When clients kill their own campaigns

  • May 30, 2022
  • Reading time: 3 min

Client-agency relationships often start like any other relationship: the agency wines and dines, the client checks out their options, a match is made and the honeymoon phase commences. 

Everyone starts with the best intentions. It’s all so new and exciting… there’s a world of possibility. The agency puts its best foot forward, the client wants to be innovative and stand out. Everything in the world is good.


Reality kicks in.

Enter the client’s stakeholders.

Meeting the family

If you’ve ever been in love, you’ll know how ‘interesting’ things can get when your new partner’s mum, brother, second cousin or great-aunt gets involved in your burgeoning romance. It’s the same for agency-client relationships. 

The client who actually chose you and your brave creative campaign isn’t necessarily the one with the final say in the work you’re trying to produce. Product marketing has a big stake in this, so they want to be involved. And so does the business team. The sales team has plenty of opinions. As do field engineers. And customer success managers. And don’t forget about that other subject matter expert, who’s been working in the industry for 20 years. 

Before you know it, the client’s internal politics is taking front of stage. And the big creative ideas? More like a supporting act.

Big group, big problems

When you have such a big group to please (especially if it’s a big group of non-marketers) the decision-by-committee that’s formed with all the best intentions is often responsible for killing every single big, bold, innovative creative idea that comes their way. 

Is it because they’re ‘bad people’? Of course not! Nor is the fact that they’re (most likely) not marketers. It’s simply the fact that they exist.

That may come across as harsh, but experience has shown me time and time again that there’s no such thing as a killer campaign that was decided by committee. The more decision-makers, the more ideas are diluted. 

If you try to please everyone, something has to give – and in the case of campaigns, the ‘something’ is usually the innovative, creative pull from the campaign. 

Relationship breakdown 

So there you have it. The promised relationship, the eager agency and the perfect client, destined to do great things together, win awards, get groundbreaking results… But instead they put out a campaign that’s just… meh

I don’t believe any client wants to go out there to kill their own campaigns. Why would they? They have the best intentions. But clients also have to navigate their organisation’s politics, gathering support and building momentum. Unfortunately, if not managed correctly with the right roles and responsibilities in place, with the right level of expectations set, everyone chips in, and the campaign’s fate is sealed.

I’ve personally seen it both ways – long, dragging processes, getting to version 16 when a new stakeholder suddenly reviews and has to have a say on the final copy. But I’ve also been fortunate to work with clients that are so agile and nimble, bringing bold ideas to life for them is a breeze.

And the thing is: it isn’t that those clients don’t have plenty of feedback. They challenge, push back and question at every step. They keep the agency on its toes, in a good way. And everything flows. The pace is there and people feel good. The campaign goes live, and you can’t wait to see it out there, because you know it’s damn good work that you’re proud of.

Getting it right on both sides

Some people might say: ‘the agency should always bring their A game and clients have a hard ecosystem of internal politics to navigate, so cut them some slack’. All true and all fair. 

But ultimately, our job is to get results for clients – not to serve up lukewarm work that gets so-so results.

So the best advice I can offer to anyone client-side is: think carefully about who you invite to feed back. Consider how you ask them to contribute, set clear expectations, share the original ask with them, and show them the brief. Tell them what you want from them at that specific moment. 

And if you feel yourself wavering, think about the end goal. Do you want the killer campaign that you’re proud of, that does the job, stands out and gets you results? Or do you want to dance the dance and play the internal politics game to keep everyone happy? What do you think will please your internal stakeholders more at the end of the day?

Agency folk, meanwhile, have a part to play in guiding their client, sharing best practice and ways of working to minimise the impact. Get a download from all relevant stakeholders from the get-go. Challenge your client about this new person’s review. Keep sharing and reminding them of the brief. Maybe suggest a RACI matrix for each project.

Ultimately, it’s very easy for the agency to blame the client and for the client to blame the agency when things go sour. In reality, it takes two to tango, so each will have its fair share of responsibility when a meh campaign goes live. 

The good news? It’s totally avoidable with a little preparation and consideration from both sides.

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