How to Avoid Getting Screwed by a “Marketing Agency”

In my career, I have worked with and/or vetted dozens of agencies.  If there is one thing that I have learned, it is that more than 95% of agencies have absolutely slim to no idea what they are doing.  This was a big part of my motivation to start Hawke Media.  The majority of the marketing agency world is comprised of good salesmen with small teams that don’t have a clue how to market.

As someone with personal experience, I have been able to sniff out most of these, but for those of you who do not have a firm grasp on marketing, here are some things you can look for when vetting agencies that can help to steer clear of these problems:

1. Easy to Understand Strategy – Marketing is not rocket science.  It is simple logic and it deals with basic human interaction. Overly complicated marketing doesn’t generally work.  When you are talking to an agency, remember that you are smart.  When they are explaining what they are going to do, you should be able to understand all of it.  There are no black boxes, silver bullets, or secret sauces in marketing.  It is doing the right things and understanding the available channels to execute the proper tactics.  If they can’t explain in laymen’s terms what they are doing and why it is because they don’t know what they are doing nor why.
2. Run from Crystal Balls – I know it is natural to want an expert marketer to tell you what you can expect as far as results, but aside from showing results from other clients, there is no crystal ball.  I commonly bring up the fact that we have worked with two shoe brands, from the same owners, same designer, and one ended up with 100% return on ad spend and the other around 400%.  It is impossible to predict the result which is why you start slow and test, test, test.  There are tons of variables that come into play that affect how advertising and marketing efforts perform.  If someone tries to tell you that they already know the results, run!
3. No Longterm Contracts – It is apparent how strongly I believe in this, but it is for a reason.  It is incredibly uncommon to sign some sort of long term contract with an employee so why would you ever do it with an agency?  Well, it makes agencies comfortable.  Now they know they don’t have to earn your business constantly.  Imagine hiring an employee on a 6-month contract.  They could slack off for the first 2 to 3 months and then step up just enough to make you renew.  Not a great way to align interests.
4. No Revenue Shares
This goes back to also having no longterm contracts.   Asking for a revenue share on new acquisition is asking to give them the risk, but not all of the upside.  If someone is willing to accept this deal, they either don’t know what they are doing or are not going to take any risks or build your brand.  This strategy incentivizes marketers that know what they are doing to drive quick sales, regardless of saving your brand.  Things like deep discounting, branded keywords on search, affiliate marketing, and more that generates some cash, but basically grinds the brand down to nothing.  I have seen this happen with companies many times and they don’t usually recover.
5. “SEO” – This is a very common tactic for people that have no idea how to market.  Given, there are some good SEO agencies that do great things, but so many have turned it into this black box of snake oil and you need to be very careful when someone says they offer this service. If someone is selling SEO, ask them what they mean by that.  If they start talking about meta tags and backlinks, run!
There are obviously much more things to look out for, but these are some of the ones I run into more often.  Be safe out there and just do the smart thing, call Hawke Media!

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