When the relationship between a public relations agency and a client is in trouble, the agency is all too often the last to know.
In many cases, the agency reps have no one to blame but themselves for either not proactively managing the client relationship, for not really listening to the client, or for missing client clues that all is not well—or for all of the above. When you add it all up, it boils down to neglect—taking clients for granted and then acting surprised when a client takes the business elsewhere.
Sound a little familiar? If you’re an agency veteran, it should.
Nothing stings more than losing a client for reasons of poor agency performance, along with the realization—once the dust has settled and your firm or account team has gone through the five stages of grief—that the client is right. Proactively managing and measuring the expectations and value of the agency/client relationship should begin on the first day of the relationship and should end only when the relationship does.
Once the telltale signs of a dissolving agency/client relationship have surfaced, it’s difficult—though not impossible—to rebuild the relationship. Having been on the client side, I know firsthand that once a client believes his or her business has been taken for granted, recovery is a long shot.
The good news is that many clients will fire warning shots before shopping their business to competing agencies. The bad news is that not every account team recognizes them and thus it goes about its business as if nothing is wrong. The hole gets deeper and deeper and deeper.
So, what are a few of the warning signs that all is not well between client and agency? Some are obvious; others are subtle and can be missed by all but the sharpest of account team members.
Here are nine signals:
1. The client cancels consecutive weekly team calls, or doesn’t cancel outright but simply doesn’t dial in, only to apologize later “because something came up.”
2. The client emails you a creative program idea put forth by another agency and asks your thoughts about it.
3. The client sends you a news article favorably positioning a competitor and asks, “When are we going to start seeing coverage like this?”
4. Competing agencies start following your client on Twitter—and get followed back.
5. Your client asks to see your media pitches before you send them out.
6. The interactions you are having with your client are all business and devoid of small talk (the client can’t wait to get off the phone).
7. The client asks whether you’ll consider reducing the monthly retainer by 10 to 15 percent while keeping the team intact and not reducing the number of program hours.
8. The client expresses frustration with certain account team members and asks you to make changes.
9. The client asks you to send over your list of tier one and tier two influencer contacts, complete with phone numbers, emails address, and Twitter feed info.
Am I missing any telltale signs that a client/agency relationship is on the wane?
A version of this story first appeared on the author's blog, What It Takes.