The Biggest Client Frustrations Working With Agencies

The Biggest Client Frustrations Working With Agencies

25th August 2015

This post is the second in a two-part series looking at the biggest frustrations both clients and agencies face when working together, you can see the first post ‘The biggest agency frustrations working with clients’ here.

1. Agencies not understanding what the business does

client frustrationsThis seems like a no-brainer that for an agency to work with a client they must first gain a thorough understanding of exactly what the business does. It is no good just knowing the list of products or services but we must understand the client’s values, KPIs, internal business challenges, targets etc.

Martin Pezet who has six years’ experience working in-house currently as Search Marketing Manager at World First said: “Unless it is an agreed short-term or one-off project, it is really important for client-agency relationships to be a true partnership.  As such it is vital that an agency has a consistency in staff and that they take the time to learn about the idiosyncrasies of the client’s business and the market in which they operate.  This means that specialist agencies might actually have to have a broader appreciation of other marketing techniques than it first appears so they know how SEO and/or PPC fit into the business and what the real opportunity is.”

Jacqui Keep, Content Marketing Manager at Powwownow echoes this frustration saying that one of the biggest frustrations for her is agencies that don’t try to understand the brand and what it’s trying to do.  Another related frustration Jacqui mentions is agencies’ tendency to go off on a tangent and not check in to make sure they’re staying on-brand.

Solution: The solution to this challenge is really for agencies to ensure the commit a big chunk of time to getting to know the client’s business inside-out right from the start. Processes such as a discovery process or onboarding process can often help with this. The most important thing is to ask the right questions at the start but also to keep asking them. From a client point of view the solution is to make sure you give your agencies as much information about your company as you can – most agencies would rather be overloaded with info so that they can work out what useful than not receive enough.

2. Agencies not understanding how the business works

In a related point another common frustration seems to be agencies not understanding how the business actually works and therefore reasons why some recommendations can or can’t be implemented. Interestingly this links with some of the agency frustration points in my first post such as lengthy sign off processes. Agencies get frustrated when clients don’t implement recommendations in a timely way (or at all) but if they really understood how the business works this might mean they know the reason the changes aren’t being implemented and can make alternative recommendations.

Pezet again says: “I know it can be frustrating when an agency puts in a lot of time and effort into recommendations and the client doesn’t implement it.  Let me assure you that this is often more frustrating for the poor person working in-house!  It’s not uncommon for larger companies to have dozens of different systems powering their online presence and sometimes it can take months (I’ve known over a year…) to get changes made to a website.  That is the sad reality for a lot of companies.  Internal politics, conflicting stakeholder needs, old and broken CMS systems… the list goes on!  So it is vital that agencies scope out the capabilities of the client before taking on the work.  As I like to say; sell me practical SEO, not perfect SEO.”

Solution: The solution for this is similar to the first one, spend time getting to know your client including their internal processes, sign off procedures, development queues etc so that you can plan effectively for them and not make pointless recommendations. From a client point of view make sure you communicate these types of things up front so that you know the recommendations you receive will be realistic.

3. Slow response times


Another common frustration for clients was agencies either being slow to get back to them or, in some cases, not getting back to them at all. Again this actually mirrors what the agency folk said about clients too so shows that both sides are wanting the same thing; regular, clear communication.

Solution: As in my previous post the solution to this is good planning ahead of time when you need things where possible and when this isn’t possible communicating how urgently you need something. From an agency point of view you need to be getting back to clients as quickly as possible then they ask for something.

4. ‘A Team’ pitch teams

A very common frustration I hear a lot surrounds agencies sending the ‘A Team’ as the pitch team but then once they secure the business passing this on to more junior members of the team to the client never actually sees the team they bought into again. This can have a terrible effect not only on the performance of the account but also the level of trust the client has with the agency.

Niro Nirmalan, Head of Digital Marketing also at World First said: “During the pitching stages, we usually get the big guns of the agency coming to us with their grand ideas and plans. We are sold on these people but when we start working with the agency, we end up with account management staff who do not have the same level of knowledge as the pitching team.”

Solution: Agencies need to ensure that they’re taking at least the Account Manager along at the pitch stage to meet the client as a lot of the time the client isn’t just buying into the agency as a whole but the people they see. They need to know they can have a good working relationship with those people once the business is secured.

5. Perceived laziness of agencies

One frustration that is worrying is a perceived lack of laziness from agencies this applies to both the strategies they work on and also on the level of proactiveness clients receive from their agencies.

Lynzi Ashworth, Marketing Manager at Aon Risk Solutions said: “An agency will try and roll out the same campaign structure across a number of different products or sectors, where we feel that a different approach is needed for different audiences. This causes a feeling of contention as we feel agencies are being lazy and we’re not getting our money’s worth.”

 This frustration is echoed by Nirmalan who mentions a lack of proactiveness by agencies in times of a market downturn or sharing of industry insights as another disappointment.

Solution: Agencies need to ensure they’re keeping their clients informed of the work they’re doing, going to them with new ideas rather than waiting on the client to request them. It’s also important that agencies stay abreast of their clients’ industry news so that they can be providing relevant insight and recommendations at key times.


So this concludes the two part series showing both points of view, the most interesting thing here is that the frustrations that both agencies and clients and talking about are very similar therefore better, clearer and more regular communication between all parties should be the solution to this. Both have said they’d rather receive too much information than not enough so that’s perhaps the biggest learning point from this to ensure the best client/agency relationships.


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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