Several years ago, when I was working on the client side of the agency business, my company was on the verge of making its largest investment ever in marketing. We undertook an agency search, narrowing our field from more than 40 proposals, interviewing more than a dozen in person, and considering brand campaign presentations from the final three. Upon making our final selection, the agency, alongside our marketing team, immediately began refining the campaign and preparing it for launch.
After nine months — from search to market — it truly felt like we’d given birth. On the morning of the campaign launch, my team had an assortment of baked goods delivered to the agency’s office in Detroit to thank them for their hard work. Not long after the spread arrived, the agency’s Account VP called me and said, “In all the years that I’ve been in the agency business, I’ve never had a client do that.”
“Do what?,” I thought, “Send a muffin basket?!?” That’s no more than what you’d do for a neighbor who watched your cat while you were away. It seemed pretty insignificant compared to months of work, millions of dollars in media spending, and high expectations for the lift the campaign would give our brand. It was a simple ‘thank you.’
Saying ‘thank you’ is so easy to do, and depending on how you do it, it can cost you either very little or nothing at all. Studies have shown there’s real power in those two little words, and we don’t use them nearly enough in the workplace.
This month, the Brllnt team thought about gratitude for our November newsletter theme (obvious, we know, Thanksgiving!) but instead of all the trite memes on the subject, we thought “How can we express our thoughts about gratitude a little differently?” And so I was reminded of another client-agency experience that was more challenging than saying ‘thanks’ at the beginning of a campaign. What’s the equivalent of a muffin basket when you’re ending an agency relationship?
Whether they last a few months or several decades, most agency-client relationships inevitably come to an end. And sometimes, less than amicably. Here are 5 tips on how to terminate an agency professionally and with gratitude — even when you’re displeased and feel 100% justified in calling it quits.
1) Prior communication. This is really a pre-step one. Before you reach the decision to terminate a contract, be sure that you’ve communicated specific terms of the work agreement in which the agency has not met expectations and given them an opportunity to improve. Ideally, both you and the agency will work to resolve the issues underlying the problem areas before terminating.
2) Transition plan. If the issues have persisted, and you’re resolute in ending the relationship, it’s important to develop a thorough transition plan to ensure continuity of your business. Assess the scope of the agency’s work and identify the resources you need to meet deadlines and complete deliverables without disruption. How you plan for and approach the termination will play a role in the level of cooperation and smooth transition you can expect. Consider the following when developing your plan:
- Do you need to extend hours or shift responsibilities among your current team during the transition? Or hire a short-term contractor?
- If you’re hiring another agency, is the current agency expected to assist with the transition?
- If so, is there a budget to pay them for time incurred while doing so?
3) Formal notice. Refer to your contract or Letter of Agreement for terms related to termination, including payment requirements. Most agreements will require proper and timely written notice. It’s never fun to do, but it is good form to have a face-to-face meeting as well (even if it’s a video chat). Regardless of the form of communication you choose, take care to deliver the news with kindness, respect and professionalism.
4) Say “thank you.” Even at this juncture, a simple thank you is appropriate and appreciated. A mere “We thank you for your efforts on behalf of our business and wish you continued success” would suffice, and it keeps things cordial.
5) Transition to closure. Ensure that the agency returns all digital and physical assets. Change access settings or passwords on social media accounts, website log-ins or files in the cloud. And finally, ensure that all work is properly paid for. Please don’t use the termination as an opportunity to renegotiate fees or express displeasure. If the agency rendered services and/or delivered the product, you must pay for it.
Hopefully, these tips serve as a handy guide to help when a tough decision has to be made. As my career has taught me, you never know on which side of the business you may find yourself. The bridge you keep from burning today may be the bridge you need help crossing tomorrow. So wherever you are — in all of your working relationships — show some appreciation for the work and the people you encounter along the way.