I have bad news for you. Bad marketing agencies abound. They sound great at the outset, but things go downhill rapidly. Here’s what to do.
Many growing businesses reach a point where they’re ready to choose a marketing agency. They do preliminary research and discover they have thousands of options, many of them not cheap. They get recommendations, meet with a couple agencies, and pick their favorite. Then they end up paying exorbitant fees for months or years on end with little to show for it.
Is it always a mistake to hire a high-priced agency? No. A business that’s ready for an agency should hire an agency. The mistake is backing the wrong horse.
The Agency Selection Process
The agency selection process usually goes something like this. You meet with agency reps. The reps deliver a knockout pitch and page through a beautifully formatted 30-page pitch deck. You don’t understand everything you see and hear, but the promises are pure gold. “You can trust us,” the agency folks tell you, “because we’re in marketing, not sales.” They give you the “salespeople suck” eyeroll, and everyone in the room mentally high-fives.
Make no mistake, their pitch is a show worth seeing. Prepare to be impressed. Also prepare to need CPR or at least a hearty whack on the back when you get to slide 30 and learn what this trustworthy, non-salesy agency support costs.
After you sign with an agency, their staff will start doing work for you. Some of those doers may be junior-level employees who may look to you for direction; others may be freelancers hired to fill in the agency’s many gaps.
It’s hard to know if an agency is optimizing your dollars. They may or may not know how to guide brand awareness efforts, but either way their office is a stunner, the senior staff all drive Teslas, and the book-length monthly reports they send will blow your mind.
Think of it like employee performance self-evaluations. Some people put more effort in singing their own praises than in actually doing the work. No big shock. After all, their careers are at stake, as are raises and bonuses.
The same holds true for agencies. A beautiful package—a sturdy box and eye-catching paper, all topped with a lovely bow—makes a powerful impression. Bad marketing agencies have packaging down to a science.
Bad Marketing Agencies: The Good, the Bad, and the OMG
Unless you’re in the know, you could go months or years without being able to pinpoint the exact work your agency price tag covers. Time and time again I’ve swooped in on the back end like a Pulp Fiction cleaner to sort through an agency’s mess and complete the work the agency promised to do but never actually did.
When reviewing a contract with an agency, ask them these questions:
- Why do you want to redo my website (standard agency requirement #1)?
- Who exactly will be performing day-to-day work for your company?
- If junior-level staff will be handling some or all tasks, who will be responsible for supervising their work?
- Will they be using outside (contract, freelance, or offshore) resources? If so, what is the agency’s vetting process, and who will oversee their work?
As a point of clarification, hiring freelancers is not in and of itself a red flag. In fact, it’s super common. Neglecting to vet those freelancers, pay them a fair wage, and supervise them, however, are red flags. You’re hiring an agency because of their expertise, not because you want to pay a premium for the offshore resources they secretly hire.
Are You Ready to Hire an Agency?
Hiring an agency is a big damn deal. Because it’s hard to separate the wheat (great agencies) from the chaff (most agencies out there), you must do your homework before pulling the trigger. Settle for nothing less than expert guidance and support.
Before you hire an agency, you must be:
- Ready to make a significant investment in business growth.
- Fluent enough in marketing speak to grill agency reps, review their work samples, and ask the right questions up front.
- Savvy enough to assess the work they’ll do for you along the way.
All that said, great agencies are worth every single penny you pay them. If you find an agency you like and you meet the three criteria above, you should hire that agency. Right now. (Don’t worry — I can help you.)
Avoid Bad Marketing Agencies Like the Plague
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