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Is Your Agency a Service or a Partnership?


Characteristics of service relationships, mismatched relationships, and partnerships between clients and marketing agencies.


Even great relationships experience growing pains or occasional miscommunication. What makes a relationship perfect is when both parties work together to move past it.


Like any other relationship, it almost seems cliché for digital marketing agencies and clients to get frustrated with each other.


“[An agency-client partnership] is actually the hardest relationship… It’s like a real marriage. Not every day is great, but every day you make a conscious choice to stay together in the name of great work.” -Anselmo Ramos


Moving past this frustration isn’t always easy. Between an agency and client, a roadblock can happen because of a very specific type of communication breakdown: is this a service relationship, or a partnership?


What is a “service relationship”?

Like a gardener, janitor, or call center representative, an agency in a service relationship is expecting to do the job and be done. The agency performs better once they understand the client’s business, but following a rigid set of guidelines leaves them without room to leverage individual expertise.


These relationships are a hallmark of fundamentally replaceable contractors.


  • If you get a different person every time you call your agency, or if your POC has to read up on your file during the call, you’re probably in a service relationship whether you like it or not.


  • If you expect your agency to perform starting Month 1, and if you aren’t comfortable showing them key documents or discussing future initiatives, you’re asking for a service relationship.


What is a “partnership”?

Partners work together for mutual continuous growth and benefits. By working together with open communication, partnerships foster personal relationships and understanding to develop better solutions.


Partnerships aren’t fast or cheap, which makes them more valuable. They take time to form and require patience during the process.


  • If your agency contacts pay attention to your industry knowledge and incorporate the best insights into their strategy, or if they’ve taken the time to study and understand how your business works, you might be in a partnership.


  • If you walk your agency contacts through your key selling points, and recognize that even low-performing experiments give useful data, then you may be in a partnership.


Why would anybody want a service relationship?

Some agencies are built around having many service relationships. They can be well-suited to companies with small budgets and niche products that don’t face high levels of competition.

At first, a service relationship may sound ideal to a prospective client. After all, if an agency doesn’t perform quickly, it’s easy to move to another.


The problem is that these only work for a narrow subset of agency-client relationships. In most cases, hopping between agencies quickly just means you aren’t giving any of them a chance to perform.


More realistically, most companies looking to hire an agency have a large bottom line, a complex funnel, or plans for future growth. Taking advantage of any of these takes more than a few hours per month of an agency’s time, and more than a month to be fully realized.


Planning a successful SEO or paid media strategy takes not only time, but a clear understanding of competitors, current opportunities, and the offering itself.


When a client looks for a service, or settles for an agency that wants to provide a service, they won’t get the partnership that enables both to succeed.


The only way to make sure proper expectations are set early is for both sides to be on the same page about forming a partnership.


How to tell the difference during a pitch

Clients care about track record, and agencies know it. That’s why good pitches point out if an agency is in the top 1% of performance, has Google All-Star status, or has unique competitive advantages such as TitanBOT.


However, pitches rarely include detailed information on what kind of relationship the agency expects. Instead, prospective clients need to read through the lines and pay attention to what the agency highlights.


Low costs? Likely a service.

Excessive focus on secondary metrics like CPC & CPM over ROI, CPA or profit? Likely a service.

Cookie-cutter pitch? Look forward to the same with your accounts.


Long-term relationships with clients? Partnership.

Transparency on average client growth, with pack-leading improvement? Partnership.

People-focused culture? Good agencies see both their people and their clients as valued partners.


Building a partnership with your digital marketing agency

All working, mutually beneficial relationships are two-way streets. They rely on trust, good will, and cooperation from both sides.


For every experiment that fails, another succeeds—and the benefits outweigh the costs. The best agencies stay on top of new features on every platform, and actively pursue finding the next best practices.


Remember that your agency has every incentive to make your accounts perform, but they have never worked with your accounts before. Even if they have clients in the same industry, every company is different.


Since you are the expert on your own company, any agency you work with will need time to get up to speed and understand your products as well as you do. This isn’t a failing—it’s a sign of an agency understanding that every account and campaign is different.


By providing as much information as possible, your agency can take full advantage of your knowledge to create the best campaigns possible. Wouldn’t that make both of you happy?



At Titan Growth, building a partnership is our ultimate goal for every client we work with. Great campaigns are born out of collaboration. Contact us today to see if a partnership would be right for you.