No one in the history of business has led an error-less existence. It doesn't matter if they're an internal marketing employee or a recently hired marketing agency, they're going to make mistakes eventually, no matter what their level of experience is.
The hectic nature of the early times within the client-agency relationship all but guarantees that mistakes will happen and issues arise. It could happen during the first deliverable or sadly sooner, during the kickoff meeting. When this first mistake happens doesn't matter near as much as how both parties involved deal with it.
There are a number of key moments that occur between an organization and a digital marketing firm that will define the two's entire relationship. Depending on how both sides handle those moments, either a short-lived client-vendor interaction or long-term partnership will be the result. Knowing this, it's important that you understand what these moments are, what they mean to both sides, and how you can properly navigate through them. Going through all these things will help you and your digital marketing agency build a true partnership.
Key Moment: The First Mistake
Unlike other key moments within a client-agency relationship, the first mistake is obviously not something that is planned for nor is it one that either side looks forward to. Relationships are built on elements that each side has control of and while it makes sense to lean on the success of kick off calls and deliverables, mistakes are where the trust that holds relationships together is built. While few people willingly make mistakes within this type of relationship, how it is approached and dealt with is fully within both the client's and agency's control. Will feelings around this mistake be publicly discussed or privately held? Whether or not cooler, more understanding heads will prevail over ego and unrealistic expectations lands squarely on the shoulders of both parties involved.
- Don't be a big mistake - everyone makes mistakes and most reasonable people will expect some initial deliveries to have a degree of error as the agency continues to learn about their taste and expectations. Even within a reasonable person's mindset though, mistakes that are made should still be minor and show progress toward what was initially requested.
- Accept responsibility - trust between a client and their agency is a precious thing. If a mistake happens, you should be looking for the agency to accept responsibility instead of denying or deflecting blame elsewhere. You want to know that your agency isn't going to give excuses and is capable of owning up to mistakes its made to show you they're honest human beings.
- Fix it quickly - Owning up to a mistake and fixing it are two very different things. The response time to issues like this is very important to you as the client because you want to know that your agency is going to properly prioritize the urgent and important issues that you see. If they can't or won't fix a mistake quickly, do they really understand what's important to you within your campaign?
- Show me you're making progress - mistakes happen but the same mistake should never happen twice. Many mistakes can be chalked up to the learning process an agency goes through when working with a new client but that learning process should include tweaks that need to be made to avoid mistakes in the future. Once a mistake is made, as a client you will be looking for your agency explaining to you how a new process or system will be used moving forward to help the campaign avoid this hiccup.
- Be honest but understanding - making a mistake in your professional life is never fun, especially when there's money involved in what you're doing. Many people within the agency realm understand that a mistake within a campaign can severely hurt the trust built up with their client and look for 2 key things from a client as a response to it. Firstly, the agency wants honesty from their client when a mistake happens. It does no one any good for a client to lie and tell the agency that everything is fine after a mistake when truly, a number of organizational waves were made. Secondly, the agency is looking for a reasonable level of understanding from the client. If a client can show that they understand that this mistake was not made intentionally and that the agency still has their best interest in mind, there's hope for both teams to move past this and ultimately be better for it.
- Give constructive feedback & direction - depending on what mistake was made and who found it, the agency may require feedback and direction from the client in order for them to quickly fix it. Depending on where emotions are at the time, it can be very easy for a client to say something along the lines of "just fix it!" but that does very little to help the agency learn from their mistake and properly correct their actions both immediately and moving forward. The more constructive the feedback and direction, the more likely the mistake will be corrected in a timely manner with progress made towards not making that mistake ever again.
- Truly forgive us, don't hold this over our heads - while a mistake deserves the attention required to understand what went wrong, continued attention after it has been resolved can be considered unfair. Much like any other human relationship, if one party cannot trust the other in certain situations then it can effect decision making on their part, be felt by the other party and hinder overall efficiency and effectiveness. While it is understood that the agency must prove to the client that they are actively improving processes and execution of deliverables connected to that mistake moving forward, it is also up to the client to "forgive and forget" in order for the relationship to heal and grow.
How to Properly Navigate the First Mistake
When an initial mistake is made within a relationship that could to affect trust between the two parties, the most important thing for both sides to understand is that timely communication and transparency are needed in order to resolve this issue immediately.
As the client, you have a responsibility both to your organization and partner agency to respond accordingly to the severity of the mistake and the implications it has on your business. Unless this mistake qualifies as a fire-able offense, it is your responsibility as a partner to work with your agency to resolve it with them through timely, constructive feedback. Holding back concerns or negative feelings that may affect how you interact with your agency team in the future does the partnership no good. Work openly and honestly with your agency to understand why this mistake was made and what will be done differently moving forward to ensure it isn't made again. If you are satisfied with your agency's response, let that be the end of it and make a conscious effort to not let this mistake affect how you view or work with your partner in the future.
As an agency, understanding that any mistake made in a campaign must be considered high priority until it is fixed is the most important thing in order to salvage a client relationship. Realize that small mistakes in your eyes can be considered a much bigger deal in your client's eyes knowing that they may have stuck their neck out for you when convincing their executive team to bring you on. Proper prioritization of the resolution of a mistake isn't enough though, you need to take ownership and show your client partner that you have taken corrective action within your campaign structure to ensure that it will never happen again. From then on, it's all about walking the talk and building back any trust that may have been lost.
The most productive and rewarding client-agency relationships are those that are viewed as a partnership between equals. Without understanding each other's perspectives, objectives, expectations, and processes, it can be hard for both teams to truly work synergistically together and easy to forget the overall goals of the relationship. The first mistake is one key moment in a relationship that no one wants to happen but almost certainly will. It's how it is handled by both parties that will ultimately define how effective your agency partnership and marketing campaign will be.
You may not be able to control when your agency makes a mistake or what that mistake will be, but understanding their paradigm and processes will be able to help you better handle the resolution and ensure that positive campaign progress is made with your agency.