The “Grumpy” Poet – Why Should Agencies Pay for Their Clients Internal Mismanagement?


“Management by objectives works if you first think through your objectives. Ninety percent of the time you haven’t.” Peter Drucker

Everybody makes mistakes, agencies, clients, vendors, etc. What’s important is how a mistake is handled and how many mistakes have been made. As an agency we cannot afford to allow mismanagement, in particular, to lead to mistakes. Look, mistakes happen. Sometimes the wrong file gets delivered, the wrong point of contact gets emails, there’s a bug in the code, etc. These are human mistakes that can happen and can be easily dealt with. If dealt with appropriately clients will usually understand – they make mistakes too!

Mismanagement, however, is a very different beast. We’re not talking about a developer introducing a bug, a designer using the wrong hex colour, or a writer making a typo – granted these are sloppy mistakes, but not necessarily contract killers – we’re talking about management level flaws! What is not acceptable in business, of any kind, is sloppy management of project deliverables,  missed deadlines, poor communication internally and externally, missed objectives, and most importantly not sticking to the scope (basically the agreed upon contract).

I’ll be honest, in the early days of Brendan & Brendan we were not perfectly managed internally. We had our flaws and made mistakes, some of which we paid for. But we learned from these mistakes. We spent the last year re-structuring our internal processes and are continuing to do so for 2014 – and we’re better for it.

That being said, we can’t always control how our clients manage their businesses internally. We trust that when we deliver an approved project and close a contract that the client “knows” what to do next. They have a plan and process internally to manage it. Not always true – unfortunately.

Who should pay for mismanagement?

At the end of the day all parties pay for mismanagement – no one wins! The client is un-happy and may blame the agency, the agency is un-happy and may blame the client, or both parties look inward and blame their employees. Either way, it takes the FUN out of Keep Marketing Fun (yes I had to throw that in there 🙂 ).

But here’s the thing. As an agency we cannot be held responsible for our clients internal workings. We have a single point of contact, we have a signed contract, a list of approved deliverables and deliverable schedule, as long as we stick to the “plan” we are providing the service paid for. That’s the basics of it. I’ll give you a common example that ALL agencies have succumb to:

  • Agency X is commissioned to produce a social content calendar for Facebook – not execution just the calendar.
  • The content contained within this calendar is a combination of marketing and community pieces.
  • All content in the calendar has been approved.
  • All items in the calendar have a specific date/time to be published.
  • Some items in the calendar directly correspond to other time sensitive marketing initiatives.

Enter mismanagement! The calendar has been approved, paid for, and delivered to the client. What happens next is way too common. After many conversations, planning, etc., the client does not follow through with the content calendar plan. Items either don’t get posted, get posted at the wrong time, or get posted with the wrong content. The CEO of the company notices this on Facebook and Agency X gets a call. Of course the Agency gets a call, as it can’t possibly be the company’s social team that made a mistake. I think you get the point and can guess the numerous ways this situation plays out.

A good CEO or business owner should be aware of their business is being managed. What relationships they have with service providers and what they are responsible and liable for. And, most importantly have and understanding of what they are paying for.

Point is, when mismanagement is at fault, and you can trace any mistake back to its root, it needs to be dealt with internally.

Here are a few ways to potentially prevent a clients mismanagement or vice versa becoming an issue:

  • Prior to any contractual agreement ensure that both parties understand their roles and responsibilities for a given project(s).
  • Make sure a deadline has been agreed to.
  • Collaboratively map out a calendar/schedule of deliverables, milestones, etc. and attach owners to each.
  • Write up a contract with all the above fact finding information and add any conditions that may apply – be sure to be explicit with conditions i.e. “All feedback per deliverable must be received within 24-48hrs from client in order to ensure project timeline. If feedback is received beyond the 48hr mark Agency X will not be held accountable for project timeline and deadline changes.”
  • When the scope and/or deliverables become a point of question always refer to the agreed upon contract or any other forms of milestone approvals.
  • Most importantly, have an internal process to handle the management and execution of the project and ensure the individuals working on or leading the project have the required skill set to do so.

There are many ways to help guide internal management. Tools and apps, models and philosophies, and of course choosing the right client, choosing the right agency, and making wise hires.

On a final note, as a business owner I find time, every day if possible, but always each week to do some internal fact finding (I consider it my duty). I want to know what everyone is working on. Where we’re at with certain projects. The current state of clients in regards to our services. Office morale. Etc. Without any understanding of how my (our) business is running daily there’s no way for me (us) to achieve success and prevent failure for us and our clients.

I’ll leave you with this (swap species for business) …

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin

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