7 Red Flags to Watch Out for When Choosing Your Marketing Agency

Trying to hire an outside marketing partner can feel like navigating a minefield at times — especially if you’ve been burned in the past.

Fortunately, there are ways you can efficiently sift through the many options at your disposal and eliminate some of the least-worthy competitors from your search. To help, we’ve put together a list of potential red flags that should help you focus on the digital marketing agencies who are most likely to get you the best results for your budget. 

Seeing Red: When to Walk Away (and When to Run)

Lots of marketing agencies talk a big game when they have you on the phone. As you do your homework, however, you’ll discover pros and cons that should influence your decision on whether to hire them much more than any promises they make during a conference call.

As you’re researching a prospective marketing partner, watch out for these red flags, which could indicate a potential bad marketing marriage in the making.

Red Flag #1: They Don’t Use Data and Analytics to Track Results and Refine Strategies

In the digital marketing world today, we go by the Huey Lewis rule: it’s hip to be square. Data-driven marketing is the biggest revolution in the advertising world since the invention of TV spots, and any agency that doesn’t use data to evaluate its results and adjust its strategies is at a huge disadvantage (and so are its clients).

Data from sources like Google Analytics, SharpSpring, AHRefs, and other cutting-edge tools can help you ensure you’re spending your money in the smartest way possible, discarding the ideas that don’t work while keeping the ones that do, and refining your marketing plan to get better and better results over time. Make sure your marketing partner is using these and other data-sourcing tools and can tell you exactly how they plan to use data to craft and hone your marketing strategy.

Red Flag #2: They’re Not Transparent About Pricing, Billing, and Results
If there’s one complaint we hear over and over from our clients about past agencies, it’s that they received bills that they didn’t understand for projects and initiatives that never seemed to materialize.

The marketing agency you work with should be able to break down your bill in a clear manner that’s easy to understand, and they should attach concrete, realistic timelines to projects and then adhere to them. They should also, at any time, be ready and willing to prepare a report that shows you what they’ve achieved for you (both recently and since the beginning of your relationship) and how they’re allocating your money.

  • Tip: Watch out for restrictive contracts that will keep you from making a change if your agency no longer fits your needs. You should be able to change agencies (even if it’s from us!) whenever it makes sense for your business.

Red Flag #3They’ve Never Worked with a Client in Your Industry Before
There are two schools of thought on choosing an ad agency: One says you should always choose an agency that has a specialized focus on your industry, since they know what works and what doesn’t for businesses like yours. The other school says you should never work with an agency that focuses on your industry, because they probably fall back on the same solutions for every client and rarely challenge themselves to think outside the box.

There’s merit to both arguments here, but the fact is that the second line of thought is a little bit like a rich person who hired an architect to design their home sneering at a middle-class family who buys a prefab house. Sure, a high-end, boutique firm with an incredibly diverse portfolio will probably get you a great result — but it’s going to cost you a lot of money.

If you’re establishing a small or medium-sized business and not trying to launch a global fashion brand, it makes sense to work with a marketing partner who already has processes and practices in place for a business like yours, and who can get your marketing campaign up and running efficiently and on a tight budget.

  • Tip: There’s still some truth to the argument against working with niche agencies. If you’re evaluating such an agency, ask to see a wide range of their client websites and other assets. If each one of them looks like it’s been stamped out of a mold, you can probably do better elsewhere.

Red Flag #4: Their Website Stinks

Would you hire a carpenter who lives in a house that’s falling apart at the seams? An auto mechanic who drives a muffler-dragging rust-bucket? A marketing agency’s website is their showcase for their vision, philosophy, and reason for being, and if it doesn’t make an instant impression and entice you to learn more about them, then the one they make for you likely won’t do that for your clients or customers either.

  • Tip: Take the time to check out every aspect of an agency’s online presence — not just their homepage, but their service area pages, their blog, their social pages, their press releases, and anything else you can dig up. The devil’s in the details, and if things get sloppy around the edges of an agency’s web presence, it’s hard to trust them with the attention to detail that a great website requires.

Red Flag #5: They Have a Questionable Reputation (Or No Reputation)

If you’re doing your due diligence as you evaluate different marketing agencies, then you’re likely looking at online reviews from places like Google and Twitter, and that’s a great start. Reviews aren’t everything, though, as there are ways for unscrupulous companies to pad their reviews or obscure negative reviews. Go deeper — look for the agency’s case studies, find examples of work they’ve done for clients in the past, and look them up on the Better Business Bureau website.

  • Tip: Ask your prospective marketing partner for a list of both past and current clients you can call for a reference. If they have any problem with this reasonable request, that’s a bad sign. When you talk with the references, don’t just ask whether the agency was good or not — ask what challenges the client experienced with the agency and how the agency addressed those issues.

Red Flag #6: They Won’t Give You Complete Ownership of Your Assets
We hate it, but it’s true: there are some unsavory companies in our industry who will try to maintain exclusive access to your website, social accounts, and marketing assets just so your firm is effectively held hostage. (And these aren’t just fly-by-night companies, either — some of them have been around for a while and look perfectly legitimate.) These agencies know they don’t deliver top-notch services at competitive pricing, so their goal is to make it a bigger headache for you to leave them than to stay.

If you’re already working with an agency like this, then you should leave at all costs — they’ve made it clear they don’t care about you, and they’ll never give you the best results for your budget (if they could, they wouldn’t need to use these tactics). However, expect to spend a lot of time on the phone haranguing them to get access to your website and other properties, and the next marketing agency you work with will probably be in for a headache as they try to untangle the mess. (Trust me on this one; we’ve definitely been there.)

  • Tip: Make sure your marketing agency can promise that you’ll have free and unfettered access to all your important digital marketing assets if you decide to change agencies or move your marketing in-house. A quality marketing agency not only won’t balk at this request, but will gladly help you with the transition.

Red Flag #7: You Don’t Like Them
You don’t have to be best friends with your marketing agency’s staff, but you’ll be spending plenty of time communicating with them, and you should enjoy it (or at least find it worthwhile). If you’ve got a bad feeling in your gut after you get off the phone with them, or if you regularly butt heads over core philosophical or ethical issues, maybe it’s time to find a new marketing partner. Life’s too short to work with people you dislike.

LaFleur: Your Transparent, Data-Driven Digital Marketing Partner

We want to help you find the marketing agency that can best grow your business and maximize your budget — even if that partner isn’t us. That said, we think we have a lot to offer most law firms, healthcare companies, and other growing businesses.

Whether your business needs a full website build or you simply need to update and modernize the strategies and assets you have in place, LaFleur can help. Using best practices and data-driven innovation, we can expand your online audience, connect you with the leads that matter most, and show the world what makes your brand and your services special.

Call LaFleur today at (888) 222-1512 or fill out our convenient online contact form to learn more about what we can do for you. We look forward to hearing from you!

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