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Red Flags to Watch for When Working with a Marketing Agency

Worried that you’re working with a shady marketing agency? Here’s how to find out.

by Michelle Nessman | December 27, 2019 | Marketing

Red Flags to watch for

You’ve been working a marketing agency for a while now, and something doesn’t quite feel right. The agency had a great website, though it didn’t have a blog, and in their pitch, they promised quick results. Now you’re starting to wonder if you hired one of those shady marketing agencies.

“We’ve worked with our fair share of clients who came to us with a bad taste in their mouth from their last marketing agency,” says Michelle Nessman, who combined her sales training and marketing backgrounds to open Elite Business Systems in 2014.

Shady Marketing Agency Red Flags

If you’re worried that you’re working with a digital marketing agency that just told you everything you wanted to hear just to get your name on the dotted line, here are seven red flags that scream, “Terminate the contract!”

1. Keeps You in the Dark

Communication is key when you’re working with a marketing agency — or in any successful working relationship for that matter.

“Valuable agencies understand that they are partners with their clients,” Nessman says. “You should be able to trust your agency, and that comes with transparency.”

If the agency you’re working with keeps you in the dark about what they’re doing and you don’t actually know what you’re spending your money on, then you might have a shady marketing agency on your hands.

You should be constantly kept in the loop of what, how, and who is working on your website or campaign. If your agency is keeping you in the dark, ask them to be more transparent:

  • Who is involved with a project?
  • What steps are taken to create campaign actions? Can you provide feedback along the way?
  • How will a project or campaign be billed, and what extra costs can apply?

If the agency cannot or does not communicate about their needs, their understanding of your brand’s needs, and their progress, it’s likely that the campaign will not meet your expectations.

2. Can’t Explain Your Results

If you’re getting good results but the agency can’t explain why, you should have some serious concerns.

“No doubt you’re feeling top-down pressure to demonstrate bottom-line impact,” Nessman says. “Your agency should not only be delivering those results but also measuring that success, deriving meaning from that data, and putting it to work.”

In today’s digital world, everything is trackable: Call tracking numbers can be added to billboards. Designated landing pages can be set up for direct mail pieces. It’s a shady marketing agency that doesn’t have a deep understanding of the business and its strategy and instead throws marketing campaigns at the wall, hoping something generates results.

A quality agency is capable of not only understanding the data but also analyzing it and using it to optimize their marketing strategies.

3. Doesn’t Provide Reports

Your marketing agency should absolutely be providing reports that show your results.

“If your agency is showing you fluff numbers, like website visits and social media followers, that’s not enough,” Nessman says. “Because if you’re a senior living provider with 10 to 20 locations who is struggling with high attrition rates, your marketing goals might be laser-focused on generating high-quality sales leads that close quickly. Be wary if the focus is mostly on leading indicator metrics instead of the metrics that matter the most to your business.”

A quality marketing agency will work with your team to set and revise goals, track progress against those goals, proactively review results with you and your team, and propose new ways to help your company achieve its goals. And their reports will reflect that.

4. Uses Jargon to Mask Poor Results

Buzzwords might sound good, but if your agency is relying on marketing jargon when presenting results, they might simply be trying to make poor results sound like good results.

“This ‘smoke and mirrors’ tactic is common among shady marketing agencies,” Nessman says. “They think it makes them sound like experts, but really, it’s a barrier to effective communication.”

The fact is, not all marketing works.

“Some campaigns generate excellent results, and others not so much,” Nessman continues. “Your agency needs to be able to analyze, assess, and then communicate what they learned in order to improve the next campaign. Agencies that only share wins and successes with you are not being transparent with you and are missing a key opportunity to collaborate."

5. Doesn’t Stick to Deadlines

Does your agency have a punctuality problem? If your agency doesn’t stick to deadlines, not only do production timelines get out of whack, but it also begs the question: How much do they really care?

6. Doesn’t Follow Through on Tasks

Similarly, if they say they’re going to do something, they better follow through. It all goes back to trust.

“Trust is the key to any agency-client relationship,” Nessman says. “The agency you’re working with should have a track record of meeting or exceeding deadlines and getting deliverables and reports to you on or even ahead of time.”

7. Doesn’t Provide Any Actual Strategy

A lot of digital marketing agencies out there focus on deliverables or tasks and claim it is a strategy.

“If your agency is focused on the number of blog posts, guest posts, links, or pages optimized, you should know this isn’t a strategy,” Nessman warns. “It’s a checklist of tasks to be done, whether or not they’re effective.

“A proactive marketing strategy,” Nessman continues, “involves analyzing data; acting in anticipation of future problems, needs, or changes; and being agile and flexible with your tactics.”

To determine if your agency has an actual strategy, ask them what the plan is to engage with your audience and build lasting value that turns site visitors into customers:

  • Do they understand your industry?
  • Do they know what the buyer wants and what will influence their buying decisions?
  • Have they created buyer personas?

Don’t be afraid to ask your marketing agency questions. If they’re a shady marketing agency, you might not hear from them for a week, and when you do, their email will be full of meaningless buzzwords. If they’re legit, they’ll be happy to answer any and all questions until you’re completely comfortable.

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