Marriage Counseling is much, much cheaper than Divorce.  At MMi, we’ve spent decades cleaning up loopholes in savings promises and mitigating risk through agency transitions.  Institutional knowledge is lost and rebuilt, while media property audience guarantee fulfillment and compliance makegoods slip through the cracks and are lost forever.  Our advice is always, always: have you talked about your needs lately?  That discussion in business is a much easier and more straightforward one than in your personal life.  Though both situations can be emotional, at least in business there are quantifiable goals and results.  And while MMi stays agnostic on your choice of agency, most of us will tell you to first try to fix the one you have.  We have seen too many millions (billions?) in lost productivity of media dollars through agency changes over the years.    

The Simplest Three Questions To Ask Your Agency Today:

  1. Can we prove objectively that you are delivering my communications plan for me at good prices?  (Hint:  Do we have documented Media Performance Criteria audited by a third-party using source data?)
  2. Do you routinely bring me new ideas to connect with my customers?  (Hint:  Do you show me the latest research and risk/reward evaluations when I ask you about Streaming?)
  3. Are there ways we can improve our media cost efficiencies?  (Hint:  Agency, how do you answer this in an RFP, and how can we do that now?)  

The industry is full of biased Search Consultants and Procurement groups who are eager to mix things up and put assignments up for bid with too high a priority on their own revenue and putting numbers on a board.  What we need more of is needs assessment and alignment, and corresponding action plans focused on value creation.  If your agency has the right resources for your brand and media budgets, how do you optimize those here and now vs. going through a painful, disruptive and expensive review and agency change?  Here are a few of the questions to ask yourself before deciding to proceed with an agency review.

1. Have I Outgrown My Agency?

This one is probably the most straightforward.  If you are a growing brand, the “right fit” agency when you first started marketing is rarely the one you will need a few years later.  Some key indicators of this include: your agency can’t afford and/or lacks the sophistication to subscribe to an adequate media buying platform, or the requisite media measurement research like Nielsen for TV, or a third party tracking service such as DoubleVerify or Integtral Ad Science for Digital.  Maybe they give you blank stares when you ask for media mix options or modeling (i.e. they only know Local broadcast TV or only Social).  Maybe you’re ready to be a smaller fish in a bigger pond.

2. Do I Have A Human Problem (Fixable) or A Culture Problem (More Difficult)?

Does your agency lead impress you on a regular basis with passion and thought leadership, and do they bring you solutions instead of problems?  Do they have appropriate support to manage your business and do you trust the accuracy and timeliness of what they provide?  If not, you may need simply to have a higher-level discussion with your agency and ask for a staff change.  If you get to the higher-level discussion and feel your needs are not being heard, or no action is taken, that’s more of a red flag that it’s time for an agency change.  MMi has seen cases where the everyday contact is impressive but can’t get the resources they want for best practices, and others where the agency reputation is stellar and their capabilities are sound but the assigned staff is clearly too junior.

3. Have I Already Tried “Counseling”?

MMi often finds advertisers simply require an agency contract refresh to define KPIs and align with your needs.  Have you communicated that impressions delivery in-flight is the top priority?  That you don’t want to pay for fraudulent or non-U.S. Digital impressions?  Concerns with media performance are easily addressed, and MMi helps the largest national advertisers on a daily basis to make sure the criteria are well-defined and success is validated.  If you are looking for weekly delivery updates and strategy innovation and your contract is 100% based on costs, there’s a disconnect in priorities and how your business will be staffed.  Believe it or not, some times agencies just need training from an outside party on nuts and bolts … like best in class stewardship practices.

Maybe you’ve discussed and aligned contractually, and your expectations are still not being met.  Again, you owe it to your agency partner to make sure this is elevated and addressed.  If it is not, then – and only then – perhaps you consider Divorce court.  

4. Do I Want/Need A Change to Make My Mark?

Maybe your agency was chosen by prior leadership, or maybe you have a new position and want to bring along old friends.  This happens a LOT in the small world of advertising, but should not alone trigger an agency change.  Again, MMi can demonstrate case studies of lost productivity in media dollars from audience shortfalls and non-compliance that falls through the cracks at the media property level, not to mention the distraction and time requirement for both the advertiser and agency in going through a review process, onboarding, etc.

First, follow the above evaluations of appropriate resources, differentiating human teams from organizational fit, and reviewing what is in place and whether it is working.  If the agreement in place with the existing agency is not appropriate for what you are trying to achieve, amend it immediately.  A good agency partner will be open to evolving with you.  Then, validate – via third-party analysis – whether the agency can fulfill it.  This will provide your road map on how best to proceed in the interest of your brand and your organization.

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