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The reality of maintaining a complex business relationship where revenue is on the line is that there are several pitfalls that can destroy it. Although not all of these points will apply to all partnerships, the lesson is the same.

If you’re in-house marketing staff: Do you treat your agency like they’re members of your team? How do you keep them in the loop and give them everything they need to succeed? How do you know when you’re not? Don’t get me started on the process of choosing an agency!

If you’re at an agency: How much should we charge for our services? What pricing model should we adopt? When you’re a smaller digital agency trying to grow, you find yourself throwing everything you can at prospects just hoping they will say yes — then, once you close, how do you keep that momentum going?

Let’s dive into three ways the client-agency relationship can be strained, and how it can be mended. This is going to include advice for both agencies and those who have hired one, so let’s get started!


Clients: So, you just hired an agency to handle your advertising. Typically, you won’t have the same level of sophistication as the agency when it comes to the particular work being done.

When you’re looking to build a paid search campaign, you need to work with your agency to establish your methods and goals. This gets even more complicated because very often, you aren’t asking for something specific — you’re simply aware that there is a problem, and you’re asking the agency for a solution. Establish the information you need to provide every time you’re requesting work and use a single channel for doing so. Keep to it!

Now to talking about results. When you’re noticing that ROAS (return on ad spend), Leads/Month, or any KPI hasn’t improved the way you want, tell the agency. Ask how the problem can be solved, and take note of the tactics that match up with the problem at hand. The more you communicate like this with your agency, the better your understanding will become of the tactics involved in paid media — and you’ll be able to make more effective requests.

Agencies: Your responsibility in this role is to take some of the mystery out of it; facilitate an educational process and help your clients understand how specific problems are solved. Ultimately, educating your clients on how to ask for work is only going to help you do your job better. This creates a better experience for both of you — if clients don’t know what to ask for and don’t receive clear communication from you, they can feel like they’re not getting the work they paid you for.

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Providing a real understanding of your efforts solves several problems. If a client doesn’t understand the work you did, they’re relying solely on what the data says — which, again, they may not fully understand. Tell them what’s going on! PPC isn’t magic, after all.

As an agency, you need to create a better flow from beginning work together to achieving results — one that maintains the excitement from that initial courtship period. It can get tedious in those months where results haven’t taken off yet, so it’s important to lay a good foundation and continue being great communicators after the on-boarding.


Clients: Do you ever feel that you can’t really tell if hiring your agency is paying dividends? Sometimes, it can feel impossible to determine if progress is being made, and the biggest struggle of all is that great marketing doesn’t happen overnight.

Being on the paid side of things, I’ve heard countless times how what I do gets results faster than SEO/organic search; but I have a feeling we oversell it. You need to be patient and let the agency do their thing, and you need to be very forthcoming with your goals so that the agency can set expectations properly.

Agencies: Yes, we should do in-depth reporting to show keyword- and campaign-level success, but we should also craft our reporting and insights around progress towards the client’s goal. At the start of the engagement, if the goal was to reach 100 leads per month from all sources, how close are we? Never lose sight of that in your reporting.

Many agencies struggle with celebrating success with their clients — if you’re doing a great job and are on track to hit goals, get your clients excited about it!

Also, I understand that, for many paid search marketers, the day you do reporting is a terrible day. Reporting days pale in comparison to days where you get to dig into campaigns and get strategic, but power through anyway — it’s important!

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Simplify the process

Clients: Being forthcoming about your needs and goals is the absolute best thing you can do to have a successful engagement with an agency. It’s a strange relationship dynamic — you don’t want to push your agency too much, but you really want to see results.

Try to find a balance and consider how you would treat your agency if they were full-time employees of yours. Respect, empathy and other core values for your internal team should all still apply.

Keep your agency aware of your goals throughout the process, and communicate openly. You’re going to get great results from working with your new partners, so keep the relationship simple and be up front.

Agencies: There is a lot of information to communicate in a condensed period of time, and you’re trying to deliver as much value as you can. But take a look at your process from pitch to close and through ongoing work. Are there things occurring that are unnecessary? Are you clearly communicating what is happening along the way, or are certain steps getting phoned in?

If you are not communicating value and explaining the reasoning at every step in your process, the work you are doing feels less valuable to the client. Keep your processes simple and be open about what’s happening.

Finally, keep your billing simple. Hourly billing creates accountability and shows definitively what you are doing. If your agency charges a percent of spend, communicate the tasks and milestones being achieved along the way to demonstrate your value consistently.

Final thoughts

There are countless ways that the relationship between an agency and a client can be improved, but ultimately, what’s most important is to start evaluating how we work together. Let’s evaluate our relationships and work harder to step away from managing campaigns or fulfilling our daily tasks — let’s work together and make things happen.

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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