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February 24, 2015

It's Always Our Fault

February 24, 2015

I want to talk a little bit about client & agency relationships. I realize many agencies have a very palpable "love/hate" relationship with their clients. I'm sure it is sometimes true on the client's side as well. But it doesn't have to be that way. 

after The Honeymoon

Every relationship starts with high hopes – the “honeymoon” phase – but sometimes things go wrong. Modern marketing is complicated, and not everything tried will be successful. Not every communication or meeting will go well. People make mistakes and accidents happen. No matter how great your agency partner is, you may want to holler at some point. How can you get the relationship back on track, and quickly?

In our experience, nothing beats a face to face conversation. Email may create some clarity around where and when things went wrong, but it sucks for real, human interaction. Finger-pointing and blame games don't work. In the end, it doesn't really matter since it's almost always the agency's fault. 

Owning Up

A good agency knows that when something goes wrong it is always their fault. Well, almost always. There are some truly bad clients out there who live to create pain, but you're not one of those, right? 

Why is it always our (the agency's) fault? Because if the client is unhappy, then we have failed in one, or more, of these three ways: 

We failed to deliver as promised. This means we didn't deliver the work/results we scoped or promised. This could be as small as a discovery brief or as big as a custom website.


We failed to manage expectations. Clients aren't mind readers. They can't guess what we, the agency, are thinking. Too often agencies assume clients understand their process. Remember what "assume" stands for. You cannot overcommunicate expectations. 


We should have never taken on the work to begin with. Let's face it, not every client is a good fit for every agency. Sometimes it is the scope of work, budget or timeline. Sometimes it's cultural fit. Regardless, it is always up to the agency to screen opportunities. The client cannot be blamed for an agency taking their business when it was not the right fit. Too often agencies do this because of the need the business. A healthy agency knows to turn away the wrong work to make room for the right work. 

I don't know of any situation where a client was unhappy for any other reason than one or more of these three. And yes, I have dealt with some unhappy clients in my time – it has always been our fault.

Finding the Right fit

You, the client, can help the agency make sure you have clarity around these three areas above. Ask yourself: Are we the right cultural fit? Do we have a clear understanding of what success looks like? Have our expectations around engagement been set (and reset)? If you can’t answer these three questions clearly, then chances are things are going to go wrong sooner than later.

But in the end it is always the agency's fault. This is what we do – we should control the experience, and if you had a bad experience, then we failed. No excuses. 

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