Stop Wasting Money on a Marketing Agency Without Anything to Show for It


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The most important part of your relationship with a marketing agency is trust. Trust is a hard thing to garner because it has to be proven and earned—it can’t be bought. Almost every agency sells themselves as trustworthy, reliable, and credible, but when the honeymoon phase is over the results often don’t live up to their billing.
What makes this scenario frustrating is that you’ve spent thousands of dollars and invested countless hours of your company’s time and resources building a failed relationship. What’s even worse? You’re not going to get that money back.

Characteristics of a Trustworthy Marketing Agency

Where does this leave you? You still need to harness the power of marketing to drive website traffic, convert leads, and generate sales. But you also need to find a marketing agency you can trust that will use your company’s money to deliver profitable results. Fortunately, there are a few characteristics of trustworthy agencies you can use to identify your ideal marketing partner.

The 6 hallmarks of a trustworthy marketing agency:

1. Setting Clear Expectations

2. Complete Transparency

3. Practicing What They Preach

4. Focused on Strategy, NOT Tactics

5. Advocating for Your Brand

6. Proven Experience

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1. Setting Clear Expectations

When you initiate discussions with potential marketing agencies, one of the first things you’ll determine early in the relationship is expectations. There should be no gray areas here. Each party needs to know exactly what they’re responsible for.

There are two types of expectations you’ll need to define:

1. Agency Capabilities – Some agencies offer services for everything under the moon. Those aren’t the ones you want to partner with. The best agencies will be clear and specific about their qualifications. If you need help with tradition marketing and social media marketing, make sure the agency you choose has proven expertise in both areas.

2. Responsibilities – Clarifying individual responsibilities as soon as the relationship begins is essential to success. When both parties are clear on their responsibilities, the chances of the partnership prospering increase exponentially.

2. Complete Transparency

Transparency goes hand-in-hand with trust. When your marketing agency isn’t afraid to tell you a campaign isn’t working, you know you’ve found a trustworthy partnership. No one ever likes to hear something isn’t working, but it’s often necessary to improve results. An agency who doesn’t beat around the bush is one who’s more concerned with helping your business succeed than they are with looking good.
Agencies that embrace transparency benefit your business by encouraging honesty, respect, and credibility. When you don’t have to worry about the integrity of the agency you’ve hired you have more time to focus on helping your business succeed. Case studies will come up later in this post, but it’s worth mentioning that they’re a great indication of transparency in an agency. Check out the way HubSpot highlights their customer case studies:

marketing agency

3. Practice What They Preach

This one is especially important. Any agency can tell you exactly what you want to hear, but actions speak louder than words. Are they putting what they preach to practice, or are they full of it?

Here’s a few easy ways to find out if an agency actually performs up to the standards they promote. First, check the services they offer on their website and then begin verifying their ability to perform each one:

  • Are they blogging?
  • Do they maintain consistent, high-quality social media accounts?
  • Does their website have CTAs?
  • What email campaigns do they send out?
  • Is their design aesthetic up to par?
  • Are there case studies on their website?
  • Have customers reviewed them?

Everything from the quality of an agency’s copywriting, to the performance of their website is an indicator of what they can and can’t do well.

4. Focused on Strategy NOT Tactics

Strategy is just as important as tactics. Many agencies focus on the day-to-day, week-to-week tasks at the expense of formulating a long-term strategy to help you achieve your business goals. You need a marketing agency who sees the big picture.

Strategies are detailed guides that lay out a plan to achieve success. Tactics are the individual tasks agencies must complete to implement the strategy.

An Example of Strategy vs Tactics:

  • Strategy: Driving 100 sales online in Q1 by using social media advertising and PPC.
  • Tactics: Creating the social media and PPC ads, including copy and images, in addition to setting up the targeting, evaluating results, split testing, and much more.

The image below shows a services description for a marketing agency that’s focused 100% on tactics without once mentioning strategy. Also, you never want to see a marketing agency using “etc.” when describing their services.

marketing agency

5. Advocate for Your Brand

Too often marketing agencies are focused on telling their clients everything that’s wrong with their business. Sometimes this comes at the expense of them recognizing the positive aspects your brand has to offer. This almost always negatively impacts your brand perception.

Choose a marketing agency that’s excited about your company and understands your vision. An agency’s enthusiasm (or lack of) will show in the quality of the work they produce for you. If they don’t like your brand the marketing materials they produce probably won’t excite your target audience.
Agencies that share client success stories (like we did in the image below) aren’t just proud of their clients, they’re excited for their achievements and invested in helping them win.

marketing agency

6. Proven Experience

Has the agency really done what they say they can do? Were they successful? You need proof that your chosen marketing agency can perform when the deal is signed.

4 surefire ways to discover proof of experience:

1. Case studies

2. Customer reviews and testimonials

3. Press releases

4. Mentioning clients

Typically, a marketing agency that fails to make a single client mention is either pretending they’re bigger than they are, or they don’t have positive results to share. That may not always be the case, but it should make you suspicious. Proceed with caution. Better yet, proceed on to the next agency.
If case studies exist they’re usually easy to find and will give you a clear indication of the agency’s capabilities. Customer reviews are a great way to vet the experience of an agency. Facebook and Google+ are usually your best bets for finding legitimate reviews. Try scanning their social media profiles to see what people are saying about the agency.

marketing agency

Press releases aren’t as concrete as case studies, reviews, and testimonials, but they still prove the agency has experience. Just keep in mind that the vast majority of press releases are written by the agencies themselves.

When it’s Right, it’s Right

Sometimes it’s best to go with your gut feeling. Don’t get us wrong. It’s important to thoroughly vet potential marketing agencies before you sign a contract, but there’s often an unspoken attraction that’s formed in successful relationships. When both parties are equally excited to start the partnership that’s a good sign things could work in your favor.

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