5 Red Flags in Marketer / Client Relationships

Just like any relationship, the relationship between marketing agency and client can be a rollercoaster. For every high, like a campaign launch or a string of high-value conversions, there’s a low to match — an awkward status update meeting or tense last-minute edits, to name a few.

As seasoned marketers we’ve been in our fair share of client relationships, both “celebratory drinks, on me!” good and “is the bar open this early on a Tuesday?” bad. We’re no couples counselors, but we’ve put together a list of red flags for marketers and their clients to look out for at every stage of a project— and what to do about them.


🚩The project feels like more of a priority for one side than the other.

The problem: Service-based companies like marketing agencies exchange time for money — no surprises there. Every second spent turning attention to a specific project is time not spent addressing the others you’ve got on your plate. In extreme cases, that can mean a lot of money down the drain.

Marketing relationships really purr when both agency and client are equally committed to hitting the ground running. The moment when one side drops the ball — be it through ignoring emails or procrastinating on deliverables — is when things start to get frustrating and costly.

The underlying factor here is that your project isn’t the only thing on our plate, or on yours. That means it’s mutually beneficial for marketers and clients to set clear expectations to prioritize the project so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

The solution: Everyone’s time is valuable, and that’s true on both the marketer’s side and the client’s. 

Here are some tips so that both sides of the equation can get what they need:

Tips for clients:

When you have a request, come prepared with all the details your marketing partners will need to get the job done. Prepare for a back and forth, and set time on your calendar to provide feedback in a timely manner. Remember: you’re our priority if we’re yours.

What to send over with your request:

  • Assets — If we need existing files to do our work, make sure you pass them along. Think logos, fonts, examples, etc.
  • Specs — Give us size, dimensions, and any other specifications that we’ll need to give you the exact deliverables you need. “I need an A5 trifold” is a lot more helpful than “I need a brochure.”
  • Specifics — Context matters. If you need a blog, does it relate to any social posts or email blasts you’re doing? If it’s a digital file, where will it live and how do you plan to distribute it?

Tips for marketers:

Clients have a hundred different things going on daily that’s outside of this project. It’s on us to set clear expectations every step of the way, so clients know what you’ll need for success. 

At Kicks, we often send out weekly wrap-up emails on Friday that outline every facet of the project. This way, our clients understand what we need from them, and the timeline implications if there are any setbacks.

What to include in a weekly recap:

  • A recap of the week / what we accomplished together
  • What we owe you / when we anticipate getting it to you
  • What you owe us / what we can’t complete until we receive it
  • What’s on the horizon / what to block time for in the coming weeks

🚩Timelines and/or project costs feel unrealistic.

The problem: Depending on which side of the marketer/client relationship you’re on, project deadlines can feel way too close for comfort or frustratingly slow. On the other side of the coin, the cost to take your project from concept to completion can either feel like a steal or a total ripoff.

The solution: A lot of the time, this comes down to a lack of open communication about what goes into bringing a project to life. Let’s break it down on the actual cost of marketing timelines:

  1. “I want it cheap and fast” —  We can get your project done on the cheap and real quick-like, but it will come at the expense of quality. This approach will cost you in the end when you hire a professional to redo everything from the ground up.
  2. “I want it fast and good” — If you come to the table with a looming deadline and can’t sacrifice quality, it’ll cost ya. That “rush fee” is because you’re asking your marketing partners to place more importance on you than any other paying client. Expect a premium price for the exclusive attention. 
  3. “I want it good and cheap” — Well, this just isn’t a thing. You pay for experience, you pay for quality. Most will say good and cheap is slow, but a lack of consistent attention means a poor experience on both sides of the relationship.

The time to set expectations about costs and timelines is at the onset of the marketer/client relationship — not when deadlines are breathing down your neck. Pull the hours spent on previous projects and quantify them, so that everyone at the table understands the realistic cost and time associated with particular deliverables.

Adding hours or budget to a retainer can be an awkward situation, but in our experience it’s a lot better to get that tough conversation out of the way instead of bashing your heads against unrealistic expectations every month. Do the hard thing and set yourselves up for success down the road.


🚩Major copy changes are still being made once the project is in design.

The problem: In practice, marketing projects can be all-hands-on-deck at any stage of production — but in an ideal world, writers get all the copy 100% squared away before they bundle it up with a bow on top and pass it to design.

Why? Well, here are some reasons for starters:

  • It’s easier to change tons of text in a Google Doc than in Photoshop — Google Docs are living, breathing documents. Since changes are made in real time, it’s best to treat these as the gospel on approved copy. If you’re using the Adobe Suite as a word processor, you’re doing it wrong.
  • Versioning is a thing — Did that headline change on pharmacy_brochure_final_FINAL_v3.pdf get copied over to pharmacy_brochure_FOR_REAL_FINAL.pdf? Or did it get lost in the shuffle? 
  • Designers are super talented… but they’re not spell checkers — No shade, agency designers are paid for their design chops, and not their ability to spot typos. Those last-minute, late-night changes that clients send over aren’t always put through the standard QC process.
  • The review process wasn’t definitive — Major changes this late in the game mean one of two things: either the agency writer rushed things to get the project off their plate, or the client failed to get feedback from 100% of stakeholders before giving it their stamp of approval.

The solution: If you’re making huge copy changes late in the game, it’s a sign that you need to Implement an official review process and stick to it. 

It’s on the marketing agency to clearly outline the review process, and what’s needed from the client at each stage. In the image below, you’ll see Kicks’ standard review process for most projects that we paste at the top of all relevant Google Docs. It’s detailed, requires sign-off from both parties in the form of check boxes, and makes sure there’s no room for misinterpretation.

Kicks Review Process

This document will go through two rounds of edits before it is considered Final. Kicks and the Client will check the appropriate box below when this document is ready for the other party’s review.

  • Kicks: This document is Version 1, and is ready for client review.

    • Client: All stakeholders have seen this document, and we have submitted all feedback for Version 1. Once those edits have been made, this document will be considered Version 2. We understand that this is the time for major revisions, including missing content, factual inconsistencies, tonal changes, etc.

  • Kicks: This document is Version 2, and is ready for client review.

    • Client: All stakeholders have seen this document, and we have submitted all feedback for Version 2. Once those edits have been made, this document will be considered Final. We understand that this is the time for minor tweaks, including word choice, slight expansions on existing content, minor redactions, etc.

  • Kicks: This document is Final.

    • Client: We have additional feedback and understand that these additional edits may be invoiced at an hourly rate.

🚩Design has gone through an unreasonable amount of revisions.

The problem: Sometimes marketers nail design in one fell swoop, and other times we have to go back to the drawing board. Revisions are part of life in any marketing relationship, but when design gets stalled it’s often the sign that direction isn’t as clear as it could be.

When a client isn’t sure about where they want to go visually or feels an immediate negative response to the work they’re being shown, feedback usually sounds something like “I don’t like this one” or “I hate red.”

While that’s valuable feedback on some level, the more specific a client is with their feedback on design, the quicker we can hit the nail on the head and make progress toward our mutual goal.

The solution: Visualizing what design changes you want can be difficult at times, especially if you’re not the most creative person — that’s okay, that’s why you hired us! The important thing is that we build a collaborative client/designer relationship that allows us both to discuss what’s working and what’s not. 

Here are some tips on how to give actionable feedback to your designer, so you’ll never have to say “I’ll know what I like when I see it” ever again:

  1. Be as specific as possible — If you need an element replaced — like an image, color, font, or otherwise — try to relay what you’d like to see more of in addition to what you’d like to see less of. You could offer a suggestion as “could we try brown or blue instead?” or “I’m not sure that image of the kid is working, could you find a photo with a more excited expression?” If you’re able to give one or two possible alternatives in your feedback, it’s super actionable for the designer to switch it out quickly. 
  2. Feel free to ask questions — Not sure if you like a design element but don’t know what to say about it? Feel free to ask the designer why they chose it or if they could push further in a certain direction: “I want our brand to feel family-oriented, could we add more images like that?”
  3. Focus on the strategic goal of the design work — Beyond personal design preferences, we have to remember the strategic angle of the project. Who is the target audience? Do the visuals follow the company brand? Is the design work communicating the desired outcome? Coming at feedback through the lens of the strategic goal can help you articulate why something isn’t working for you.
  4. Share what’s good about it — We’re definitely not fishing for compliments here, but make sure you add in what you really like about the work! While it’s easy to forget the positives at times, sharing what you like helps us design in the right direction. You can always add “This section is great” or “This image is perfect, could you add a similar one on the next page?” At the end of the day, sharing positive feedback shares the positive vibes. In the trenches of every design project, we need to be reminded that we’re just humans trying to make something good together.


🚩There’s tension between the marketing agency and internal/external IT teams.

The problem: Great news — you hired a marketing agency to build your website! Bad news — that move raised the hackles of the people you’ve previously hired to manage IT for you, whether they’re a full-time staff member or a third-party vendor.

To build and launch a successful website, it takes your agency, your internal IT department, and your other tech partners working together in lock step. Nine times out of ten people are great to work with, but if someone throws a monkey wrench in the process to justify their position or value to your organization, it’s going to have lasting repercussions for your site.

The solution: The solution here is always to rope in the decision maker or point person and work through the issue together. Without one person calling the shots, it’s easy for the web build to devolve into he-said-she-said nonsense that delays your launch time and creates problems on your back end.

At Kicks we often talk directly with IT folks and vendors to get to the bottom of tech issues. Sometimes those calls go super smoothly, but other times we’re left more confused than before we picked up the phone. In our experience, looping the head honcho in on those calls makes direction a lot clearer.

Not only do our client decision makers have the historical knowledge and a knack for sticking to the process — they also have a knack for cutting through egos and getting everyone back on the same page. In short, when in doubt, toss one more person on that meeting invite and you’ll be golden.

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