It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye
How to manage the end of a relationship between an agency and its client
In business, as in life, there are relationships. There are beginnings, middles and unfortunately, there are endings. In advertising and branding, it can be the ending of a relationship with a vendor, a team member, or a client – each one takes its toll on the emotional fabric of the creative process. For me, this has been the hardest part of advertising – the end.
In the immortal words of Michael Corleone, “It’s business, never personal.” But when you pour your heart into what you do, immersing yourself into the work and the success of those you work for, well, it is hardly ever that simple.
While no one ever wants to be on the tail end of being let go, canned, dumped, or fired, it’s a reality that we must all face at one time or another. Sometimes, these endings are due to poor communication between the client and the agency – the Kryptonite of all relationships. Sometimes though, changes come regardless of the effort, history or results.
One thing I have learned over time is that it is always best to be the one coming to this reality first. There is nothing worse than a relationship proceeding longer than it should. But how do you know when it’s time to move on?
Look, it’s never easy to break up with anyone. I get that, trust me. I think I still may be officially dating a few people from 1992. At that time it was easier to just stop returning phone calls when things got complicated. As a grown up though, it requires a little more tact and responsibility.
To begin with, you have to take a hard look at the promise you made at the beginning of the relationship. Have both sides met their end of the bargain? Has one side grown, while the other did not? Have expectations changed along the way, and have those expectations been communicated?
In advertising, it is rare that an agency will ever turn down money for work, but here is the moral to this story – you have the wrong agency working for you if they have never told you no. Yes, we are in the business of listening to needs, and executing visions, but we are also in the business of providing results, and if an agency’s advice and recommendations are no longer listened to, then it is often time for that agency to move on.
With that being said, there is often little you can do when new marketing directors are hired, and changes take place regardless of the results. All bets are off at that point, and you can pretty much plan on that awkward moment when you discover you are no longer the prettiest girl in the room.
It’s not easy, but if you can establish trust early on and manage the ebbs and flows of new marketing directors and brand managers, then there is always hope for a strong and thriving relationship. If there comes a time when both parties no longer remain on the same page though, then it may just be time to say goodbye.
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