(or Whatever happened to marketing agencies that care about getting good results for their clients?)
In this article I talk about some situations I’ve come across with clients who have been badly treated by their agencies and offer advice on how to select a marketing agency that won’t shaft you! When we started our agency we found the thing that spurred us on most was when a client said, “Great job!” Professional pride, enjoying what we do and building long term relationships made us tick and over two decades on, it still does. We still get great endorsements and it still makes us buzz because we enjoy what we do.
Not all agencies are built the same
Sadly, I’ve realised that not all agencies have the same goal. Over the past 12 months I’ve been running marketing clinics and recently a marketing masterclass with the Thames Valley Growth Hub, meeting all types of companies. During this period I’ve met too many small and medium sized business (SMEs) that have been treated badly by marketing agencies. I hesitate to use the word “shafted,” but that’s what it feels like when I listen to their tales of woe.
Doing a bad job in any sphere is unforgivable, but it can happen in any business area, some people just aren’t good at their chosen vocation and do the best that they can and just don’t deliver. But doing it willfully and taking money off unsuspecting clients is, in my view, unforgivable, unethical, and immoral. Sadly, it seems that there’s a glut of these agencies in the marketing sector. And I’m not talking about the offshore emails that promise the earth for just $99 – you know the sort of thing: “Number 1 in Google”, “1,000’s of qualified leads”, etc. I’m talking local, regional and national UK marketing agencies that appear to see SMEs as fair game to fill their coffers, implement a project then move on (leaving the company’s marketing in a worse state than before) or worse, move on but still keep billing monthly for no apparent reason.
Make sure you’re getting what you want
The end result is that an SME can pay well over the odds for a mediocre job that they very quickly discover is not doing what it said on the tin. This can manifest itself in not being able to manage, or report on any of their digital marketing, not being able to make any changes or updates, finding out that things just aren’t working, activities that were going to deliver the earth just run and don’t deliver anything and worst case they get the reply “Ah, yes, if you want XYZ function/result that’ll be extra.” And then facing up to the realisation that having had a bad experience they need to start again and they need to redo and even worse, pay again to get what they thought they’d bought initially. And often the budget just isn’t there.
You may be an expert in your business area and marketing can look like that grey art, confusing the hell out of you! Marketing has become truly baffling and technical, full of terms and buzz words that make your head spin… SSL, SERPS, SEO, Algorithm, Omnichannel, Micro-Moments, Smart Content… And if it’s not your area of expertise, and you know you need it for your business, you turn to professionals for help and advice. And in steps the unscrupulous agency that opens its virtual car door to take you for a ride….
How to select a marketing agency that will work with and for you
So how do you get around this? Here are some tips on how to select a marketing agency that really wants to work with you, deliver results and enjoy it (with you) in the process:
- Do you get on with them? Doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad – in marketing it’s a personal relationship. You need to work closely with them so make sure you feel comfortable.
- Who will you deal with? Will the person that walks through the door be the person you’ll deal with? Or will they disappear off the face of the earth and hand you over to someone else. Someone less experienced?
- How long have they been doing this? Anyone can set up a company, create a website and hey presto they are in business and call themselves an expert. But if you are going to give them your business to promote, do they have the experience you need?
- What turns them on?
- Is it money? Then you know that it could be expensive. And money, while being important, isn’t everything, but it counts if it’s the only motivator.
- Success? For them or you?
- Client tenure. How long do they work with their clients? Is every job just a project or are they creating long term relationships? What’s the average length of time they work with a client? Do they just want to get in and out and move on? Thinking long term affects the project you’re working on and has a direct influence on your long term marketing.
- Marketing skills. Agencies will be adept in specific areas and probably have partners that cover areas they don’t address and freelancers that they can call on for specialist services. Make sure you know what they can do and if the answer to your question is “We handle everything you can think of…ever!” look for the door and make a hasty retreat!
- Knowledge. Marketing has become the whirlwind of development with so much technology and it feels like everything changes every day. Agencies can’t keep up with every change but need to be aware and have the experience, so they can offer you good advice and easily implement campaigns. Do they have a good level of knowledge or do they start Googling the answer?
- Awards? If they start presenting how many awards they’ve won as the key selection criteria or the contract close, be wary. Don’t get me wrong, awards are good and if the agency has won awards it means they can deliver, but if they are using you (and your budget) to get more awards to promote their agency over and above your goals then tread carefully.
- Your happiness? If meeting your objectives, delivering the results you agreed and basically making sure you get what you want then you’re on to a winner.
- Case studies. Have they got some? Yes? Good. BUT… don’t just read them, ask for a couple of contacts that you can talk to, even if your project is a small one, a 2 minute call with someone who has worked with them previously lets you ask the questions that you want answered and can make you feel so much better. Get the small project right, with the right agency and it can lead to more successful marketing for you.
- Is it cast in stone? If not, find out where the variables come in. There can always be variables but you need to know up front what could make them change.
- Hidden costs. Agree the project costs and confirm in writing that these costs quotes are the total costs payable to reach your project’s successful conclusion.
- Licenses. Digital marketing requires all manner of licenses so it’s important to understand which costs are one-time purchases and which costs are repeating. Remember online service suppliers change their licensing models so an agency may need to come back and let you know, but if you get it straight on day one you won’t get any nasty surprises.
- Ownership and Intellectual Property. With online registration of domains, marketing service portals etc, registration is required. Make sure that you get confirmation in writing before you start that all online registrations will be made in your name and that IPO remains with you once you have paid. The agency will also need admin access or technical administration rights to manage campaigns, but ultimately you need control. If the relationship needs to change, and let’s face it we all move on, you might need a different type of agency, they might change their service model. Whatever the reason you need to be able to move on easily, professionally and in a friendly way and not have to fight to get back what belongs to you.
Get the relationship right on day 1
Like any business relationship there is an agreement or contract in place. Get the selection right and it can be signed by both parties, put in a drawer and forgotten. Get it wrong and you can end up having to stop marketing for all the wrong reasons and it’s your business that suffers.
Follow these basic steps on how to select a marketing agency and work with them, then you’ll be laughing all the way to the bank (and that’s to count your money from a successful marketing campaign and not to take out more to pay more unproductive marketing bills!)
Oh, BTW, did I tell you what turns us on as an agency?
Oh and by the way, we really enjoy what we do and really do love it when a client says it’s working – why else would we be in marketing? These are the sort of comments that make us buzz and fizz (You can see more comments from our clients in our Clients talking about Insight page):
I have been delighted with Insight’s personable and tailored service we have received from start to finish. Our new website is now the envy of our industry and we look forward to working with Insight in the future. Pleasure to deal with and nothing too much trouble. Highly recommend!
Mark and his team are a pleasure to work with. Getting the SEO right has been essential & Mark has made many suggestions on how this can be improved and looking for the most cost effective way of working. I have absolute confidence in his knowledge and expertise – a rare find.
Credit where credit’s due
One final word – Not all agencies are bad! I also had the pleasure of meeting companies that had worked with marketing agencies that gave them what they wanted, achieved results and were good to work with and I applaud those agencies, respect their work and said so to the companies I met. Good marketing deserves to be recognised just as much as bad marketing needs to be weeded out and dumped.