Is Your Agency Failing You? Here’s 5 Warning Signs That They Are

The Agency

No matter how thorough your review and evaluation of an agency to ensure it meets all of your requirements before you appoint it to support you, inevitably there are risk factors involved in a client-agency relationship. Sometimes an agency’s appearance – what they say and do – and their credentials – can be deceptive. It’s important to be aware of the tell-tale warning signs of an agency’s incompetency, before it is too late to avoid damage to your company’s reputation.

Here are the top five warning signs to consider, to help protect your company and ensure your agency is delivering effectively.

1. Bad copy.

They send for your review as a matter of course draft or final copy that has errors in grammar, punctuation and/or spelling. And/or, the copy is poor in style, the message unclear and/or it fails to deliver on the brief.

Your agency team should be brimming with professional wordsmiths. And the leader of that team should ensure that all copy sent to you meets all of the prerequisites for professional delivery: it should be reviewed and corrected for errors and style issues before sending it to you. There is no excuse for any of these warning signs to occur. 

If they occur from the outset or happen occasionally, please don’t hesitate to let them know and get their assurances such mistakes won’t happen again. Draw a line (one that has consequences, even to billing, if you get your contracts to cover this – something seriously to consider).

After all, if such care isn’t taken, it has been known for highly embarrassing written mistakes to land in the hands of clients, potential clients, journalists, investors and other individuals and groups that matter to you and your company.

At the very least, such errors can make you and your company a joke and, worse, bring disgrace or trigger hostile reactions from one or more of your stakeholders. And you’ll be the one with the bulls eye target on your forehead, not your agency.

2. They kiss your arse instead of telling you like it is about reputation management issues.

No honourable, ethical agency or counsel should be sycophantic to you when you have hired them to be honest, constructive and upfront with you. (However – and sadly -many do.)

Whether or not you sound them out, if there are potential or real issues your company is facing in terms of reputation, business activities and marketing, it’s vital that your agency understands from you that you expect them to speak the truth and recommend actions to address the concerns and protect your company’s credibility.

If you don’t take their advice, fair enough – that’s your loss and risk, but they should be playing Devil’s Advocate and letting you know in no uncertain terms of the reputational risk issues you face or may face and ways in which to avoid them or propose solutions to address them.

3. ”I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” – Douglas Adams, renowned SF author

All requests for action you make of your agency, whether by phone, face-to-face or Skype should be confirmed by them in writing. And – even if you don’t set a deadline – they should ensure they check and confirm with you a date and time for delivery.

It’s vital for mutual, up-to-date understanding that your agency must always confirm all actions in writing and maintain an ongoing action/to do list for you.

The list must identify the following:

  • brief summary of the action
  • who is responsible
  • date and time for delivery.

4. In a crisis/emergency situation, response time is everything.

Your agency must be ready to respond to and engage with you in a timely manner.

Put it this way: if your company was a person and was seriously injured, you’d rightly expect an ambulance to respond in a matter of minutes, not hours.   We all know every minute counts in such a crisis situation. In many cases and for any number of reasons, companies face their own serious risks.

Given most agency teams will have a minimum of three staff supporting you, you should be able to get hold of at least one member of your agency team at all reasonable times for normal requests.

However, you should ensure there is a crisis communications set of contacts shared between all members of their team and yours (if you have one), and that it covers out of hours and weekends.

In an emergency during office hours it is fair that – if you can’t immediately get hold of anyone in their team by phone then, by sending the agency team an email marked, Urgent: Crisis – Please Call Immediately – you should expect a call in a matter of minutes and no more than 15, and no later than 30 minutes for out of office hours and weekends.

Note: Once you have signed contracts, establish communications protocols and individual contacts (emails, mobiles, home telephone numbers, home addresses – in case you need to express post them/deliver them something in the evening or weekend) and a group email address for the agency team agreed. These should be shared among you on the first day of working together.

Don’t forget all of this should be part of your criteria of performance delivery for crisis communications. Even before signing contracts and commitment to all of your workload criteria, you should all agree such documentation is essential.

Does all of this seem too tough or excessive to demand of the agency? Well, don’t be squeamish. After all, your company’s – and your own – reputation is at stake and this should be bread and butter protocol for them. If it isn’t, and you don’t agree these things, you’re exposing your company to reputational risk that could have far-reaching and potentially disastrous consequences. Still feel it’s too demanding? Thought not.

5. Your agency fails to deliver on its reporting and measurements.

Auditing of work they do should be a standard procedure for them. Results you receive must be both quantitative and qualitative. Criteria for performance and success for all types of work assigned must be clear and agreed.

Daily results should be tallied into weekly summaries that are clear, easy-t0-view and include quantitative as well as qualitative evidence, as well as next step recommendations; monthly infographic-based reports should be delivered, then quarterly ones, and so on.

Keep in mind that your monthly reports need to satisfy your own management/board/boss to demonstrate that you are succeeding in partnership with your agency, and that these results prove this claim.

If your agency fails to deliver on reporting and results, or doesn’t recommend specific ways in which they will measure outcomes, consider it a deadly warning of agency failure on their part.

If they don’t deliver and they don’t demonstrate excellence in their methodology and reports, as well as their performance, consider them “goodbye, so long and thanks for all the fish” (or lack of them). Alternatively, start looking for a new job yourself.


While these five aren’t comprehensive, they are certainly critical warning signs that merit serious attention and necessitate action on your part.

Perhaps if you get a moment, you could let me know the ones that have driven you nuts.

In the meantime, I wish your agency and you a great relationship and even better results.

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