Why Are Marketers Leaving their Digital Marketing Agencies?

We’ve heard through the grapevine that a startling number of businesses are breaking up with their agencies. Instead of getting defensive and talking about how great we are, we wanted to learn more.

That’s when we discovered a 2023 marketing relationship survey from Setup®. The survey found that 55% of marketers are actively seeking new digital marketing agency partnerships. 

This trend has unfortunately been on the rise for some time. But why? Let’s shed some light on what we discovered.

Why Are Companies Breaking Up with Agencies?

The crux of the problem is simple: Agencies don’t understand their clients or their specific marketing challenges. Healthy agency relationships and high ROIs are dependent on understanding.

This understanding isn’t just within the work or what’s expected out of the partnership. There’s a void of understanding in the basic forms of communication.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard a sampling of similar complaints from new clients.

One of our clients had this to say about a previous agency, “Our last agency couldn’t tell us with any sense of certainty or clarity what our performance looked like. When we asked for their rationale, they just told us it was ‘best practice’.”

This lack of understanding can take many forms, but we keep hearing about the following three stumbling blocks of agency relationships.

  1. Unfocused Marketing Strategies

Rather than unifying marketing efforts with a clear strategic vision, some agencies take more of an a la carte approach, taking care of needs as they arise. Unfortunately, this approach turns marketing into a series of random actions rather than impactful, business-driven results.

  1. Superficial Understanding of Complex Needs

Too often, digital marketing agencies respond to unique market challenges with the same, “one-size-fits-all” solution. They cut strategic corners in favor of what’s “worked before,” with no evidence that it will work again.

  1. Lapses In Trust and Transparency

Fewer and fewer marketers are convinced that they have an honest relationship with their agencies. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest one is a lack of communication. Maybe ROI hasn’t been as high as promised or the agency operates on the shady side of the promotion spectrum. Whatever the case, hiding results and processes is a terrible look.

What Is Most Important in an Agency Partnership?

Hearing so many companies struggle with their agencies is a little disheartening. But there are also plenty of agencies who do it right.

As an agency that champions the partnership dynamic, it’s our dream to see this dissonance dissipate and for agencies to refocus on your needs.

The SetupⓇ survey asked what client-side marketers thought was most important when selecting a new agency partner. The top five answers were:

  1. Chemistry: When there’s a spark, magic ensues. When there isn’t one, it’s a bummer. But that’s ok! It’s better to learn sooner that the agency isn’t a good fit so you can continue your search for the right one.
  2. Professionalism: Your standards don’t need to be in the stratosphere, but they should show respect for your time and expertise.
  3. Creativity: Creative problem-solving is the key differentiator between agencies. Take time to find one whose creative vision best aligns with yours.
  4. Agency’s understanding of the industry: Just because an agency hasn’t worked in your industry isn’t a dealbreaker. If they show up with the research and intrigue to back up their pitch, that’s a good indicator of their willingness to learn.
  5. Client experience: Past clients are often the clearest windows into an agency’s antics. 

Our Takeaway: A Shared Commitment to Problems Keeps Partnerships in Focus

From our point of view, the agency-marketer relationship will always center on the work that needs to be done. But that’s not to be confused with partnership. Marketing has to be the outcome, but the means must be a shared focus on the unique problems and desired success of each unique partnership. 

But that’s just our take from this survey. What’s your experience? Where have you seen agency shortcomings in your partnerships? 

We’d love to hear from your perspective so we can get a clearer read on where the agency-marketer relationship is going wrong.