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.