We Get Fired Sometimes - And That’s Okay.
You don’t normally enter a relationship with an imminent breakup in mind. This blog post is meant to say that in the agency world, it’s okay to think about what happens if and when a partnership comes to its natural end. Honestly, I encourage it.
Client and agency relationships, unlike (some) personal relationships, tend to be fluid. They experience shifting needs and circumstances, and both go through periods of growth or decline. A client may undergo an acquisition, resulting in the emergence of the new marketing director, who happens to have a connection with a different agency. Or, someone knows someone that can deliver comparable results at a 20% lower cost. The reasons behind a client's decision to decide an agency is no longer a fit are vast and diverse.
We’ve seen (and heard) our fair share of horror stories, and are stunned at the way some organizations have been treated during the process of transitioning between agencies. My goal is to make you feel confident that Seer will have your back on the way out, as much as we do on the way in - and even provide some tips & resources for ensuring a smooth transition with any agency you work with.
In this article, I’ll share a few anecdotes and resources for clients and agencies alike.
Want to get straight to the resources? Jump to:
Why you should care about what “the end” would look like when picking an agency
A quick story: we had a 5+ year partnership with a massive Fortune 500 brand. They shared with us that they were going through an RFP within the next year just as we were signing our contract renewal. Only about 3 months into the 12-month contract, we get a call from the clients to let us know that we wouldn’t have a shot. This group of clients gave us 9 months notice that our engagement would be coming to an end.
How could you expect the best work from an agency when you inform them they aren't a long-term fit before it's necessary? Are you going to get the “B-team”? What’s in it for you as the client? These questions a client might have are valid.
This client knew that Seer would have their back based on the deep trust and transparency that became the foundation of our partnership. They wanted to make sure they could set us up for the most success rather than going through an arduous RFP process, knowing they were ultimately looking for an AOR (agency of record) that could offer everything under one roof.
[TIP] When you’re evaluating an agency, ask them how they handled a recent client departure. Even better, ask if they can share any testimonials or references from former clients.
Agency Checklist for Client Transitions
If you're thinking about switching agencies, here's a list of what we do to make sure our clients have a smooth transition.
Use this as a framework for working with your agency through the transition:
Documentation of recent strategic and tactical deliverables that can be used to inform future strategy or implementation. This could include:
- Competitive or market analyses
- Audience research and personas
- Brand guidelines
- Content recommendations & content inventory
- Quarterly business reviews
- Strategic planning decks
- KPIs & performance projections
Paid Media campaign details:
- Account name(s)
- Overview of all campaigns broken down by platform
- Campaign naming conventions
- Keyword builds
- Audience targeting
- Bid strategy & budgeting documents
- Ad types
Historical data access:
- The analytics platform property
- The analytics platform views and how they were used
- Data filters
- Instructions on KPI measurement within analytics platform
- Access to reporting dashboards and links to at least the last 6 months of reporting
Account access:Align with your agency on a timeline to revoke account access for client owned properties such as web analytics, ad platforms, Google Search Console, Conductor, Similarweb, etc.
If you use Basecamp or another communication or project management tool, ask to keep the projects active at least 30 days after the contract so the clients can download deliverables and communicate for any lingering needs.
After that, we archive them so the clients can continue to have access if needed
For all projects, we give a run-down on our strategic areas of focus for the client or new agency to pick up where we left off. This is usually a list of the top priority items that we would have completed if we continued the partnership.
How we put this into practice: we recently put our all into winning an RFP for a client with whom we partnered for 3+ years. They decided to go in a different direction, but we were able to tie everything up neatly in a bow for them.
“Seer was dedicated to delivering exceptional results through their comprehensive and personalized approach to SEO until the very last day of our partnership together. Their team consistently stays up to date with the latest industry trends, ensuring their clients receive the highest level of service. It's rare to see this level of service from an agency when a contract is coming to a close, and we really appreciated how they were partners until the last day.”
— Briana Hernandez, Associate SEO Manager, Terminix/Rentokil
Client's Guide on How to Transition Agencies
A crucial part of our transition process is transparently sharing our experience to ensure a seamless transition, enabling the new agency to pick up where we left off.
If you're transitioning to a new agency rather than handling the work internally, it's important to have a plan in place to connect the two.
We suggest a meeting with the new agency to talk them through all of the important details. This could include:
- Sharing strategy frameworks
- Presenting key deliverables
- Presenting audience findings
- Planning logistics of account access transfers
[TIP] Plan an agency meeting at least two weeks before the contract ends so there is time for your new agency to ask follow up questions or work together to transition some work over a period of time.
Why you should have a partnership retrospective with your former agency
Nothing feels worse than a client relationship coming to an end without any clear understanding of why it happened.. Making time for a retrospective with your agency is beneficial to both parties (spoiler: I bet your agency has some really valuable feedback for you and your team too, which can make your next agency relationship even stronger).
Here is a retrospective framework to use:
Set the time & explain the formatThis is a critical element to any retrospective. The goal is for each party to feel comfortable sharing their perspective to lead to a constructive conversation. Make sure everyone is in the right mindset and open to feedback.
Recap the partnership & what we set out to doThis can come from either the client or the agency. I prefer it to come from the agency with the client validating that we possess the same understanding of what our work was meant to achieve.
Recap the outcome and where we stand todayLead with did we or did we not meet the goals of the project objectively, with the understanding that everyone may have a different perspective on how the partnership went. This will ultimately lead into the discussion portion.
Begin the Q&A deep dive
Allow sufficient time for this part, as this is the main purpose of the retrospective. Ensure that everyone has the opportunity to contribute.
Here are some questions that both the agency and the client should be asking and open to receiving feedback:
- Are you proud of the work we did together? If yes, what made it great? If not, what was missing?
- Did we get the results we wanted and did it make an impact?
- Which of our methods or processes worked well? Which presented inefficiencies?
- What solutions do you recommend to optimize our processes in the future?
- What strategies had the most impact? What elements of our strategy fell flat?
- What solutions do you recommend for how we deliver strategy in the future?
- What components of our go-to-market approach (launches, implementation, etc.) went well? What obstacles did we hit?
- How would you recommend we improve our go-to-market approach?
- What advice would you give to a [client or agency] new to working with us?
- What could we have done differently to retain the partnership? (this should be a question the agency asks, or the client if the agency is the one who decided to part ways)
What Value Does a Solid Transition Plan Add to the Agency?
Enablement is one of our core values, and that doesn’t stop when we come to the end of a partnership. We understand it’s the nature of the business, and we want to enable the brands we’re fortunate to work with to be as successful as possible, even after Seer.
We take the time to reflect on our role in driving that success and how we can do it better the next time. We see all client exits as learning opportunities for how to improve and really appreciate the clients who can help us grow. Plus, these situations help us understand who we’re up against, as that constantly changes.
The ideal though? Maybe our relationship came to an end with one brand but there is an opportunity to do cool shit together again in a different way, at a different time. We’ve been fortunate enough for that to happen once or twice ;)