If you expected that once you hired an agency, you could go off on vacation or lose yourself in another project and the work would magically get done without you, you’re sadly mistaken. You’re also going to frustrate the hell out of your agency.
Just like any relationship, both sides need to contribute. They need you, and you need them. You’re in this project together.
To complete the work successfully, your agency may need you to answer questions to shape the direction, give feedback at certain milestones, and provide information for deliverables like copy.
Make yourself available for meetings and phone calls. When your agency sends you work to review, approve it or request changes in a timely fashion.
When I ran an agency, 90% of the time projects were delayed because the clients were late providing feedback, approvals, or other resources, like copy or product information.
You don’t want the project delayed now, do you? Neither does your agency. And you certainly don’t want to be the one responsible for delaying the project.
If you’re too busy to talk to your agency every week or two, or get them what they need to complete the project, then appoint someone in your company to be the main point of contact and give them the autonomy to make decisions.
A word of warning: if you do choose a co-worker to take the lead as the agency point of contact, don’t come in at the end of the project and change everything. Make sure you’re staying up to date on the progress of the project. Otherwise, you’ll quickly end up on the Top Ten Clients to Hate list. You’ll also incur more expenses for changing the scope or delaying the project.
You’re either in, or you’re out.
Having unrealistic expectations
Clients are so renowned for having unrealistic expectations when working with an agency that there’s an entire department whose main job is to manage those expectations. It’s politely called “account management”.
Sure, account managers are also tasked with bringing in new business and being your point of contact if you have questions or want to discuss strategy, but really, and they won’t tell you this, one of their biggest challenges is managing your crazy, delusions-of-grandeur expectations.
What kinds of expectations are unrealistic, you ask?
You aren’t their only client
Most agencies, the good ones, have multiple client projects on the go at once. They’re not sitting idly by the phone waiting to hear from you. You also haven’t paid them enough to be the ONLY project they’re working on.
Clients often want work turned around in no time at all - expecting months of work to be launched in a week. But agencies have other deadlines to meet, other work to do. They should meet the deadlines they’ve committed to you, but you can’t expect them to drop everything to work on your project alone. Also, there’s a reality to how long it takes to complete certain deliverables, and if you want quality results, that takes time.
The sad thing is, a lot of agencies bend to unreasonable client demands, and force their team to work late nights and weekends to make the client happy and meet their unrealistic expectations.
The people working on your account aren’t robots, they’re people. They need sleep and a healthy work/life balance, as we all do. Everybody in the agency business knows at least a couple of people who got divorced and lost their families because they lived at the office. You don’t want to be part of that problem. And you don’t want to be on the receiving end of work that’s done by a sleep-deprived, stressed out, unhappy creative director.
Don’t make your agency a scapegoat
Clients are notorious for blaming their agency when bad things happen, things beyond the agency’s control.
Your website got hacked? Sales are down after a market crash? Software the agency recommended had a bug or experienced some downtime? It’s not their fault. That’s like if an asteroid landed at your corporate event and you blamed the person who booked the venue.
Shit happens, and sometimes that shit is outside of your agency’s control. Stay calm, ask them to do whatever is in their power to fix it, but don’t blame them.
Thinking you can do their work for them
Having an agency is like having a dance partner. If you want to get the best work from them, you need to let them lead. Don’t step on their toes.
Remember why you hired them - you needed help. You need outside expertise and resources. If you know better, why did you hire an agency to start with?
That doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable ideas or opinions to contribute to the project, but you need to respect their expertise enough to let them do what they’re good at. Let them do their job. You wouldn’t tell a trial lawyer how to defend you in a murder case. So don’t tell a designer how to design a website, or there will be a murder.
I’ve talked to companies who were about to hire an agency to crowdfund their product, and they thought they were supposed to already have all the answers with everything sketched out exactly as they want.
Guess what? The manager at the agency is going to take your sketches, laugh at them, crumple them up, set them on fire, light a cigarette with them, and then butt that cigarette out in the rubble.
Crowdfunding is not just an end result. It’s a process that involves discussing problems, coming up with ideas for solutions, talking to end users and testing strategies. That’s how they get to the beautiful result, your project.
There’s nothing creative people hate more than being handed a paint-by-numbers worksheet. They want to find the solution, not have it handed to them. And frankly, that’s what you’re paying them for!
Accept that you aren’t going to have all the answers at the beginning, and that’s OK. Don’t come to your agency with solutions — come with challenges. Your agency won’t think you’re dumb. That’s what they’re here for. That’s their business.
The only other time you get to sit around and complain about your problems is with a therapist, so just enjoy this.