Launching a Review? You Owe Your Agency the Truth

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

When a marketer throws its business into review, the incumbent agency has some serious thinking to do about whether to defend or walk away. Perhaps the marketer has a larger responsibility in making that decision a little easier.

There are a few in the agency world who say it's best to "take a hint and take a hike." If the marketer's launching a review, it's already unhappy with the agency's output (or wants change for change's sake). Why blow more money in a demoralizing attempt to woo the marketer back?

The overwhelming majority of agencies will defend the account. It's not hard to see why. Business is business. And the money spent defending is but a pittance compared to the money the client brings in. If you win, you get to keep that many more of your employees out of the unemployment line and the good name of your agency intact.

Besides, sometimes the client -- public-sector clients, for example -- are required by law to conduct periodic reviews. And maybe periodic reviews are good for both agencies and clients as a general rule of thumb. It keeps everyone on his toes and demands fresh thinking from both sides throughout the partnership.

That said, the majority of reviews are launched because the marketer isn't happy with the agency. And in those cases, we don't think it would be too much for the marketer to provide one honest answer to one simple question: Does the incumbent have a chance?

Yes, everyone deserves a shot at redemption.

But what's the point if the powers that be have already made up their minds that, no matter who pitches the account, no matter the invite to defend, the incumbent will not be the finalist?

Marketers, there's nothing wrong with dropping an agency if you're unhappy with the work or want a change of direction you think your shop simply can't provide. The urge to protect the feelings of partners you've worked with for years is understandable. But this is business. And there's no shame in treating everyone like adults, explaining your point of view and breaking things off cleanly.

There is shame, however, in leading an agency along, watching it waste money and time in a futile effort, because you either don't yet know what you are looking for -- in which case you shouldn't have called a review in the first place -- or because you simply didn't have the guts to tell your current agency the truth.

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