A recent Ad Age article on “Serial Reviewers” warned clients who frequently oust agencies, like 1-800-Flowers, Quiznos, Chipotle and BMW, are “hurting their brands and risking a bad reputation” in the advertising industry. What the article didn’t say was that CMO tenure plays a bigger part in brand erosion than any agency’s missteps. If clients fix that–they fix a much bigger threat to their brand than a poor agency choice. They might even save a good agency relationship.

The best agency in the world will struggle with a client who replaces its CMO every two years.Take Chipotle: even though they’ve cycled four different agencies in six years, they’ve only recently named a CMO.Quiznos changed Chief Marketing Officers three times in six years. When the C-suite shifts, companies experience a lack of leadership and clear direction–the kiss of death for an agency relationship. And potentially more damaging to the brand than hiring the worst agency on the planet.

Agencies aren’t without fault. Clients don’t make changes when everything works. But if things seize up because of musical chairs in the executive suite tell your agency, because even if you don’t, they know it. It’s human nature to blame the other party and show them the door. Ultimately, client/agency relationships are stronger when both sides are willing to point out their failures. That honesty and transparency may open up a dialogue to fix the problems before the need to change agencies–and that could be good for everyone.


Hitch is a consultancy that helps marketers hire the right marketing agency.