Anonymous Tipster Presents Question: Please Help Answer

By Matt Van Hoven 

We get all sorts of anonymous tips here at AgencySpy &#151 and we love them all. Today we received a doozie &#151 and we have to give it to the person who sent it for broaching a touchy subject. In short, this person wants to know if a digital agency that does great work for a traditional agency’s client would be unethical by going to the client and saying, “we’ve done great work for you &#151 can we continue to work on creative through the traditional agency but do strategy directly with you?” The premise being that a client’s brand is better served and a selfish, self-protecting traditional agency isn’t serving its own needs by keeping the digital agency at bay.

Short of pressing enter a few times, this is the tipster’s scenario, presented in full, for your consideration (as Kiran noted, it’s like an SAT question).


“I have a scenario I would love to put out into the advosphere… Client A is a retail client, like most retail clients they are feeling the pinch of the economy and are looking for creative ways to get people into the stores and to get dollars into the register.

Agency A is their creative shop and has done a great job at helping to take Client A into the right direction creatively, however much of that direction is based in digital and Agency A has no digital chops whatsoever. So Agency A hires Agency B to come in and help them execute and come up with new ideas and ways to execute the creative in order to get Client A into the digital realm.

Agency B did a bang up job, the site was a success and very well received by both the public and the industry. Agency A however is now tasked to continue the success of the new digital property and is constantly asking Agency B to do work without any commitment to a contract or fair pay.

Agency A claims that this is part of a “partnership” even though the one off contract engagement is over. Agency B loves working with Agency A and Client A but Agency B needs to get a commitment in place and also needs to get paid. Agency A is reluctant because they feel Agency B is a threat to eventually taking over the digital portion of the account so access to Client A is limited.

Now if Agency B has done such a great job, why wouldn’t Agency A allow Client A to work directly with them for the day to day needs of the digital property? Client A has been requesting new work on a consistent basis since launch and Agency A refuses to come to an agreement with Agency B to set up a clear and transparent relationship so that Client A will benefit and all of their needs are taken care of.

Agency A also refuses to commit to any type of fair arrangement in which Agency B gets paid failry to dedicate a team to Client A and to keep the momentum of the success going. Agency A is traditional and Agency B is digital. Client A just wants to be served and to turn the brand around, Agency A seems to be keeping them from doing so by blocking Agency B’s ability to work directly with Client A on specific digital needs. Agency A likes working with Agency B but Agency B does pose a threat…

So I ask you, is it ethical for Agency B to explain to Client A that they would like to continue the relationship and keep the success going, continue working with Agency A on the creative but working directly with Client A on strategy and execution? Or is Agency B required to keep their mouths shut so that Agency A can continue mishandling Client A’s digital needs?

Should Agency B explain to Client A that a unified effort on both fronts will not only save them time and money but also eliminate confusion and frustration that Agency A is creating by sheltering Client A from having all of the digital needs met in a timely manner? Should traditional creative agencies be handling digital projects that have highly technical requests that they cannot understand, manage or execute and is doing so mishandling the client?”

More: “Reader Questions Answered: Comments, Anonymous Tips