shouldn’t wait for you to call and then say “yes” to whatever you ask.

Second, professionals on the agency side should be professionals. We went to institutes of higher learning; we’ve spent years developing our craft. We can and should use our brains, our experiences, our ideas, and our relationship-building abilities to lead. If your agency isn’t leading, this can be an indication of more onerous behavior. Perhaps they have too many clients assigned to one team, or perhaps they haven’t cultivated a culture of proactivity. Either way, agency teams that wait for your call are not putting your program first.

The agency doesn’t push you to do your best work.

Think about your partnerships for a moment – your friends, your family members, your closest colleagues at work. I’ll bet they don’t let you settle. They encourage you to learn, grow, and put your stamp on the things you accomplish. Your agency partners should do the same. As a part of your team, your agency should challenge you to do your best work. This is great for personal reasons but also a requirement for the success of the business.

Companies whose leaders embrace innovation – which is what your agency partner should be helping you drive forward – see higher revenue and larger market share than those who don’t.

The agency isn’t giving you a competitive advantage.

Companies hire agencies for two reasons: to get work done they don’t have the resources for internally and to give them a competitive edge when getting that work done. This competitive advantage comes from an agency team who is keeping an eye on market trends, your current and potential competitors, and new ways of communicating. Your industry moves fast and technology moves even faster. Inside your company it may seem as though there’s not enough time to keep up, let alone do anything with new information. Therein lies the opportunity for your agency.

If your agency partner doesn’t have their finger on the pulse of the innovation all around you, you’ve got a problem. 

The only thing worse than an agency that always says yes, is one that always says no.

While you want to avoid the negative symptoms of partnering with a yes agency, hearing “no” at every turn is not ideal either.

“No, we don’t have the budget.” “No, that won’t work.” “No, we tried that already.”

This can be exhausting. “No” without a useful solution is a vendor – not a partner. And a frustrating place to be.

At INK, we provide the kind of client service that says “Yes, and…” We build on your ideas, we bring our own, we find the better way. Our client service – a philosophy we’ve branded “Be There Before” – takes the lead, pushes everyone on the team (you included) to do your best work, and always looks ahead. By speaking up, we believe our client/team relationship will be better off in the long run.