RED FLAGS TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN SELECTING A MARKETING AGENCY. 12 WARNING SIGNS
Before you make that final selection, these are the 12 red flags to look out for when selecting a marketing agency:
A reputable and capable marketing agency can play a vital role in driving your business growth, enhancing brand awareness, and generating valuable leads. However, not all marketing agencies are created equal. So, being aware of these red flags will help you choose an agency you can be confident in to deliver the solutions to your marketing problems. From an initial lack of communication and slow response time, to promising overnight success, we discuss all 12, why they should be considered a warning sign and how you should challenge the agency to alleviate your concerns.
RED FLAG #1: NOT ASKING ENOUGH QUESTIONS
This is number one on our list of red flags to look out for when selecting a marketing agency, for a very valid reason. If you've decided to outsource your marketing rather than going in-house, you'll begin to draw up a shortlist and invite that agency to open a dialogue.
If in those initial discussions, the agency is more interested in talking about themselves, the clients they work with, the awards they’ve won, and how dynamic their team are, it’s time to get out. Now. You have the challenge and they have the solution. As a result they should:
Spend time understanding your business
Establish where you are in your growth plan
What your goals are
Who you’re target audience is
They should be an extension to your team. You would want every member of your own organisation to understand these things and your marketing agency should be no exception.
If they're asking you about these things, you know you’re working with an agency that is putting you at the centre of their solutions. If not, it’s likely they're putting their own agenda ahead of your needs.
If you need help establishing what a good marketing agency looks like, you might like our blog “9 Factors to Consider When You Choose a Digital Marketing Agency”.
RED FLAG #2: THEY AGREE WITH EVERYTHING YOU SAY
Like it or not, a marketing agency’s job is not to be a group of yes-men who concur with you on everything. Their job is to be objective, challenge your own opinions, and offer insightful recommendations to help you solve your marketing challenges.
If they agree with everything you say, it’s likely they don’t know the right answer themselves and are simply agreeing with you to try and win your favour.
Remember, the reason you need a marketing agency is that you can’t fulfil the need yourself, so they need to bring value to the conversation – offering advice and knowledge you don’t have. So, why not throw in a curveball opinion and see how they react? If you know it’s wrong, they should too. If they don’t call it out, it might be time to move on.
RED FLAG #3: LACK OF TRANSPARENCY
This can cover any number of things. From not being open about the team who will work on your campaigns, their current experience in your industry or the specific details of the proposal and pricing.
If it all seems a little cloak and dagger it’s likely they’re making it up on the spot. Therefore, it’s important to challenge them and ask them to clarify any gaps you may have in their approach. Get more smoke and mirrors? Then you know what the future will hold. If they have simply overlooked the question in their initial proposal, they should be able to clarify clearly and without hesitation.
RED FLAG #4: POOR COMMUNICATION AND RESPONSE TIMES
Hot on the heels of number 3 in our list of red flags to look out for when selecting a marketing agency is judging how good their communication is.
When you’re engaged in the sales process, you should see the very best of the agency. They’re keen to win your business and impress you with their expertise. If throughout the sales process, they’re slow to respond, they aren’t clear in communicating their solution, value proposition or reasons for you to work with them, it’s likely to only get worse.
They should be attentive, accessible, and above all, helpful. If they’re not, it may suggest you’re either of low importance to them or they are not a proactive and conscientious agency. Either way, do you really want to get into a business relationship with an agency that isn’t engaged from day one?
RED FLAG #5: LACK OF PERSONALISED SERVICE
This stinks of an agency that stacks them high and sells them low. No two businesses are the same – even those in the same industry – so your marketing shouldn’t be either.
Going back to #1 on our list of red flags to look out for when selecting a marketing agency, if they don’t spend enough time getting to know your unique business challenges and goals, how are they going to offer a solution that addresses them?
When they pitch their marketing services, look out for signs where it refers back to your goals and business challenges. If they fail to address these in their proposal, it’s likely they have done a swift copy and paste from the last client like you that they engaged with.
If you can find a list of businesses they service that are similar to yours, take a look at their marketing efforts. You probably won’t be surprised to see the same set of deliverables.
RED FLAG #6: NO EMPHASIS ON PLANNING
Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Without the proper planning and strategy in place, your marketing campaigns, we guarantee you, will fail.
Ask the agency how they intend to research and prepare. This includes looking into competitors, understanding industry trends, and evaluating customer behaviour. The better the agency understands who is buying, why they’re buying, and how your organisation addresses their need, the more successful your marketing strategy will be.
So, ensure you understand their planning process and how this informs the strategy they put together for you. Without the appropriate planning, they will be throwing marketing at the wall and hoping something sticks.
RED FLAG #7: GUARANTEEING SUREFIRE, OVERNIGHT SUCCESS
OK, we’re going to say it. There is no such thing as guaranteed results in marketing. Yes, KPIs, elements of success, and targets MUST be set, but to set guarantees, with very specific results, is simply a tactic to try and win your business.
Marketing is not a get-rich-quick scheme either and many marketing strategies such as SEO take months or even years to see true success. Promising farfetched results overnight is simply unrealistic and you should be looking for the exit as quickly as they’re guaranteeing results.
Think about comparing their targets against other agencies. If they are a million miles away from the general consensus, it’s not because they’re better, it’s because they’re trying to swoon you into giving them your business. Don’t fall for it.
RED FLAG #8: EXCESSIVE USE OF JARGON AND BUZZWORDS
Like every industry, experts are going to talk in a vernacular that those not familiar with the industry will not necessarily understand. Marketing is no different.
However, if the concepts the marketing agency is using are confusing, full of buzzwords, and chock full of metaphorical descriptions, it doesn’t mean they’re smarter. They are simply trying to bamboozle you into thinking they are.
Ask them to explain their marketing services in simple, plain English terms. If they are able to articulate this clearly and at a level that is easy for you to understand, it’s probably sound advice. However, if they struggle, take it as a sign that it’s hot air and they probably don’t really know what they’re saying either.
RED FLAG #9: CLAIM TO HAVE A SECRET RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
There is no silver bullet, secret sauce, or magic potion to marketing. There is only experience. Understanding what works and what doesn’t by failing and succeeding in equal measure.
With customer behaviours and expectations changing constantly, what worked one day, may not work the next.
Avoid agencies who make such claims, and instead look for those who talk about past experiences and relatable success, and who share their opinions and insights.
RED FLAG #10: LIMITED EXPERIENCE OR EXPERTISE
Even in the world of AI, there is no substitute for experience. The best way to learn is to do. Ask the marketing agency what their level of experience is. How long have they been in business? What is their collective knowledge and skillset? If you’re going to part with your marketing funds, you want to know you’re putting it in experienced and knowledgeable hands. If they haven’t established good working practices, backed by years of real-world experience and a CV to match, it’s likely they’re not the experts they are attempting to be. Be direct and ask them for social proof, case studies or other elements of success to demonstrate their expertise and ability to deliver results.
To help differentiate marketing agencies, you might like our blog on “How to Evaluate a Marketing Agency” where we cover eight ways to tell the weak from the strong.
RED FLAG #11: THEIR OWN MARKETING IS POOR
I will caveat this one in that for a lot of agencies don’t have their own team of dedicated marketers. They often fit their own marketing around serving their clients. The gardeners, garden scenario if you will – they’re too busy tending to their clients’ marketing that they neglect their own. However, look at what they recommend to you and see if they practice what they preach. Review their website, the content they produce, and even the proposals they present. Are they presented well, of high quality, and with a clear target audience (you) in mind? If they struggle to do the basics right for themselves, chances are they’ll struggle to do it for you too.
RED FLAG #12: THEY’RE NOT PROACTIVE
This is our final entry on our red flags to look out for when selecting a marketing agency because this looks towards the future.
Marketing is an ever-changing and evolving industry, with new trends and technologies driving change constantly. So, you should look for a partner who is preparing for the future.
During the sales process, that means checking to see whether they propose future opportunities to expand on their initial proposal. What do they recommend in the future to take your marketing to the next level? If they’re not looking ahead, they can only be reactive, which in this game can leave you trailing behind your competitors.
If you’ve already started working with them, are they making ongoing recommendations to improve performance, providing insight into new developments and proposing updated solutions? If so, you know they’ve got their finger on the pulse and they’re looking for ways to improve your results. If they’re not, you know they’re looking to simply cash your invoice at the end of the month and move on to the next.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST RED FLAG TO LOOK OUT FOR WHEN SELECTING A MARKETING AGENCY?
Any 1 of the 12 in this list should be cause for concern. They’re either not committed, lack the expertise required, or are employing typical sales tactics to win your business by overpromising results.
The most important thing is to work with an agency that wants to help you overcome your unique challenges, achieve your goals, and has the experience and expertise to help you do just that.
If that sounds like an agency you’d like to work with, why not book a free, no-obligation marketing consultation and let’s get started?