Do You Have An Abusive Agency Relationship?Being in the digital media space since 2009, it has been very interesting to watch brand-client relationships in several aspects. The most shocking element is how similar some agency brand relationships are to abusive personal relationships. The definition of an abusive relationship is:
“Relationship abuse is a pattern of abusive and coercive behaviors used to maintain power and control over a former or current intimate partner. Abuse can be emotional, financial, sexual or physical and can include threats, isolation, and intimidation. Abuse tends to escalate over time. When someone uses abuse and violence against a partner, it is always part of a larger pattern of control.”
The controlling nature of an abusive relationship is the curious parallel you see from agencies who are not adequate partners for this new era in media and the disruption era.
The first example is the similarities on how a partner becomes unattractive to their partner. One of the things that make another party unattractive and repelling is an inability to “grow”. We all want someone to grow with and challenge us so that we can become the best person we can be. This allows both people to experience change and share memories. If the partner does not have the ability to grow and continues to elicit the same behaviors, that is concerning. If they always want to drink beer all day alone on Sunday’s for over half the year, that is an emotional suck from the partner. It is the same with an agency who wants to continue to discuss mind share, what TV & radio can do for the brand, and loves the discussion about market murmurs in those media spaces. They refuse to understand your needs of wanting to move into a CPA(Cost per Acquisition) model, LTV(Lifetime Value) and other measurable attribution metrics that are required in the era of data and analysis. The agency partner tries to control you by trying to make new metrics insignificant. Almost blaming you and controlling you as though you have come back with a new haircut that makes you look modern and more beautiful. Their lack of growth & support of your new interests makes for a rocky road.
The second comparison between abusive relationships & bad agency partnerships is the dreamer parallel. The relationship partner who claims they will change tomorrow and that they are going to make you proud. After you offer your support, they are all in. You go off to work and continue your path only to notice that after a month, your partner is back to old habits. It is the same with agencies. The agency who starts to introduce Pandora as the newest digital advancement, and then they continue to pitch TV, cable and radio. Every quarterly review begins to look like the same plan from the past 6 years with adjustments to rating factors. Your hopes for the dreamer to gain confidence, grow with you and become relevant are now “dashed”. The hopes for the dreamers are now mired in words but no actions.
The third of many parallels is the “guilt trip”. This is actually the last stage and the most pathetic of the agency controlling levers. As in a personal relationship, the controlling/abusive party sometimes turns your need to remove yourself from the relationship as a life-or-death situation. If you leave I will “kill myself”. The conduit in the abusive relationship is if you move agencies, the agency will go out of business. This has actually been used twice in the past 12 months on clients looking to move to us. The abusive agency actually makes this statement as a last ditch effort to retain a client. Sometimes it works. If the brand decides to stay with the agency, circumstances will more than likely revert to the aforementioned controlling behaviors of the agency. This then continues the cycle of abuse and control.
In the end, the former two types of relationships move into the final stage. The abuser either drives the abused into thinking their dreams are not worthy of being pursued, which then sinks the abused into a depression with no other path than relying on the abuser. On the brand side, this leads to failure and soon unemployment. If the brand can finally remove themselves, it many times feels like a new day has begun. The abuser is no longer involved and allows the brand to become the brand they always knew they could be. Fresher, more confident in their actions, measured and more successful.