11 Mistakes Brands Make When Hiring Digital Marketing Agencies

Marketing Strategy

Picture this: A brand comes to an agency looking to supercharge their digital marketing efforts and crush sky-high revenue goals in the process, only to leave the engagement a few months later feeling frustrated and misunderstood. Sound familiar? 

It’s a scenario that plays out every day in the digital marketing space, and is one even the highest-rated agencies experience. But more often than not, it is caused by a few fundamental mistakes that brands make when hiring and working with a digital marketing agency. Working with hundreds of clients over the past five years, the experts here at Hawke Media have seen a fair few of these mistakes play out — and learned the best ways brands can combat them. Here, we break down 11 of the most common mistakes brands make when working with digital marketing agencies — from budget woes and miscommunication to ignoring the digital landscape and more — and how to avoid them to ensure your next engagement is a smashing success. 

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1. Not Having a Clear Understanding of Your Marketing Budget 

You don’t need to know exactly how much money you should be spending on digital marketing, but you should have a good idea of how much you’re willing to spend as well as the full scope of cost to take on certain marketing efforts before you engage with an agency. Once you have that ballpark budget, you should then work with your agency’s experts to understand where that money should actually be spent to maximize its value. You may come in thinking you only need to focus on search engine marketing, but listen when the experts tell you that investing in your owned and operated blog or revamping your website are critical uses for your marketing budget. 

Remember: there are two sides to the budget coin when it comes to working with agencies. So having a good understanding of how much money you’ll save in the long run by outsourcing your digital marketing efforts instead of doing it in-house (and how that in-house talent can be best used instead) will help put your budget into perspective. 

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2. Misaligning Incentives With Your Agency

One of the best ways to ensure your budget is maximized is to take a look at the pricing model of your agency. Revenue share models can make agencies short-sighted and far more likely to employ quick-fix money making solutions that will actually tarnish your brand in the long run. On the flip side, paying your agency by the hour can make them work slowly. Instead, look for agencies that operate on per-project basis or employ management fees without any long-term contracts (like us here at Hawke Media!) — that way, the incentives to boost your brand in the right way are evenly spread. 

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3. Assuming That Digital Marketing Is Only About Transactions

When it comes to maximizing your marketing budget, it also pays to remember that returns aren’t the only measure of marketing success. If you’re only allowing your digital marketing efforts to drive direct response and forgoing brand-building strategies, you could be setting yourself up to struggle in the long term. So don’t pigeonhole your agency to typical acquisition channels and instead embrace a full-funnel approach that supports multiple, necessary touchpoints for the customer journey. You’ll create an audience that is more likely to be engaged for the long-haul if you do.

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4. Skipping the Foundational Work

In a rush to spend money on ads or redesign their website, many companies forget how integral branding is to driving customer awareness and trust. So allow your agency to take the time to assess your product-market fit, audit your website conversions and analyze your competitive landscape and foundational brand messaging (unique selling propositions, key differentiators, brand pyramid, etc.). Then, set baseline KPIs and marketing goals. Having this strong understanding with your agency will set your big campaigns and launches up for maximum success.

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5. Treating Your Agency as a Vendor (or Adversary!) Instead of a Partner

When working with an agency, brands often think they can hand over the keys to the castle and never look back. But you need to work with your agency to succeed! Your points of contact at an agency are marketing experts (more on that below), but you are the expert in your brand and business. Therefore, it’s only natural that they’ll need to pick your brain in order to achieve the highest quality output. If you fall behind on — or even neglect — the review, edit and approval process, you could be a bottleneck to your own success. The very best marketing engagements come when the agency and brand are seen as collaborators working towards the same goals

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6. Not Speaking Up

It can be hard to give direct and explicit feedback, especially if you like the manager on your account. But if you don’t speak up, how will they know how to improve? Fight the urge to bottle up your opinions and be radically candid at every opportunity (remember that you’re the expert in your business, and need to share that knowledge with your new team!). Speak up before you get frustrated and end the engagement.

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7. Forgetting to Align With Your Internal Team 

Now you know your agency definitely wants you to speak up. But when you do, it is crucial to present a united front — because we all know what happens when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. So get aligned with your internal team about feedback and plans before letting your agency know how you’d like to proceed. Having this internal alignment from all of the necessary parties on your side of the business in place is key to your agency being able to execute at the highest level possible instead of attempting to execute conflicting campaigns or strategies. 

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8. Not Trusting Your Experts to Be Experts

So often agencies suggest strategies that fail to launch based on a client’s preconceived notions. Whether it’s ignoring an agency’s best practices or an unwillingness to experiment, you could be missing out on big opportunities if you’re too stuck in your ways or don’t trust the expertise of the team that your agency has assembled. Try to put those feelings aside next time you meet with your agency team, and trust that they are employing all of their marketing knowledge and tools  to best support your brand’s goals. 

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9. Not Giving Your Agency Enough Time

If you’ve kicked off with an agency in the last quarter and are panicking because of a dip in returns — stop! Take a deep breath, and sit tight. It is so easy to ignore simple things like seasonality and purchase cycles of your customers when looking at returns. It is also easy to forget that digital marketing efforts across nearly all channels have a ramp-up period where your experts will be continually testing and optimizing what works best. Let them do their thing before focusing on returns.

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10. Misreading (or Ignoring!) Data 

Collecting data and analytics won’t do you any good if you’re basing your marketing decisions off of a shaky understanding of the numbers. It is key that you and your agency constantly test, optimize and verify the data that you or Google has collected — doing so will give you a better idea of the overall health of your marketing initiatives and business as a whole.

Once you have a solid understanding of that data, use it as your guiding light. Often brands and agencies clash when the former wants to act off of feelings about the state of their business or the success of their campaigns instead of the numbers. So next time you feel like your engagement with an agency  isn’t going well, step back and take a look at the numbers — they may just reveal a different story.

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11. Thinking Digital Marketing is a One-Time Game

Digital marketing is (unfortunately) not a one time push. If you’ve spent money with an agency on marketing and have seen positive results, you can’t stop spending and expect those results will continue at the same level. If you’re not constantly optimizing and testing old strategies against new ones, you may lose the interest of your new-found audience. Digital evolves fast, and you could be leaving money on the table if you are not constantly updating your messaging, pushing out new creatives and developing new content. 

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