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What to Consider Before Switching Agencies

Relationships can be complicated, and the relationship with your agency is no different. Maybe things started off great. You were both excited, ready to excel together in whatever you approached.

But the situation has changed. You’re not getting what you need, and it’s time to evaluate making a change. But where do you start, and how do you know if now is the right time?

Here are a few questions to think about if you’re considering changing agencies:

1. What are the current contractual arrangements?

I know, I just had to start with the official one, but it’s good to know what you’re up against (if anything).

Is the contract up for renewal? Great, we can move on to other factors to consider.

Do you have to cancel an existing contract? If yes, is there an associated fee? How much? When would it naturally expire? Is it worth it?

Do you have to provide written notice? How far in advance? Some contracts dictate 60 days written notice, for instance. Factor that in with the remaining length on the contract.

Getting this out of the way first allows us to explore other considerations, including the cost. In this case, cost isn’t just a possible fee on a cancellation.

2. Evaluate the real costs of switching agencies.

When evaluating if it’s worth it, be sure to factor in all costs. There’s opportunity cost. If you’re unhappy right now, what could you accomplish with a different group? You’ll continue to miss out on these opportunities while you’re stuck in a past contract.

Then there are the related sunk costs. If there’s a nice thing about sunk costs, it’s that there’s nothing you can do about them now. These are the costs that you put into the past relationships and projects. At this point, we probably don’t feel they had a good return on investment. The thing is, they can drive us to keep sinking more money into things, because we want to be successful. Now is a great time to note them, and note that they shouldn’t play a role in the decision we’re making right now.

What about switching costs? While a new team can bring new energy, it also takes time to get everyone up and running. That includes potential discovery phases as well as practical pieces (files, assets, etc.), process, and cultural fit. There’s the cost of identifying that agency, and then any costs in closing out the past contract. The exact amount will vary by relationship and contract, but it’s good to remember that making a change has its own pros and cons.

Factor all of these in with any fees and consider the time it would take to work through cancellations.

3. Consider the current situation.

What’s the relationship like now? What’s the situation? Things probably aren’t fabulous if you’re evaluating making a change.

If you’re not sure yet on making a change, can you communicate your concerns to the agency (whether a team or better yet, a lead contact) in a way that would be collaborative? Sometimes open, honest communication can still salvage these situations. Other times it’s gotten beyond that.

If a change is in order, is it a friendly, mutual parting of ways? In some cases both parties recognize things aren’t going well and agree to make a change together. This is the best chance to wrap up and learn from the experience.

If it’s not a friendly parting of ways, what do you need to protect? Are there passwords you need to change? Files you need to be sure you have ahead of time? Assets you need to download from an online server somewhere? Hopefully you will have a seamless, respectful transition, but being prepared ahead of time is a best bet.

4. Confirm what you own.

Who owns what? Hopefully this is a conversation you’ve already had with your agency, but if you haven’t, now is the time to confirm which assets you own, and if there are any assets the agency retains.

This varies by arrangement, and it’s good to know what to expect. For instance, do you already have source files for your materials and there’s no concern about collecting those? Or do you need to take certain native files with you to a new agency? If so, can you get those?

Some agencies charge a fee for source files, others share files willingly, others consider those files part of their intellectual property and will only provide PDFs or similar. You might not need these files, depending on your situation, but if you do it’s good to know ahead of time.

5. Decide on your next steps.

Do you have a clear sense of costs vs benefits at this point? Consider if you’re shopping, or if you’re set on your decision.

If you’re shopping, you might consider issuing an RFP and inviting your current agency to write a proposal. This is a great opportunity to look back at what you need, what your priorities are, and what you really need for support. What does your agency need to deliver? Are there any changes you need to make on your side? Any changes to resources? You can get a feel for other options out there, and judge what ideas speak to you. However, only do this if you are really considering other options. Fishing for ideas to send to your current team doesn’t build a great reputation.

If you’ve decided to move on, and you’re parting on good enough terms with your current agency, discuss with them how they feel things could have been different. Conduct a debrief with them. It might be a little uncomfortable, depending on the team, but the insights could be useful.

If that’s not likely to be fruitful, conduct an internal debrief or post mortem. What went wrong? What was preventable? Where would you make changes moving forward? What needs to be different with your next agency? Capturing these now can help you prepare for future projects and other agency relationships.

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Whether you decide to fix problems in your current agency relationship or to move on, evaluating switching agencies gives you the space to examine priorities, opportunities, and your evolving needs to make a good decision.

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