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Working With Marketing Agencies  |   Executives and Leaders

When, why, and how you should break up with your inbound marketing agency

Melanie Collins

By Melanie Collins

Sep 5, 2018

When, why, and how you should break up with your inbound marketing agency

You should feel great right now, but you’re frustrated.

When you first started talking with your agency, they got it. They got you. They got your goals. They also talked a good game about the strategies and tactics they were going to leverage to help you not only meet your goals, but exceed them.

Unfortunately, something has changed. You don’t know what, but something is off.

“Off” could mean a lot of things.

You aren’t meeting your goals. You don’t feel aligned with your agency. Tasks that should be easy seem much, much harder to get across the finish line. Conversations are filled with more friction, and, at some point along the way, you stopped working together effectively.

Whatever the circumstances may be, you might be wondering, “Are we doing something wrong? Is this fixable, or should we be looking at another agency?”

If the above feelings resonated with you, those are totally valid questions to be asking.

Here’s the thing about about agency partner relationships; they’re very similar to  romantic relationships.

There’s a honeymoon period. They require a lot of attention and for both parties to engage in consistent, open and honest communication — especially when goals or expectations change.

Most of all, when problems arise, you need to think critically before you throw up your hands and walk away.

So, if you’re working with an agency and the going has gotten tough, how do you know if you should stick around and make it work, or if it’s time to pull the plug? And, if it is the right time to move onto another agency, what’s the best way to do that?

That’s what we’re diving into today.

“Should I Stay, or Should I Go Now?”

Change is tricky. Even when it’s positive, it’s still disruptive.

This is particularly true when you’re talking about switching agency partners — even if you’re leaving for a valid reason.

So, before you rush to the decision to leave, you should stop and reflect about whether or not leaving is the right choice. Not only do you not want to make an emotional decision you may regret later, often these issues can be resolved through honest and open communication.

For example, maybe you approached your agency with a set of goals based on a particular set of circumstances.

Then, six months later, those circumstances change — maybe it’s a shuffle in leadership or a shift in overarching business objectives. Or, perhaps, there was a miscommunication around the best solution to solve your problem at the outset.

If you don’t stop and talk with your agency about those changes or your frustration with the outcomes, and they keep trucking along — operating under old assumptions and building out strategies that are no longer in alignment with what you really need — they are not being put in a position to be successful.

Regardless of your situation, it’s important to pause and consider why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling and then challenge yourself to have a candid conversation with your agency partner.

Here are three important questions that can help get this internal conversation going:

  • “Does my agency partner understand where I’m coming from?”

  • “If not, have I tried to discuss it with them?”

  • “Do I believe my agency partner is responsive and willing to adapt to my needs?”

Agency relationship breakdowns can happen for a lot of reasons — many of them can be remedied.

And since you don’t want you leaving to be a complete surprise, these questions will help you ensure that you’re not only saving yourself the stress of not changing agencies when you don’t have to, you’re also giving your agency a chance to make things right.

From there, you can make a more informed decision around whether or not it’s time to move on.

“I’ve Decided to Move on, What’s Next?”

Let’s say you go through the process outlined above, and you’ve realized that yes, it’s time to make a change. (Maybe it’s a problem with fit or you’ve simply outgrown the agency, and you need something more.)

It’s OK — these things happen, and we know from experience there are cases where breaking up is the right thing to do!

That said, you don’t want to pull the proverbial rug out from under them and run out the door. While we know the structure of every agency relationship is different, there are a two best practices we recommend if you’re looking to leave your current agency.

First, Don’t Hide the Fact That You’re Leaving

While it may seem like a good idea to hold onto the fact that you’re leaving until you’ve found another agency, and you’re ready to pack your bags, don’t. Chances are, if you’re not happy, neither is your agency, so having this discussion early on will make your transition a lot easier.

Also, depending on the reasons you’re leaving — for instance, it’s a service fit issue — they may be able to help you find the right new agency to help you. (The agency world is a small world, and we’ve had situations where we’ve been happy to help a client find a new home with the right partner.)

If you wait until you have that new partner, however, and blindside your agency with that information, they may be less inclined to be as helpful as they should be.

Second, Don’t Break Up Over Email

This one is simple. Going back to our romantic relationships analogy, no one wants to be Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City finding out she’s been dumped via a post-it note.

So, with that in mind, you should never, ever dump your agency in writing.

Have a face-to-face conversation. If it can’t be in person, use a video web conferencing service like Zoom. Again, if you’ve gone through the right process, this conversation shouldn’t be a total surprise.

For record-keeping purposes, you can (and should) follow-up that face-to-face conversation with a confirmation of your departure in writing. But you still must start with a respectful conversation, where your agency partner has a chance to respond and offer support.

Not only is it common courtesy, it’ll make the start of your transition much easier.

Finally, Don’t Rush Your Decisions or Your Actions

We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. When things aren’t going well, it’s totally natural to feel like you need to take immediate action. To rip off the band-aid and do an about-face immediately.


It’s easy to fall into the trap of emotional decision-making or to make assumptions that your situation is dire, with no possibility of your agency being able to right the ship.

Even if it’s the right decision, you’re still talking about a massive change. You don’t want to look back, six months down the road, and realize you didn’t make your situation better. In fact, you’ve made it worse.

This is the exact moment when you should pump the brakes.

Slow down. Be self-reflective. Be mature. Ask the right questions — of yourself and your agency.

Free Assessment:

How does your sales & marketing measure up?
Take this free, 5-minute assessment and learn what you can start doing today to boost traffic, leads, and sales.

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