Inside/Out: Why agency relationships succeed or fail

Your agency: Inside/Out  

Everything your agency wants you to know but won’t tell you because they don’t want to get fired. 

Here at Push, we’d like to present a series of articles to help clients better understand and work with their agency.

A Forbes study shows that only 41% of all marketing clients have a positive view of their agencies.  Only 38% report they are satisfied with their agencies*.  But we don’t believe it has to work this way.

In the posts that follow, we’ll lift the lid on creative agencies. We’ll pull back the curtain. Get ready. It’s a curtain filled with passion and brilliance, hard work and… need we say it…even love.


Why Agency Relationships Succeed or Fail


John Gottman is a behavioral psychologist, heading The Love Lab at the University of Washington. In spending some time with couples (and hooking them up to every monitor you can possibly imagine) Gottman is able to predict, with over 90% accuracy, whether the relationship will make it or not.

In his book “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail”* Gottman cites what he calls “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”.  These are the stages most marriage relationships go through as they devolve.

  1. Criticism “Why do you always say things like that?”
  2. Contempt “It’s just like you to say something like that?”
  3. Defensiveness “I would never talk to you the way you talk to me. ”
  4. Stonewalling “Why even bother to talk about it anymore. You’ll never change.”

If couples are going to maintain a long and successful relationship, they need to recognize the signs of this devolution and work to circumvent the pitfalls that happen along the way.

The same holds true in many agency/client relationships. When a relationship goes sour, it starts with subtle cracks in the wall, little chinks in the armor. A missed deadline here, a little scope creep there, edits missed, giving attitude in a meeting, a poorly written creative brief, a missed request.

Has the agency become too comfortable in the relationship? Maybe. Are you, the client, not being clear? Possibly. Is there baggage on both sides? Probably. Are both parties trying to put their best foot forward? Usually.

Like Gottman’s Four Horsemen, we’d like to suggest there are often four stages in the devolution of a client/agency relationship as well.

  1. Education “There are just things you need to understand about us.”
  2. Frustration “Where did that budget come from?”
  3. Sarcasm “You’re not sending me a bill for THAT, are you?”
  4. Avoidance “We can probably just handle this internally.”

But it doesn’t have to work this way.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll publish a series of posts that will shine the light on how agencies work. We call it our “Inside/Out” series. By better understanding what happens behind-the-scenes, you’ll glean helpful hints for getting your agency relationship back on the track and moving ahead at full steam.

*Forbes Study

*Why Marriages Succeed or Fail


Don Low is a principal at Push. When he’s not working, he’s turning laps in a pool, riding his road bike, rooting his kids on or deciding what to make for dinner.






Inside/Out: Why agency relationships succeed or fail