Can't We All Just Get Along?

Perhaps the most painful happening for any agency is the transitioning of a client.  Whether you are gaining or losing the client, these occurrences are notoriously characterized as awkward and often-unfriendly exchanges that leave agencies and clients jaded, not to mention at a disadvantage. Client and agency performance suffers when transitions are handled haphazardly and with disdain, yet this is the environment in which we continue to operate.

A client's decision to leave their old agency should not equate to a change in the level of service provided, as that should never change, though it frequently will.  Similarly, new agencies that approach the transition process with a haughty and victorious demeanor merely showcase their business immaturity and inevitable demise.  Such behavior begs the question, "Why all the hard feelings?"   

Didn't the first agency learn not to burn bridges in business?  Furthermore, acknowledging that the second agency will, at some point, find itself in the same precarious situation as the first, wouldn't it be wise to do unto others as they would have done unto them?  It is laughable to compare the transitioning of clients to the fundamentals learned in kindergarten, but an undeniable correlation exists. 

This analogy reminds me of Tom Hanks in his portrayal of Jimmy Dugan, the coach of an all-woman's baseball team, in "A League of Their Own."  As a whimpering player approaches the coach with a less than adequate excuse for her sniveling outburst, Dugan, in disbelief, shouts "There's no crying in baseball!" 

Coach Dugan's assertion applies to our industry as well.  This is business.  We are professionals.  This is not a playground filled with five-year-olds, and there is no crying in business.  How then do we, as professionals, rise above our child-like tendencies?  First, we must realize that client transitions can have long-lasting effects for all parties involved; thus the more smooth the transition the better.

Like any relationship, communication is the most important element of the equation.  It is the burden of each agency to assist the other in the transition and ensure an optimal outcome.  For instance, healthy transitions require the new agency to exercise a level of inquisition in order to fully understand the strengths of the first agency and its historical relationship with the client.  Understanding of the relationship that was, will only strengthen the bond between the client and new agency and help it maneuver past previous pitfalls.  In theory, this thoughtful navigation will expedite the rate by which expected performance is delivered.

Whether in the short or the long term, both agencies and client are better served if they facilitate the transition with integrity.  By skipping the bad breakup, the first agency has preserved its relationship with the client, allowing for potential referrals in the future.  Similarly, the new agency is now in a position to glean firsthand insight into what worked and did not work for the previous agency, and then use that knowledge to curb ramp-up time and mitigate risk.  Some may say the old agency's childish desire to witness the new agency fail is natural; however, wishing this outcome on former clients is shortsighted and simply bad business.

For agencies acquiring new clients, I implore you to design a standard "hand-off" protocol that embraces the previous agency from the start.  Should you encounter resistance from the other agency, challenge them to a higher standard.  Diplomatically probe the old agency for critical information on historical performance and campaign nuances.  Sure, clients do their best to fill in the new agency, but we must strive for a cooperative partnership first. 

I realize much of what I have described is, perhaps, a little warm and fuzzy for some.  Let's face it -- this rosy and euphoric depiction is unlikely to fully translate in real life. However, as stewards of performance, we are professionally obligated to challenge the status quo and dare to operate outside the norm before performance is compromised.  It's time to look beyond the playground and check the name-calling at the door.  We have business to conduct.


 

Recommend (18)
1 comment about "Can't We All Just Get Along?".
  1. Michael Hubbard from Media Two Interactive , June 4, 2009 at 12:16 p.m.

    Not that I disagree completely with your article, but being on both the winning side and the losing side - I can tell you with 100% certainty that none of this is the agencies responsibility. How professional this is handled comes down to how professional a client lays out the ground work. For example, a year or so ago we lost a large client - and the client notified us via email (bad move #1). The new interactive director flat out lied b/c she didn't understand what we were doing, so she brought in a new agency. After a 3+ year successful relationship with the company (before this new director came into play), we did not want the company to fail as we enjoyed them and believed in them – so we did everything in our power to make a smooth transition. Still, the new agency wanted to know what worked, what didn't, why, how we did things, etc. If the new agency has a proven track record, it doesn’t matter how we did things – that’s why they’re being hired. Ask us questions about contracts, rates, how to transfer search, etc – but not strategy. This is why transitions MUST be structured by the client. If the client themselves doesn't know what's working and what's not working already, then the agency should be scared to death as they are doomed the same fate.

    If your client doesn’t have a transition plan, then you might just want to start asking why they’re transitioning in the first place. Chances are, they just don’t understand what’s going on, and they probably aren’t qualified to be making that transition in the first place.