3 Project Management Keys to Keep You and Your Agency Happily Together

Author: Vince St. John
Posted: Sep 28, 2016

It’s not you, it’s me.

Actually, on second thought, it’s totally you.

When client-agency relationships go south, it’s typically the latter. Metrics weren’t met, deadlines were blown, cost was too high, “just wasn’t the right fit.” Whatever. Clients and agencies breakup like high-school sweethearts. Can be for a million different reasons, and they might make sense or they might not.

But what’s lost when those relationships dissolve is significant – the investment of time, money and knowledge over weeks, months or years. Why, yes, we can gaze longingly into each other’s eyes over crème brulee during the new business phase. After we’ve really hit it off, maybe you come back to my place. But once we’re really down to business, who gets to choose the restaurant? Are those your shoes in the middle of my floor? Did you seriously just try to use my toothbrush?

For this relationship to last, here are a few things to consider before we swipe right:


Did you just get out of a long relationship? Or is this your first time? What if I want a relationship more than you? None of those things preclude a relationship working out, but they are factors to be aware of. 

A client or Marketing Director who hasn’t previously worked with an agency has different expectations than one who has. Likewise, a client who just ended a long-term relationship will definitely have a standard order of business, from cost to workflow to invoicing. How willing are either of you to adapt? Openly discussing workflow processes (project management) allows all needs to be heard and agreements made. If we’re not taking a deep dive into those variables early on, we might just be doomed before we get started.



Okay, so we think we’ve found a good thing. But what are we really doing here? Does he/she really like me? Are we Facebook-official? Am I bae? Er, that is… at the point we start work, what’s our scope?

What is the process for client review? What counts as a revision? These things need definition on every project. In some relationships, maybe we can set them and forget them – the same answers apply for all projects. For other clients, with Marketing Directors, department managers, Presidents, CEOs, boards, etc., those might shift for each project, depending on scale. Define your phases, your stakeholders at each phase, and the proper time for each review. This ensures good input, on-target work, fair cost, and timely delivery – common goals on both sides of the relationship. And when challenges happen (rush projects?) let’s acknowledge the issue and build a project plan accordingly that works for all sides. We can get through this together.



That’s right, the "C word." Things are good. It’s serious. Now comes the real test. Did we mean what we said that time we drank that whole bottle of malbec in the park? Here’s where the previous two steps pay off – agency and client should know each other well by this point. That’s work processes, decision makers, preferences and sticking points. If we’ve been diligent in the previous two steps, we’re in good shape here. We have a project plan we all believe in, and, hopefully, we can stick to. The scope, timeline and cost determined in the project plan should read like a checklist toward successful project completion. If we go off track, suddenly things don’t add up. Commitment to that project plan is critical.

And like in love, if it doesn’t work out, maybe it wasn’t meant to be. Agencies and clients are all different. Some are great matches, and others, maybe not. But hopefully with the tips above, a relationship that might work doesn’t fizzle early. A little work up front can go a long way. After all, no one ever said love was easy. And in the case of a break up, it was definitely you.

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