The biggest agency frustrations working with clients

The biggest agency frustrations working with clients

21st July 2015

There’s a phrase that gets passed around fairly regularly that an agency can only ever be as good as the information and relationship they get from the client and vice versa. Yet so often we hear at conferences, events or just in passing, both agencies and clients complaining about frustrations with their agency or client that get in the way of each of them doing their job or getting results.

So I thought I’d explore this in a two-part piece where I’ve asked various agency bods and various people client-side what their biggest frustrations are and I’ve included the most common ones from agencies in this piece and the client-side ones will follow in the next piece.


1) Clients micromanaging the agency

This point came up fairly regularly whereby agencies feel that they’re being employed by the client to devise a strategy that will deliver the best results for a client according to the objectives and KPIs that have been agreed, yet the client wants to micromanage that whole process and come up with the strategy themselves – the question here is often why are you paying agency fees if you want to do it all yourself? If you hire an agency as the expert in something you should let them use their expertise to guide the strategy.

A second frustration under this point was clients that insist that they know better than the agency when in actual fact their knowledge may be outdated for example – this raises the same question why pay for our expertise then waste time questioning it and stopping us doing our job?

Solution: Honest communication is the key here – as an agency you need to have the conversation with the client that they’re paying you for your expertise and will be judging you on the results therefore you need to be in control of that to ensure they achieve the desired results. If the client can not accept that then they would probably be better hiring someone junior internally to just execute the task work for them (which would also be considerably cheaper for them).

2) Lengthy sign-off processes

Again a common frustration was around sign-off processes client-side and that they seem to take too long and can therefore hold back results. I know this can be tough from a technical point of view with SEO campaigns where changes need to be made but can get lost in a development queue for sometimes months on end.  Although most clients will normally understand that it is them holding the results back some then question why they’re not seeing results which is what causes the biggest frustration.

Solution: There’s not that much of a solution here if the client has no control over implementation but ways to minimise the issues can be to roadmap and plan well in advance so that they can try and book things into sprints at appropriate times to ensure things happen quicker. Also its important to be realistic about what can and can’t be done and not just waste time forcing an issue or waiting around for it to be implemented, focus the time elsewhere on things that can still be done to drive results whilst waiting for the original task to be completed.

3) Poor communication/briefs

This point covers various frustrations – one being that clients often feel like they’re great at communicating exactly what they want when in actual fact they haven’t done so and therefore the brief the agency is working to won’t ultimately deliver the result that the client was looking for. Another being that clients don’t always explain why they’re asking or pushing for something that to the agency seems ridiculous, someone gave me an example of this where a client was pushing a ridiculous deadline for a new website to go live which was totally not feasible but didn’t explain why. The agency finally found out the reason was that he had a massive bonus that depended on the set go-live date which was the reason he was pushing for it.

Solution: Again the solution here, as simple as it sounds, is better communication and there’s also an importance on not making any assumptions. Go through every aspect of the brief you do have got, ask questions on points that need clarification or if you can’t do that caveat your strategy and plans with the assumptions you’ve been forced to make so that the client can check that is in line with what they were thinking.

4) Poor manners/attention

Another bone of contention actually comes down to good old fashioned manners; clients that sit in meetings or even pitches on their mobile phones or tablets and blatantly not paying attention to what you’re saying. Even more frustrating is when they then end up asking you questions which you’ve already answered but they hadn’t been paying attention, this happens in emails a lot as well where the client doesn’t read the whole email then ends up questioning on points that have actually been made in the email.

Solution: This is a more tricky one because its a difficult conversation to have, essentially calling a client out for being rude. The best way to handle this if it is an email is to point them to the point in the first email that addressed their points, in person suggesting a short comfort break to make any calls may also help to get the point across.

5) Response times

Similar to the above clients that just don’y get back to your emails or phone-calls but again then question why work isn’t getting done. This often seems to be the result of people far too busy and senior client-side wanting to sign everything off when in actual fact they don’t have the time to do so but still expect to see agile marketing from the agency. Another side to this particularly from a PR point of view is that if you have a journalist requesting a comment or assets then you really need to go back to them with it ASAP to get the story yet if the client holds that up you can miss out on the opportunity or worse still ruin the relationship with the journalist.

Solution: The best solution here where its possible is again good planning so that you can set a client’s expectations on when you’ll be needing a response from them, for example ‘We’ll be sending concepts over on X date and ideally need your feedback by X date’ then its easier to chase them if they don’t stick to those time-scales. Obviously this is not always possible as a lot of the time you can’t plan for when you’ll need a response however education on the possible implications of not getting a timely response in the original email or phone call, e.g. delayed results or missed opportunities, will usually help to get the response within the time you need it.

6) Unrealistic expectations

A final frustration revolved around unrealistic expectations from clients in particular in relation to budget; some clients seem to expect the equivalent of a Hollywood movie but on a school play budget. Our Creative Director Andy showed this image the other day which pretty much sums it up quite well and got a fair few laughs:

client brief v budget

There are also unrealistic expectations in terms of timings whereby a client expects you to get back to them with everything straight away when sometimes that will not be possible.

Solution: Again (this is a common theme) but clear, honest communication is key here. Clients aren’t stupid they know budgets only stretch so fair so be reasonable and realistic explaining what they will be able to get for the budget. If you can use any case studies or examples of previous to show how different tiers of budget might work that will usually help as they have something to help them visualise what you’re telling them.

Obviously the frustrations outlined above will not apply to all clients and especially clients that have previously worked agency-side seem much better at understanding these kinds of frustrations and try not to cause the same challenges themselves.

As mentioned this is a two-part piece so the top client frustrations when working with agencies will be published as my next article so stay tuned for that! If you have any other common frustrations that you think I’ve missed above do leave them in the comments below, and if you have any client-side ones you’d like to see in the next post get in touch!


Written By
Laura Crimmons is the founder of Silverthorn, a Digital PR agency that fuses data with creativity to deliver campaigns that give you measurable results.
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