Firing your agency? Here’s how to do it properly – Paul Phillips

01 Jan 2018

It isn’t easy parting company with an agency, particularly one with which you have worked successfully for a number of years. Professional and personal relationships have developed and there were, hopefully, good times and good results.

In fact I’d encourage every CMO to think about the reasons for considering this course of action, and explore whether the issues can be resolved before making the decision to part company. After all, the agency was once sufficiently impressive to be appointed.

Could you consider giving the agency a “yellow card”, allowing them a period to sort things out before taking the decision to pitch? Alternatively, if you haven’t reviewed your agency for some time and your procurement team want the reassurance that they are still the right agency for you, we often find ourselves helping clients benchmark their current relationship across their working practices and commercial arrangements in order to avoid what can be a time-consuming pitch process.

However, if you’ve given your incumbent every chance and still think it’s time to change, you should check the terms of your contract. Once that’s done, here’s some guidance on how to fire your agency in the right way.

  1. If possible, do it face to face. If you can’t, set up a time to talk rather than calling on the hoof. This is a conversation that requires privacy, so make sure the person to whom you’re talking is not sitting in an open-plan office.
  2. At the start tell them that it’s a bad news conversation you’re about to have, so they are prepared. If the decision is justified, the best agency heads may have an inkling and the news shouldn’t really come as a surprise.
  3. Be honest. You should be clear about why you’ve decided to end the relationship. Be sure to have some evidence and examples of where the agency has fallen short. It’s got to be more than a feeling that it’s time for a change.
  4. Be clear about your decision, and that you have already given them every opportunity to prove themselves. Be prepared for the agency to ask for the chance to improve, but if your mind is made up it’s better not to give false hope.
  5. If you have decided that you do not want to continue working with the agency, whatever the circumstances, you should not invite them to re-pitch for the business. It’s a waste of their time and resource (as well as yours), it gives false hope and it isn’t polite.
  6. Part on professional terms. Tell them you want to be a good leaver and treat the agency properly. There may be outstanding work that the agency needs to complete prior to the newly-appointed agency starting work and getting fully up to speed. This may mean that you are paying for the services of two agencies for a short time. This is preferable than having your outgoing agency down tools at a time when your incoming agency is not yet ready to take on all you need them to.
  7. Give them time to tell people internally, and agree not to go public until all internal communications have taken place.
  8. Agree a joint statement for the trade press in which you can thank them publicly for all they have done.
  9. Ask what, if anything, the outgoing agency would want from you to help ensure it’s a professional parting.
  10. Follow everything up in writing, including giving formal notice.

I hope there’s little need for you to refer to this too often, but if you do, hopefully there’s some guidance that will be useful in what is a difficult task.

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Paul Phillips


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