Breaking Up is Hard to Do … Unless it’s with the Agency You’ve Outgrown

Relationships are hard. 

You enter into them with the best of intentions and everyone is on their best behavior to start. But then time passes and the honeymoon phase slowly (or not so slowly) gets eclipsed by everything from minor annoyances to major conflicts. 

If you’ve been with your agency for a long time, it may be hard to know when enough’s enough, so here are a few red flags to look for:

Signs You Just Aren’t Meant to Be … 

Your agency isn’t focused on your business priorities

If your agency keeps sending you keyword ranking reports month after month when you’ve told them repeatedly that you need to see attribution to leads and revenue, there’s clearly a disconnect. It may be that they don’t have access to the right data to get at this (but if that’s the case, they should be working with you to get that data), but more than likely they’re trying to distract from the fact that the results aren’t there. Which brings us to our next tell-tale sign…

Your agency is afraid to bring you bad news or have tough conversations

Marketing is a tough gig and often relies on a good deal of testing to hit on what yields the best results. Traffic will drop, campaigns will flounder, there will be bad months. If all you hear from your agency is good news, there’s probably something they’re not telling you.

Additionally, your agency should occasionally challenge the things you ask them to do. You probably didn’t hire an agency just to agree with everything you say (that’s what mirrors are for), so if they’re not probing into the ideas you bring to the table you’re not getting your money’s worth.

To paraphrase Steve Jobs:

It doesn’t matter that I’m right, it matters that we do the right thing.

Your agency doesn’t back up their recommendations with data

At Seer, we say “We open a data set before we open our mouths” - and for good reason! Marketing is definitely a blend of art and science, but with so much data available at the click of a button (especially when it comes to digital marketing), wouldn’t you want that to help shape your strategy?

The beauty of working with an agency is that they’ve helped several clients similar to you achieve goals similar to the ones you have. The key word is similar

Ultimately, every brand is unique in their market position, value propositions, digital maturity, or all of the above, so while experience can shine a light on strategies to explore, a good agency will look to the data to validate and reinforce that hypothesis before it makes it onto your desk.

Putting the Nail in the Coffin

Let the results/progress be the deciding factor

Working with an agency is a relationship, and you’ll develop a connection with the people that you work with there (and if not, maybe that’s another reason to say goodbye). As hard as it can be, don’t let those personal bonds get in the way of doing what’s right for your business.

At the same time, make sure you’re using a reasonable measuring stick. Ideally you would have set clear KPIs and expected timelines at the start of the partnership (another mark of a good agency), so use them. 

A SEO engagement that doesn’t take your site from utter obscurity to complete page 1 dominance for all your target keywords after the first month is not a failure. If metrics are progressing according to the established timeline or your agency has provided a sound, data-backed plan of action for getting back on track while everything else is good, no need to worry!

Avoid breaking up during your busy season

Cutting ties with your current vendor more than likely means onboarding a new one, and this shouldn’t be rushed. No matter how much experience an agency has, there will always be a learning curve at the beginning and you need to make sure you can dedicate the time to helping set them up for success.

If you absolutely have to part ways during peak business time, be sure to give the incoming agency a little grace and let them know that you’re aware how challenging the situation is.

Advice For Moving On

Make sure you have access to everything you’ll need moving forward

The worst feeling in the world is realizing you need to email your old agency a week after the split to get the login for your brand’s Facebook account (okay, so maybe it’s not the WORST feeling, but in the context of what we’re talking about here it’s pretty bad). Don’t let it happen! Did your agency build your website? Get the admin login. Did they set up your Google Ads account? Get the admin login. Did they create a Google Data Studio dashboard that your CEO can’t live without? Say it with me now...get the admin login.

Keep it professional, don’t burn bridges

This can be difficult if your agency has cost you more than a few night’s sleep, but do everything you can to keep the separation at the professional level. This is a business decision and should be treated as such.

Plus, the marketing community is surprisingly small, so you don’t want to burn any bridges by being the jerk when showing your agency the door. It may come back to bite you!

Onboard your new agency before wrapping up with your current agency

In order to minimize/avoid any downtime in your marketing efforts, make sure to have your new agenc(ies) up and running before your current relationship ends.This will give your new agency time to ramp up before everything rests on their shoulders, and you can address any questions/needs before parting ways.

If possible, see if you can get your outgoing agency to help with onboarding your new one(s). Again, if everyone keeps it professional, this can be the ideal way to ensure a smooth transition. You’ll want to feel out your current agency before forcing this type of situation; if it’s going to be at-all contentious, you’re better off serving as the mediator for any knowledge transfer rather than risking any delays and misinformation that could come from an awkward situation.

Look Forward to a Better Tomorrow

Deciding to move on from your current agency is not an easy decision, but it really is for the best (for both sides) when it’s not working out. Hopefully the tips above will help you know when it’s time for you to say goodbye. Also, here's a few more resources for making a decision about a new agency: 

Did you nod your head to every section of this post? Let’s talk about how Seer might be the new agency you’re looking for!

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Brendon Cottreau
Brendon Cottreau
Sr. Manager, Business Strategy