Ending a relationship with an agency can be disruptive and emotionally draining, and if you’re not careful, could land you in an unfavorable position. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to protect your business, end things gracefully, and stay on the high road.
Here’s how to do it.
Disclaimer: This post is intended to provide general information and is not legal advice.
How to fire an agency, step-by-step
Step 1: Confirm if and when you want to fire your agency
Talk to a lawyer
Before firing an agency or partnering with a new one, seek legal counsel. They can help you understand the terms of agency contracts and answer any questions you might have.
If you plan to fire your agency, at a minimum, it’s a good idea to review the length of the contract and your responsibilities should you choose to terminate it.
This can help you determine whether it’s financially feasible for you to cut ties early. For example, if terminating a contract would require you to pay for all or part of the remaining services and this amounts to a significant sum, it may be worth it to wait until the contract is up. Conversely, if the agency is toxic and you’re able to pay the freight, it might be worth it.
Understanding these details can help you time your break up and prepare your business for the outcomes.
Determine whether you’re firing them for the right reasons
It’s usually a good idea to confirm what went wrong with your agency before following through for a couple reasons.
- You’ll want to pin down what the problem is exactly, so it’s easier to avoid the same pitfall with another agency.
- If your agency isn’t fundamentally incompetent or toxic and there’s a misunderstanding, talking to them first gives them the opportunity to make things right.
For example, if you’re simply dissatisfied with an agency’s performance, have you confronted them about it and asked why they haven’t met your goals? Have they taken any measures to pivot their strategy or make things right with you? Have these adjustments worked?
In some cases, poor communication can affect agency performance, and better results can be obtained after a frank discussion that aligns everyone.
Of course this may not resolve your issue, in which case, it’s time to let them go. Here are some common problems to watch out for:
- They can’t demonstrate quantitative results tied to your business goals.
- They’re secretive.
- They’re controlling.
- They aren’t responsive.
- You’re suffering from the agency’s churn.
- They don’t have a realistic, organized plan.
- Their strategy is generic.
- They’re trying to sell you services that don’t benefit you.
Read more about identifying and confirming your agency’s shortcomings.
Step 2: Prepare to fire your agency: considerations
Firing your agency will cause a disruption in day-to-day marketing operations as the new agency that replaces them gets up to speed. This can be a costly hassle, but there are a few systemic measures you can take to mitigate these consequences.
Document everything and manage access to your assets
Document everything your agency is doing for you so all the marketing and website activities they’re managing can be delegated to someone else.
- All the activities the agency is performing on your behalf
- Who has access to each of your assets
- What level of access they have
- Who has admin power and ownership over them
Keep this information in one central location where everyone who needs to can access it, such as a spreadsheet, and update it periodically.
List all your social media and ad accounts, where you store brand assets and files, and any software that is connected to or related to your website or marketing activities. This commonly includes:
- Your site’s content management system (CMS) such as WordPress, HubSpot, or Webflow
- Your site domain’s host
- Google Ads
- Social media accounts like Facebook, Linkedin, YouTube, & Twitter and their ad platforms
- Google Analytics
- Google Tag Manager
- Google Search Console
- Google Business Profile
- Files in cloud drive storage
- Customer relationship management tools
- Email marketing tools
- Marketing automation tools
Manage your assets and access to them internally and ensure you have ownership over all of them.
Create internal processes to ensure that access is revoked after an individual (or agency member) leaves the company, admin power or ownership is transferred, and any vulnerabilities are handled. Document these processes in full so stakeholders can see them. Here are some tips.
Account management processes
Give individuals who are unlikely to leave the company, such as the owner or CEO, ownership in the event that an asset manager suddenly leaves the company.
Alternatively, you could create a process that ensures that ownership or admin power is transferred to another individual when an account manager leaves.
A general company email address used by multiple individuals may also be a good choice to designate as an administrator, when possible. You might even consider identity and access management software.
Come up with a process for getting your website back up and running if it goes down. If you find that you must switch web hosts due to an agency switch, and your new provider is significantly cheaper, identify the new provider’s capabilities.
Often, more costly providers like Cloudflare include security and other assurances as part of the price tag. Cheaper providers may not, so you’ll want to cover any vulnerabilities this creates.
Create a contingency playbook that includes everything you need to do if you need to fire an agency. You might use some of our suggestions here as a starting point.
Find another agency
Unless you’re prepared to take on all marketing activities internally, don’t fire your old agency before hiring a new one.
As soon as you’re sure you want to end your current agency relationship, start shopping for a new partner. We recommend asking your network for recommendations.
To develop an initial list of prospective agencies, you can often look at the following resources without having to contact them:
- Case studies
- Former clients
- Client websites (if the agency worked on them)
- The agency’s website
Learn key considerations, what to look for, and vetting tips to find a great fit agency and rule out the lemons.
Step 3: Firing your agency
Inform your agency at the right time
Avoid informing your agency too early that you will be leaving them, and be sure to get all of your ducks in a row regarding access management and everything else discussed above.
This is critical because some agencies that control your accounts will try to make it difficult for you to grant access or transfer ownership to others once they learn you will no longer be working together.
Similarly, be prepared for them to immediately stop the work they are doing for you, or expend less effort during the time you have left. Ensure all important projects or issues you have been troubleshooting are resolved and to triple check them before you inform the agency.
It’s often advantageous to tell an agency that you would rather not renew your contract when your current one is close to expiring.
Coordinate with your new agency
A good agency will often step in and help you with the transition by telling you what they need and taking over certain tasks, so it’s beneficial to keep them in the know.
Except in situations where your old agency took prohibited actions, it’s usually best not to leave negative reviews or gossip about them. It’s also ill advised to cause them unnecessary difficulties during the transition.
You don’t know who the agency knows, and people who see or hear your comments out of context might think you’re the bad actor. This could potentially deter good agencies from wanting to work with you. Taking the high road ensures your reputation remains untarnished.
If you follow the tips above, you’ll be well on your way to a healthy break up with your agency and the beginning of a new relationship with a more competent partner while avoiding common pitfalls.
If you’re shopping for a new agency and think we might be able to help you, get in touch with us today.
Or, check out our blog post about how to choose a great agency partner to smooth the research process.
Topics: Working with an Agency