How to Know If Your Marketing Agency is Ripping You Off

by | Jun 17, 2020 | Digital Marketing



There’s nothing more frustrating than building a relationship with a marketing agency, working with them for an extended period, then discovering that they’ve been ripping you off the entire time. Hiring a marketing agency for your company is often much cheaper than employing a full marketing staff in many cases, but the monthly retainer for a robust agency is still a pretty penny. The last thing you want is to waste those valuable marketing dollars on an agency that hasn’t gotten you any tangible results. As a tight-knit team of marketing pros who have worked with various agencies throughout our careers—some good and some terrible—we’ve seen it all from the inside out. While many agencies might mean well, there’s a lot of people in the industry who label themselves as “marketers,” but they don’t know how to pull in the real results you and your business need. For example, a marketing agency should be able to provide monthly tangible results that you can view, and those results should look better than what you’ve seen before they came along.

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How to Choose the Right Marketing Agency

Not choosing the right marketing agency could mean losing thousands of dollars from your marketing budget for nothing. But it can be difficult to choose the right agency for your business needs if you’re not good at marketing in the first place. After all, the reason you need to hire a marketing team is that you’re not a marketing person yourself (or you might not have the time). So let’s dive into 5 key red flags to look out for and make sure you’re hiring the right agency, or that will let you know if you need to fire the one you have now.

1. They Have a Lot of Bad Reviews or None at All

This is the easiest way to gain some transparency about a potential marketing agency you’re looking at hiring. Keep in mind that some companies might have friends and family leave their first initial reviews, so stay on the lookout for reviews that you can’t seem to tie back to a project on their website or online. Most importantly, read the bad reviews on all their social profiles such as Facebook, Google, and Yelp. If you know some names of employees who work there, check them out on LinkedIn to see if anyone has endorsed their marketing skills and left reviews on their personal profiles. If an agency has a bunch of interns or salespeople working for them instead of marketing people, well, you get what you pay for… Beyond client reviews, check out what employees are saying about working in the company! Do they love it? Are they miserable? Can they shed any light on how management runs projects and manages the team? Marketing projects are only as effective as the team initiating them. If you see a trend in bad communication, unhappy employees, and poor management, odds are that you’ll see similar issues appear during your marketing project. Not only that but you’re likely to see a lot of turnover within the company, which means your marketing projects will inevitably get handed off a few different times to people who have to catch up, leaving your company’s marketing to hang in the balance. So, check out places like Glassdoor and Indeed for employee reviews, take notes on anything negative, and don’t feel bad about bringing it up during the meeting when you’re interviewing a potential marketing agency. Now, if you can’t find any reviews on the company at all, it’s not a complete cause for alarm, but you should keep your wits about you. No reviews mean no experience in many cases, but not all. Ask questions. It’s okay if they haven’t signed on new clients yet because we all have to start somewhere, but they should be able to provide some background on the team and their previous experiences. See if you can check out the portfolios of team members so you know they have the knowledge and skills to handle what you’re needing.

2. They Can’t Tell You How Much Anything Costs

It’s true that pricing for marketing and website services vary depending on the project because some projects require more work than others. For example, it takes longer to set up a 10-page website than a 2-page website. It takes longer to set up an effective prospecting campaign on Facebook than it does a remarketing campaign, depending on the site. Everything depends on the size and details of the project. That being said, experienced marketers usually have a pretty good idea about how long a project will take, so they should be able to give you a ballpark figure or range. I’ve known marketing agencies who base their pricing on the kind of car you drive up in, so you need to pay attention to the signs here. Get them to give you a price range and make them tell you where they’re getting this number from. Remember, you’re shopping around! If they want your business, they should have no problem explaining it to you. If the salespeople and marketing director has to “get back to you” after they’ve put together a whole proposal, then they’re probably about to rip you off. Sure, they will have to put something together that gives the exact number, but you should have an idea of the range.

3. They Keep Trying to Sell You Services Before Doing Research

There are some marketing items that are a given for most companies such as social media, digital ads, a website, and an email campaign, but if an agency keeps trying to sell you on a bunch of services before they’ve done at least a basic audit on your company, they’re about to rip you off. Here’s the thing, a good marketer should never propose a marketing strategy or plan without having done some research on your industry and auditing your business. Otherwise, how do they know what strategy will work for you? Keep in mind that some agencies who specialize in a specific industry or that have worked with a company like yours before, won’t need to go through this phase because they’ve been immersed in your industry already. For example, while every e-Commerce store might have a different audience, most of the marketing items an e-Commerce store needs won’t change no matter what you’re selling. For example, two different online stores will still need ads, Amazon, contests, subscribe lists, promo videos, etc. The important thing here is to listen carefully to what the agency offers you and how they arrived at the conclusion they did. Do they seem to rehash a pre-packaged reason for why you need each upsell, or can they pinpoint a researched reason for it? What’s the bottom line? The strategy your marketing agency proposes to you should clearly define goals and projects, as well as research to back it up.

4. Their Clients Don’t Stick Around

Are any of their previous clients still working with them? Take time to reach through the marketing agency’s portfolio. Most agencies have a portfolio that includes case studies, which should detail a few of the projects they’ve done in the past, along with the results of each. Pay attention to skewed or misleading results, while you’re at it. Don’t fall for numbers that are twisted to look good but aren’t really that great. For example, if they say they boosted a client’s Facebook followers by 100 percent, did the client even have a Facebook account when they started? It’s easy to boost a following of zero, for example. How many followers do they have now? Most importantly, do their previous clients still work with them? If the answer is no, then that could be a red flag. Try asking the agency why some of these clients aren’t working with them anymore. Pay attention to what they say. If they keep giving excuses about communication or say anything bad about the client, run away fast! With the above in mind, remember that some projects are one-offs, so don’t be alarmed if some clients aren’t on retainer. For example, some non-retainer projects we’ve taken on in the past have been marketing audits, websites, web ads, and affiliate program setups. Remember that some businesses already have marketing teams, but choose to outsource certain projects they’re not as skilled in. That’s okay! Just verify that the retainer clients with the agency are enjoying the relationship before you sign a contract.

5. They Don’t Send You Monthly or Quarterly Reporting

Results. Results. Results! If your marketing agency never or rarely sends reports that show improvement as a direct result of working with them, you have a serious problem. Your agency should care deeply about the results they’re getting you because that’s their job security! If your agency doesn’t send regular benchmark reports to you or explain them so you can understand them, you need to fire them. Remember the days as a kid when you’d try to hide your report card from your parents because you got a few Cs and Ds? You didn’t want to face the scolding your parents had coming to you because it meant they were likely to get serious and find ways to change your learning strategy. Same thing goes for your marketing report card. If they aren’t showing it to you and aren’t explaining it in a way that makes sense (or adds up), you need to fire them. It’s true that your strategy might take 60 to 90 days to truly produce results, but you should begin to see an uptick in the data very quickly after hiring an agency. Be very wary of marketing people who never tell you anything negative about your results. Not every marketing plan will work perfectly, so you can expect a few minor failures along the way. That’s okay, but the agency shouldn’t try to hide it when it happens.

Your Marketing Dollars Matter

Hiring an outside marketing team to handle your company’s marketing needs can save you thousands of dollars. You don’t have to worry about payroll tax, paying out benefits, or training when you outsource the work. Just remember that there are a lot of dishonest marketing people out there who don’t care about your company’s success. Exercise your due diligence as you interview agencies, making sure to keep your eyes and ears out for the 5 red flags mentioned above.

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