Marketing Agencies and the Art of Spin

There is something that every single marketing agency I have ever worked with (and there have been a lot) does. And if you have spent any time on either side of the client-agency relationship, you almost certainly know what I’m talking about. Because it’s quite prevalent.

It is the finely crafted art of sharing all the good news and only the good news.

The client-agency relationship is not unique to marketing. But it is the only one that feel versed enough in to talk about. Though I’m sure this topic could relate to many different areas.

The primary goal of both parties in this relationship is business performance. The client wants their marketing to bring in more customers at a lower cost. And if the agency can do that, they will get to keep the business. And so there is a natural tendency to view the interests of both parties as neatly aligned.

But therein lies the problem. Because the agency’s primary goal is to keep the account, and even grow it. And there are a number of ways in which they might aim to do that, even when it does not align with the interests of the client.

  1. The agency might try to sell the client on new projects, campaigns, technologies, etc. in order to get the client to spend more money, thereby increasing the agency’s revenue. This is often a short-sighted strategy (if it doesn’t work) because it risks ruining what might already be a strong relationship. It takes advantage of the trust that is required on the part of the client in these relationships.
  2. The agency often delivers nothing but good news, even when the news isn’t all that good. The client manager is there to make sure the client is happy. And he or she is often skilled in the art of spin. All news is good news, the glass is always half full, and there are learnings even in failure. And while this may be good business for the agency, it puts the onus on the client to recognize a bad relationship where there is one, and end it.

This post is not anti-agency. Without marketing agencies, many businesses would struggle to meet their strategic goals.

But this should serve as a warning to all clients out there who blindly believe their agency always has their best intentions in mind. The nature of the business is that many times, they don’t.