Can’t we all just get along? For decades, advertising and marketing agencies and their clients, B2B and B2C marketers, have shared a blissful marriage. Now we seem to have arrived at the proverbial Seven Year Itch. Both agencies and marketers are pointing the finger at one another in a series of troubling trends. What’s behind this apparent separation-in-progress, and can we do anything about it before we end up in Divorce Court?

How do we know that the agency-marketer marriage is on the rocks? They both say so. The 2015 RSW/US New Year Outlook surveyed senior-level Marketers and Marketing Agency Executives and found disturbing disconnects on every level of engagement.

Marketers Complain:

  • Agencies are too specialized with no strategy across platforms
  • Teams aren’t consistently staffed and have too much turnover
  • Lack of innovation in both strategy and tactics
  • Not proactive enough in assessing problems and finding solutions
  • Focus on data without really analyzing and understanding it
  • Rush to programmatic marketing without understanding best practices
  • Always ready to chase the next shiny object without getting the most out of current ones
  • Less emphasis on marketing research
  • Lack of value-add including both idea generation and ROI
  • Emphasize cute or funny versus compelling content
  • Failure to gather the right data and understand metrics
  • Lack of experience in digital marketing
  • Not clear on how technology should be applied
  • Selling technology, not solutions

Agencies Fire Back

  • Marketers look for and believe in “anything new”
  • They always choose the lowest bidder, not the best fit
  • They want digital advertising, but they don’t understand how to use it
  • They are constantly moving and changing roles and responsibility
  • There is no loyalty for agencies, just the cheapest competitor
  • They are unable to maintain brand consistency across platforms
  • They don’t know what they want and can’t give clear direction
  • They want measurement, but they don’t know what to measure
  • They are too conservative and afraid to take risks
  • They prefer short-term, piece-meal projects over long-term strategies
  • They don’t understand the value and cost of ideas and creative
  • They are setting up their own in-house agencies

Irreconcilable Differences?

Clearly there are some ugly disagreements going on, but what can we do to revive agency-marketer relationships? Like most marriages, this boils down to understanding needs and desires and working on communications. Here are some suggestions:


First, let’s get real about the value of most marketing agencies. They do what you can’t. They have creative teams that blow away your product marketing content and graphics. This is what they live and breathe, so why try to reinvent the wheel?

You can’t. They also understand digital marketing, but where they may fail is in understanding how to apply it to your campaigns. So help them. Sit down with them and plan the strategy, don’t just expect them to pitch it to you. Work together on goals and KPIs and figure out how to leverage creative to drive business objectives. Don’t just expect them to deliver that in a vacuum. Do what you can to provide stability to the relationship. If senior leadership moves around a lot, do what you can to provide succession planning and continuity. Realize that without effective communications, Marketing is bound to fail. If Marketing fails, business development fails, and you have no one to blame but yourself.


Now it’s your turn. Marketers complain that you’re not adding enough value. Do you know what their goals are? Have you taken a hard look at your processes and capabilities to deliver on those goals? For example, if your client wants ROI from your ad campaign, you need to think about lead generation and conversion to customers. You can’t just distribute ads on media and expect to get there. And what about building relationships with leads and customers? You can’t just do that with one-way ad campaigns, no matter how viral they may be.

Consider adding inbound marketing and content marketing to your portfolio. If you don’t have the staff or technology to do that, consider partnering with an inbound or content marketing agency. Get out of your silo and start farming leads and delivering ROI. That’s what your customers want.

Oh, and don’t forget about practicing what you preach. You can’t expect your clients to maintain a consistent team and point of contact if you fail to do the same!

Plan a Second Honeymoon

As marriages mature, we all get tired and restless. More often than not, we’re just not happy with ourselves and we take it out on our Partners. I think this is what’s happening between Marketers and Agencies. We’ve forgotten how to communicate, and we have gotten lazy about nurturing our own relationships. Is it really better to abandon ship and start over? In a few months or years, won’t you be back where you are now? Marriage Counselors would tell you to start talking again. Share your goals and expectations. Find room for compromise and strive to make the other party happy again. You’ll be glad you did.