April 4, 2023Comments are off for this post.

‘It’s Not Me, It’s You:’ 6 Signs You Need a New Agency

When the agency-client relationship is like forcing a square peg into a round hole

Just like any relationship, the agency relationship takes time and work to be successful. It requires open and honest communication, accountability and true partnership on both the client side and agency side.

That said, there are times when the agency-client relationship is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole—it simply isn’t the right fit.

The red flags

Here are six signs it could be time to move on from your current agency partnership:

  1. Core expertise misalignment: If your agency isn’t an expert at the service(s) you need them to perform, then the relationship is not set up for success. It is hindering your brand’s true growth potential.
  2. Your own business growth: Your business needs have evolved beyond your initial scope, but your agency cannot continue to lead growth or accommodate your growing needs operationally or strategically.
  3. Lack of strategy: You have given your agency the budget and the freedom to bring strategic ideas to the table and directly requested this but, time and time again, true strategy is replaced with table stakes and last quarter ideas.
  4. Team turnover and staffing holes: Change happens, but regular team turnover without proper onboarding and offboarding is a major red flag. If you have communicated this to your agency with no improvements made, it may be time to move on.
  5. Inability to measure impact: Marketing’s creditability hangs on measurable results. If your agency is not helping you measure the impact of your marketing dollars and helping you effectively tell that story to your managers, executives and board, it may be time to let them go.
  6. Trust is broken: If they have repeatedly broken your trust by missing important deadlines previously agreed upon (without communicating beforehand), they are not setting realistic expectations, not taking accountability and not leading with integrity. If you have addressed this directly with them with no change, it might be time for a harder conversation. Trust is the foundation of all relationships.

Before running to a new agency, consider this

Prior to making the switch, smart clients are also conducting an internal examination to determine how they are contributing to the dysfunction in the agency relationship.

If you are running into the same challenges across multiple agency partners, running to find a new one may not actually solve the underlying problems. Make sure your own team and internal processes are setting everyone up for success and that you are learning from past shortcomings.


Here are a few questions clients should consider before changing agencies:

  • Are you effectively communicating the brief for your engagement, including expectations, timelines, scope, goals, KPIs and budgets?
  • Are you providing the agency with the materials, tools and platforms needed for them to be successful and to perform their work in a timely manner?
  • Are you providing constructive feedback when expectations, deliverables and timelines are not met?

Getting the partnership right matters more than ever

Especially on the eve of a looming recession, where purse strings are tightening for so many organizations, having the right partners in place to help you increase the effectiveness of your marketing dollars matters more than ever. Marketers are under an extreme amount of pressure to do more with less and to spend smarter.

Make sure you have the right agencies in place that are:

  • experts at the services you’ve hired them to perform.
  • nimble, agile and able to grow with your organization as you evolve.
  • your true strategic partner, leading growth even in uncertain times.
  • the right organizational fit based on your global operating needs, building the right team around you.
  • helping you prove the effectiveness of your investment and treating your marketing dollars like they are their own.
  • people you trust, like working with and know that they are as accountable to the growth of your business as you are.

Some relationships just aren’t the right fit, while others can grow into something quite prosperous with a few small (but significant) shifts. Only you can truly assess if your current relationship cannot be salvaged and if it’s time to move on.


Either way, it’s about identifying the right partner for your specific organization and building the trust required to solve challenges together. There will be successes and failures, but the responsibility is on both sides for creating a long-lasting partnership.


August 30, 2022Comments are off for this post.

How Successful CMOs are Redefining Agency Partnerships

Many marketing organizations face the same challenges: brands are working with multiple agencies with no cohesion, centralized global strategy or single source of truth. This leads to significant budget waste, core audience confusion, lack of shared learnings and ultimately hindering a brand’s true growth potential.

When required agency services and operating models are misaligned with core needs, organizations end up paying additional and unnecessary agency fees. Tenx4’s extensive database of agency pricing confirms the importance of finding the right agency partner based on fit. A recent survey of ours also found that many organizations feel that they are overpaying their agency, which could be due to the agency not being built to service an account like theirs. Therefore, properly evaluating an agency partner is worth the extra time to save your organization significant marketing dollars that otherwise would have been wasted.

Identifying the right agency partner is a robust and time-consuming task with multiple moving parts and multiple stakeholders (often with conflicting goals). Successful CMO’s have applied the following six steps in making the agency evaluation process easier and more successful:

  1. Global Vision: It is imperative that the team understands the global vision and the organizational growth goals. This directive for shared accountability and shared goals comes from the CMO or most Senior Marketing Executive. Getting buy-in and creating excitement among the team will reduce friction and increase participation.
  2. Key Stakeholder Alignment: No agency can fix a siloed and fragmented internal system. To create a singular global strategic vision and a true global partnership, the first step is to shift the focus internally. This means that all regional leaders must align on key objectives for what the RFP is solving for and everyone on the team must be moving in the same direction. Successful CMO’s have created a tight scope and reasonable agency requirements.  
  3. Pre-Vetted Agency Shortlist: Agencies being invited to participate in a search for a new agency partner should also be pre-vetted. This means that each agency invited fundamentally meets the business requirements in global operations, services offered, budget requirements, client expertise, bandwidth, etc. If an agency is not built to service the exact needs, the relationship is not set up for success.
  4. Strong RFP Brief: An agency is only as good as the brief they receive. It is important that the brief reflect the business needs and key challenges. Going to market with an old RFP written for myopic goals will not help any organization find the right global partner. Asking the potential agency partners the right questions is key to understanding:
    • If they are experts in what the organization is trying to accomplish
    • If they have done this before or if this is the first time they will be working with a brand in this capacity
    • If they are the right strategic partner to help evolve and grow the brand
  5.  Aligned Contract Scope: There are many budget efficiencies to be had by aligning scope with agency services. While this is often a tedious process, many agency contracts include bloat, such as, additional agency services and team members not needed. CMO’s that support their teams to work through this process have seen significant savings in dollars over time.
  6. Reasonable Onboarding Timeline: Onboarding is not an overnight task. It takes work and time from both the agency and your team. Particularly when you are consolidating from multiple agencies to one global agency, onboarding should be conducted in phases with a clear roadmap for success. Make sure “Go-To Market” dates and full onboarding expectations are reasonable with measurable milestones.

Just like any relationship, the relationship with an agency takes work and time to build. Like Matt Heinz’s ‘Agency Management Best Practices: B2B CMO’s and Agency Heads Get Real’ article states, “It’s all about relationships and must be two-way… agencies need to be proactive to become trusted advisor and have a long-term outlook or why waste time?”.  It is about identifying the right partner who is the right fit for the organization and building the trust to required walk this path together. There will be successes and failures, but the responsibility is on both sides for creating a successful and long-lasting partnership.

January 12, 2022Comments are off for this post.

Top 5 2021 Agency Pitch Observations & Recommendations for 2022

At the start of 2022, after another full year of running RFPs and pitching new business remotely (in most cases), we wanted to share our five general observations of 2021 and our hopes for 2022.

  • Practice might make “too perfect”: Often during pitches, the potential client provides feedback, gives additional color to a challenge the agency addressed or asks a question and more often than not, agencies do not use the opportunity for a dialogue. We’ve observed most agencies thank the client for the info and move on to presenting content on slides. In 2022, we hope that agencies take the opportunity for authentic candor with their potential client and use those moments to build true chemistry. Our hope is that the agencies get out of the story they want to tell and get into the conversation with their (potential) client.
  • Talk about the (potential) client: For agencies that do not advance or win the pitch, the feedback we get from our clients is that they feel like the RFP response or pitch deck was generic and not actually about them. In 2022, we hope that agencies take the time to insert the client more into the thinking, keep the focus on the client and their actual challenge and take the time to personalize the presentation that lets the client know that the response is truly about and for them.
  • Try to avoid the “upfront ramble”: In pitches, we notice that most agencies spend more time than necessary on the few upfront “creds” slides. We know that nerves are often high in pitches and we know that the team is excited about the potential partnership, but time is often spent (dare we say wasted) on lengthy intros, client logo slides and services offered. In 2022, we hope agencies get a bit more concise in the “about you” language and shift the conversation to why they are excited to work with the client and how they can help them.
  • Be authentically you: While every agency has access to the same vendors, tools, technologies, data sets, etc. (in theory), what makes an agency special is the thinking and the team. We are surprised by how many agencies do not focus on their people when asked what makes them special. In 2022, we hope to see more agencies highlight their team and focus on their talent. In this spirit, we also encourage them to be themselves in pitches and bring their own personality and be conversational.
  • Be thoughtful and thorough: We completely understand that lots of information is requested during the RFP process. Many times, agencies are delinquent in providing materials or miss important details all together. In 2022, we hope that agencies take a step back from the laser focus in the RFP and make sure all questions have been answered in a thoughtful way and that all requested materials have been provided.

Life is different than it once was when we were in rooms together. This shift in how we connect does require a shift in how we approach connection (this might be more important than it ever was). We hope that our tips for 2022 continue to evoke change in our industry and work towards our mission to help create better agency/client relationships.

March 30, 2021Comments are off for this post.

How To Create an Impactful RFP Response

Effectively communicating your agency’s value proposition and how you can solve your potential client’s challenges matters more than ever. Having read through more RFP submissions than we can count, we thought some tips on how to best position your agency in written form would be helpful (and hopefully help you win more of the right business for your agency):

  • Thank you note: Less than half of agencies kick-off the RFP response with a personal note from the CEO, Founder or President thanking the potential client for including them in the RFP and setting the stage for the rest of the RFP response. It is a kind and impactful way to begin building a relationship. We hope to see all agencies adopt this classy approach.
  • Talk less about yourself: Of course, your potential client needs some important stats about your agency (where you operate, your services, your credentials as they relate to the client ask, etc.), but be very concise with this section. Consider an “agency stats executive summary” at the beginning of the response with additional general information about your agency at the end.
  • Answer questions directly: Clients know there are other amazing things about your agency and the services you offer, but make sure to specifically answer the questions asked in the RFP. Your potential client is reading through several submissions, make it really easy for them to compare “apples-to-apples” between you and your competitors. Be direct, concise and thoughtful in your answers.
  • Information overload: As mentioned, the client scoring team is reading through 5-15 RFP responses, be clear and concise with your answers. Be conscious of slide overload, giving too much information and providing deep details on questions/services not requested. Decks should not be 100 slides.
  • Get to the good stuff, quick: As early as possible in your response, shift the conversation to how your agency can solve your potential client’s challenges. We suggest not using the first 20 slides to talk about your agency, rather use those slides to show how your agency is uniquely qualified to leverage your experience and approach to evolve the client in the ways they need your help.
  • Be custom: While repurposing agency slides is great and there is not an expectation that every slide will be custom to a specific RFP, customize content on the slide with information that is specific to your potential client when possible. Use their name, add information about audiences they are targeting, include key topic themes that are important to them, do specific research that is relevant to them, and include their correct logo, etc. Help them to easily see how “your solution” can become “their solution”.

During this COVID-era where meetings are virtual and people are having “screen burnout,” it is more important to clearly and concisely convey your agency’s value to your potential client. When writing your response, ask yourself a couple of questions:

“Would I want to read this information?” and “Is this information relevant to what the client has asked?”.

Keep your audience in mind at every moment, paying special attention to what life is like right now for the person reading your response. Make reading your answers easy for them and a delight. Leave your potential client confident in your ability to  overcome their key challenges with a strong sense that you truly understand their unique needs and excited to get to know you better.

December 8, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Creating Chemistry Over Zoom: Pitching in a COVID-era

Creating chemistry was a tall enough order before migrating to online pitch meetings. In the absence of sitting around a table, popping up to whiteboard ideas, hearing the sounds and feeling the energy of the room, agencies have had to adapt their approach to pitching business virtually.

If being “pitched at” wasn’t painful enough before, being talked to for an hour over Zoom is worse. So, how do agencies create chemistry, create lean-in from clients and create trust via a Zoom pitch? We’ll tell you, it is tough, but it can be done.

Here’s how you can create pitch chemistry, virtually:
Icebreaker: Do something different to show your team’s personality. Our personal favorite is team “fun facts”. Think less about the formal introductions and more about how you can get your potential client to connect with who you are as people. Clients don’t pick an agency because of your agency name or how long you’ve been in business or where you opened your first shop or how many people you have; they pick an agency because of your people. Focus on what matters and we recommend keeping intros to under 5 minutes.
Make the pitch interactive: Without sharing too many winning secrets, walking people through a slide deck with narration is not interactive. Real-time ideation and game playing is interactive. You should not be afraid to be creative. Today, virtual meeting applications come equipped with polling options, interesting background suggestions etc. Play around with some of these features to animate your next meeting.
• Pause regularly to ask for feedback: This allows for natural banter and creates a conversation. Conversation leads to chemistry.
Time clock management is key: With virtual meetings, you can’t lag around after your pitch for a quick chat or continue the conversation while you’re walked to an elevator; when the meeting is over, it’s over. Don’t waste valuable time telling the client information they are already aware of about your company. Yes, it is fine to set the stage, but they don’t need you to read them their pitch brief or spend time talking about yourself. Dive into objectives and focus on how you can help the client solve their challenge.
Gather relevant background: Do your research about who you’re pitching and ask them about a shared detail (you both happened to go to the same college, you noticed they speak a language you do, they worked for your childhood bestie, something). These moments matter.
Don’t talk over the client: Talking over your potential client is not one of the establishing building blocks for creating chemistry or successful long-term relationships. When you hear the client you’re trying to win start to talk or if you see that their body language show that they want to say something (yes, you can tell even on Zoom), listen to them.

Just like when we all used to meet in person, the agency who wins does the best job of creating professional chemistry; they get the client to lean-in and buy-in at every step of the way. The same is true during a virtual meeting.

Smart brands aren’t picking the cheapest agency or the agency who answered the 128 excel question questionnaire best. They are picking agencies they trust. Trust is the baseline for building a successful relationship. These micro-engagements help to establish that trust and build chemistry.

Building chemistry virtually isn’t easy, but it can be done. We hope these tips are helpful the next time you are virtually pitching.

May 12, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Data Shows how Business Resumes During a Pandemic

Image 5-13-20 at 1.20 PM

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., the financial markets felt the hit too. Many companies responded by pausing budgets and advertising campaigns to focus on immediate business needs during the early weeks of shelter in place. This is shifting again.

Bombora is a trusted partner of ours and we use their data to keep a close eye on the market through their surge data on advertising related topics. Their data has given some strong insights into the health of the advertising industry over the past several weeks.

It is no surprise that during the first few weeks of “Shelter in Place,” the advertising industry halted. Most brands were not focusing on their advertising, but on business critical changes like turning an in-office team to remote employees, assessing how their business will be impacted by the changes to the world with the Corona Virus, what technologies they need to support the new way their business is running, etc.

What is surprising is the quick bounce-back of the advertising industry. It is no secret that strategies, messaging and media mixes have had to shift. This week’s Bombora report tells us that lots of brands are hitting the ground running to further amplify their messaging and getting their messaging to the right audiences. While you may not be experiencing this shift directly in your role or at your company, the shift is starting to happen.

This really the tale of Two Cities, “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.”

Many brands technologies, products and solutions are truly needed right now to support this new environment. They are working tirelessly to support the growing needs of their customers, establishing quick wins, trying to find the most efficient ways to scale, and looking for the best ways to spend money. They are ultimately doubling down on their core and working to expand.

Then there are the companies who are struggling to stay alive during this time. They are also working tirelessly, but their focus is to stay afloat. They are trying to avoid lay-offs or having to make tough decisions, pausing budgets and hiring, reallocating resources and rethinking financial investments.

Regardless of which city you find yourself in, these changes have happened suddenly and massively. Quick and efficient pivoting is essential for survival.

Many brands have very talented in-house teams and deep agency partnerships, but the data also tells us that many brands are on the search of help from new agency partners for their evolving needs. This begs the question: What do brands need the most from their agency partners?

The CMO Council’s Marketing Supply Chain Report, “Understanding the Critical Factors to Achieving Marketing Supply Chain Operational Effectiveness and Optimization” tells us that “Just nine percent of senior marketers believe traditional ad agencies are doing a good job of evolving and extending their service capabilities in the digital age.” Since most offline advertising is shifting to digital, the need for agencies to evolve their strategic digital offerings to their clients is more pertinent than ever.  The 250 Senior Marketers responding to the CMO Council survey also ranked the top five causes of pain and friction in their agency relationships:

  1. An agreed upon set of analytics and metrics that defines success and failure
  2. Limited knowledge and comprehension of the client’s business
  3. Lack of value-added strategic thinking
  4. Pricing and budgeting issues
  5. Integration of marketing plans and services

To provide the most value during this unprecedented time, brands need the most support from their agency partners to help them quickly, effectively, and strategically evolve their digital approach to connecting with their customers from messaging through to digital execution. Perhaps, a new evolved partnership will be the outcome: one where brands will be able to trust their agency partners to act quickly when business priorities shift. After all, we are in this together - now more than ever.



April 14, 2020Comments are off for this post.

“The humanness of a brand is what attracts the humanness of us all” – Messaging in the time of COVID-19

Business “as usual” is hard as brands are doing their best to exist, operate and communicate during these unprecedented times. Among the many changes to our personal and professional lives, climate appropriate messaging has to be at the forefront of this change. This is not the time for slinging a product, but a time for sharing support and building a sense of community.

Competition between brands is taking a timeout and the ambulance chasing is no longer acceptable (frankly it shouldn’t have been acceptable the first place). Messaging is taking on a new life and the way it should have always been. During a time that many are calling “The Great Pause,” now is the time for brands to realign, reevaluate, reallocate and reposition.

Many consumer brands have been quick to respond to this need for change with messaging. Some notable shifts have been for campaigns like State Farm’s “New Normal," Ford’s “Built to Lend a Hand," Quilted Northern’s “Since 1901." All of these brands have shifted to an “in this together” type of messaging and have really doubled down on the human element of their brand and it is working.

Tech companies are realizing how important messaging is too. This is less about where you fall in a Gartner Quadrant, how you’re better than your competitor(s), or claiming to be the silver-bullet to solve all of the IT Buyer’s needs. This is about treating people like people. Slack has done a really good job of this with their first ever national TV commercial “Let’s Come Together."

People are always going through things in their professional and personal lives. There has always been stresses at home and work. But now, we are all facing a new level of difficultly. This has helped brands to understand that when you treat people like people, you gain advocates and you gain business. After all, regardless of your business, we are all being impacted by this and sharing a message of empathy connects with the heart strings in a powerful way.

When all of this is over and we move forward to a new version of our “normal lives," we need to make what we’ve learned from this stick. The humanness of a brand is what attracts the humanness of us all.

January 28, 2020Comments are off for this post.

How To Avoid the Agency “Bait and Switch”


We’ve heard many clients say, “they pitched us with the ‘A Team’, then we got the ‘C Team’.” This is an ongoing issue that can be avoided.

An example is during the pitch process, you get to know an agency and try to evaluate them to see if they are a good fit for your company based on their expertise and experience. You meet many senior agency members and start to establish rapport and trust. Once you start working with the agency, you realize that your assigned team wasn’t part of the initial pitch and may not have the same level of knowledge, experience, and passion.

How do you avoid feeling bait and switched?

After you have vetted your agency list, narrow the list down to the final 2 -3 agencies and insist on getting to know your potential agency team. This request is always hard for agencies since they may not have talent assigned to your business, in the event they win the pitch.  However, think of it this way:  If you were using a recruiter to find your next employee, you wouldn’t simply trust the person they found is the right fit. You would want to interview them as well. Interview each agency’s non-pitch team to understand how the agency operates and to get a better feel for their culture. This is how you will be able to determine if the non-pitch team is a reflection of the things you liked about the senior agency pitch team.

If you’ve made it this far narrowing down the lists of agencies, you should already know that they have the right expertise and experience for your business. Below are some suggestions to consider when it comes to vetting the final list of agencies so that you avoid the ever looming “bait and switch”:

  • Have a video call with individual members of each agency’s team without the presence of senior leadership. This isn’t to exclude senior agency leadership. Rather, to get a more natural and honest read from someone without their boss listening in
  • Meet each “potential” agency team in-person, outside of the formal pitch for lunch or have a mock working/briefing session to get a better idea of how they think, as well as getting an impression of their personalities and work ethic
  • Ask them questions about their working styles: how are they strategically thinking about your brand? How can they add value through new ideas? Make sure to cover anything that is important to you based on any pain-points from your previous/current agency relationships
  • Ask questions about agency retention rates. While this is tough and not completely fair to the agency, it is important for you to know how often people are leaving the agency and the agency’s plan for back-filling vacant roles. This will help you understand the potential risk for having to reeducate and restart relationships with newly assigned members to your team
  • Trust your gut. So much of the agency/client relationship comes down to chemistry. Pay attention to how you feel when you are with the agency team

Slowing down your agency RFP process to include this vital step is imperative for selecting the right partner. Doing your due diligence will save you and your team from avoidable post-pitch relationship frustrations. In the long run, this will save you time, money and lots of headaches. Ultimately, this will save you from the immeasurable toll that a bad agency partnership will have on your brand.

January 14, 2020Comments are off for this post.

Pitch Pitfalls: Observations and Recommendations


We have seen a lot of pitches. Every agency brings their own unique style and personality to the process. The opportunity goes beyond “selling” your agency as this is the time to establish the building blocks of your relationship with your potential new client and for them to get a feel of what it is like to work with your agency. That said, below are some pitfalls we have noticed along with ideas on how to overcome some of these challenges:

    1. Being too salesy: Agencies can focus too much time on upfront creds, showboating their achievements in financial growth, flashy logo slides and the number of awards they’ve won. We have seen winning agencies say things like “Enough about us – let’s talk about you”, spending very little time on data and facts about their agency.
    2. Bringing an army of people but only a few people speak: Often times, the most senior person in the room does the majority of talking. All clients are well aware that after the “win” they will barely hear from the senior folks that did 90% of the talking. Trust your team enough to let them speak in the meeting. Empower your group to walk through a case study or have them share examples of campaigns they have worked on. Finally, make sure every person in the room has a speaking part. This gives your potential client an opportunity to get to know your agency better and builds stronger chemistry.
    3. Interrupting the client: You probably don’t think you’ve ever done this, but you likely have. Even if you’re on a role and have something important to say, if you notice that the client has a question, stop talking. We’ve sat through so many pitches where agencies lose a valuable chance for an authentic conversation with a client simply because they talk over the client. When you don’t take the time to listen to the client, they don’t feel respected and stop listening to you.
    4. Not asking the right questions: You’re not expected to walk into a pitch knowing everything about the brand. Ask questions. You’ll learn a lot from the client and build a deeper bond by opening up a fluid conversation. Get to know them - this builds trust. Clients like working with agencies they trust. However, don’t ask too many questions. We’ve seen agencies ask a stream of questions and not reacting to the answers a client provides which can be seen as a waste of time.
    5. Not enough research and insight into the client’s business challenge: You are the expert and you’ve likely made it to the pitch meeting through some type of vetting process. Now is the time to build rapport with a potential client through your knowledge of their business. This goes beyond case studies of how your organization solved a similar business challenge. This is the opportunity to personalize the approach for this particular client. Conduct some research: How do they compare to their competitors? What is the potential addressable market this client can tap into? Winning pitches have demonstrated the ability to focus solely on the client’s business challenge which builds immediate confidence between you and the potential client.
    6. Don’t rely on your deck: Although your deck has everything you need in guiding the conversation, sometimes “death by PowerPoint” can occur. Breakup the presentation flow by whiteboarding your ideas or sharing your case study in a brief two-minute video. Shifting from the presentation deck to a different format allows the client to “lean in” and stay engaged throughout your pitch.
    7. Not being able to read the room: The client is giving you feedback throughout your entire meeting. Read signs and pivot accordingly. Pan around the room and see which clients are reacting positively to your group. If a client starts to look less engage stop the flow and ask if there is something different they want to see. Agencies not being able to read the room effectively have typically not advanced to the next stage in pitches.
    8. Making promises that you can't realistically deliver: Let’s all just make a pact to stop doing this. It doesn’t benefit anyone. Everyone is eager to win but nothing is more frustrating to a client when an agency makes promises that they cannot deliver on. Saying “yes” to everything costs your company time, money and talent. Be honest, if your firm doesn’t have a certain capability, “At this time, we are not focusing on this but happy to look into this if it makes sense” or “Our focus as a business is to stay strong in what we are really good at before we make these other investments”. A client will appreciate and value

The pitch meeting is the time to connect with your potential client. Let them get to know your team, what your agency stands for and how you can help them. Make sure to be authentic, flexible and to listen to the client. Slow down a bit and let the client navigate the conversation so that you can dig into what’s most important to them. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. And, remember that you should also be getting to know the client to make sure that they are the right for your business.