On paper, hiring a marketing agency seems like a relatively simple, straightforward matter. You employ a team of people to take care of your brand, which in return opens up an opportunity to focus your attention elsewhere. In reality, however, things are far from being that uncomplicated.
The process of locating, choosing and hiring a marketing agency can feel like an uphill battle, while dealing with one on an everyday basis comes with a plethora of challenges.
Unfortunately, making mistakes in regards to marketing not only costs time and money, but it may also cause devastating damage in terms of reputation, either yours or your product’s.
In hopes of helping you avoid such scenarios, KickAssGrowth has decided to assemble a special guide to hiring and dealing with marketing agencies, one that’ll equip you with adequate tips and insights, and help you better understand how to get the absolute most out of your marketing agency.
This seems like a reasonable way to start the guide about hiring marketing agencies as, depending on the answer to this question, you may not find much use for the remainder of the text.
While whether you should hire a marketing agency or not depends on a lot of factors, investing in quality marketing almost always makes sense, regardless of the type of your product or at which stage it may be in.
How you go about doing marketing, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.
Ideally, you want to have a core in-house marketing team that consists of a CMO and a product marketing manager. If you have these two in place, you can easily outsource specialists to step it up on certain channels your in-house team has no expertise in. But there’s certainly no need to hire an entire agency.
In some scenarios, a client may not be able to afford an agency and has no in-house team, but is somewhat experienced with marketing himself. If you find yourself in such a situation, then doing things on your own for a while may be the best option—at least until you can secure some cash flow and be able to hire someone.
So, to summarize—hiring a marketing agency is the right move only if having a quality in-house team is off the table and you can afford to pay for the agency’s services.
Benefits of Hiring a Marketing Agency
To get the most out of hiring an agency, you’ll want to have a marketing team on top of things from the early MVP stages. That way, a good campaign can grow with your company, changing course depending on how the business evolves while keeping tabs on identity aspects like brand, voice and reputation.
Among many other things, a good marketing agency will help you:
- Attract new customers and nurture existing ones,
- Give you an edge over your competition,
- Boost brand awareness,
- Generate new leads,
- Close more sales,
- Improve customer loyalty,
- Better align your brand with the market niche,
- Plan out and execute marketing plans,
- Avoid HR nightmares,
- Be more efficient with short-term and urgent projects.
There’s no such thing as bad timing when it comes to anything on this list.
Determining the Marketing Budget
There’s no sugar-coating this, so we might as well go out and say it—marketing costs money. How much you are ready to spend will in many ways determine who you’ll be able to hire.
These are the most common methods through which clients figure out how big of a budget they can throw into marketing:
- The percentage of revenue: By far the most popular method of determining a budget out there. This method works by taking a fixed percentage of your revenue and allocating that amount for marketing. The most commonly used numbers are 5-10% (generally for bigger businesses), 20% (used more for small businesses), and 2-5% (very large companies). Obviously, any budget allocated via this method will vary wildly depending on your profit margins.
- Objective and task-oriented: While not every businesses’ nature will allow this, you can try to plan out the tasks and tactics required to complete your monthly objectives. Then, you estimate the cost of each individual task to the best of your abilities and, by summing it up, you reach a monthly budget. This method is an excellent choice for startups.
- The goal method: This method of establishing a marketing budget entails that you are completely clear on what the end goal of a campaign is. You, let’s say, want to reach an annual turnover of $100k. You then calculate the LTV of each user—for the sake of our example, let’s say that each user you sign up earns you $100, which means that you need 1000 users in order to reach the $100k mark. Finally, you take into account the CAC. If each CAC costs $10, then reaching your end goal would require you to invest $10k in marketing, as that will be enough to onboard 1000 users and get you the $100k you’re aiming for.
- Everything you can afford: Usually, the choice reserved for smaller businesses and startups, this all-in method demands you set aside the money you need to keep the business alive and throw everything else at building popularity.
Being honest with yourself goes a long way when determining the marketing budget. Getting the right figures in place from the start will save you a lot of headaches down the road
Choosing the Right Payment Model
So, now that you’ve determined the range of your budget, there’s one more thing that needs your attention. You need to decide on a specific payment model that makes the most sense next to your budget.
Generally speaking, there are six different models you should consider going with when hiring marketing agencies.
Probably the simplest model available, hourly pricing (also known as a blended rate) means you pay for each hour of work separately, outsourcing the agency whenever you need something done.
- It gives you flexibility as you are not signing on to anything long-term,
- It allows meticulous tracking of time and expenses,
- Great for clients with limited budgets,
- Highly transparent.
- The agency’s goals are in opposition to the client’s, as the longer it takes to complete the work, the more money they’ll be receiving,
- Tracking time comes before all other aspects of work,
- No long-term relationship is formed when you hire an agency like this,
- Not all billable hours are created equal, which often leads to complications and disagreements.
The most straightforward model out there, project-based pricing means that you agree to a future fee before the work is even started. Also referred to as “flat-fee,” project-based pricing entails that you agree to pay a sum regardless of the time or cost involved. Usually, this fixed amount is billed to the client in increments (25% or 50% upfront when you hire a team and the rest is due at the completion of the project).
- Works best for clients who have a budget to adhere to and know exactly how much the entire project will cost,
- Great for projects with a clearly divided increment,
- Good for one-time campaigns.
- It’s hard to determine the right scope of work ahead of time—especially for more complex projects,
- Sticking to the predetermined budget limits the campaign’s dynamic,
- The agency is not motivated to pursue new ideas and channels due to the fear of potentially decreasing their income.
A retainer can be described as the closest thing to a regular paycheck—it’s a pre-set and pre-billed fee for a time period or volume of work. A retainer is usually paid on a monthly basis.
- The best choice for both parties, as results are the main factor that determines value,
- A great option if you hope to turn the hired agency into a long-term partner,
- Gives you just the right amount of flexibility,
- The agency is motivated to improve the work they do,
- As long as the contract is clearly outlined and time accurately tracked, the work can only become more efficient.
- During certain months, it might be a struggle to find enough work for your agency.
The performance-based pricing model entails basing your fee on the performance of the hired team’s work. You must choose a measurable outcome in order to make this work, but if applied correctly, this model can yield results.
- Both parties are incentivized by the end result due to the shared risks and rewards,
- It gives you all the flexibility in the world.
- Usually, performance-based pricing is not an ideal option for the agency, as they are easily replaceable,
- The agency might start primarily focusing on aspects of work that inflate results.
Depending on your circumstances, you may entertain the idea of offering a stake in your business in exchange for an agency’s work—this is called the equity pricing model. A mix of equity and a reduced cash payment can work here as well.
- A good choice for early stage startup firms,
- The cheapest model out there.
- There’s a reason you’re not paying the full price,
- Many agencies will not be interested in doing business this way.
The Hybrid Payment Method
Last but not least, the hybrid method uses two or more of the previous payment models in conjunction. If implemented correctly, the hybrid method can result in a very balanced agreement. Obviously, the more methods you are willing to combine into a single arrangement, the more complicated the deal becomes.
- Extremely flexible,
- Can suit the circumstances of any project and the needs of both the client and agency—if done right,
- Can be designed to ensure the client and the agency receive maximum transparency and value.
- Can get rather complicated rather quickly,
- Failure to understand the fine details can result in disagreements.
How Much Should I Expect to Pay for Marketing Services?
This is another frequent question that often pops up on forums and blog posts. Unfortunately, there’s just not a clear-cut answer to this question as the price of hiring an agency varies from firm to firm.
However, our vast experience allowed us to narrow down the four main factors that directly determine how much you’ll have to pay in order to hire an agency:
- Channel—Different kinds of channels cost different amounts of money. PPC campaigns do not cost the same as social media marketing, and AdWords won’t ramp up the budget the same way SEO will. Basically, what you are looking to get from an agency will be the main deciding factor for how much you’ll have to pay them.
- Location—Where the agency is located will have a huge impact on how much you’ll have to pay for its services. Agencies doing business in Eastern Europe or India will obviously ask for smaller amounts than, let’s say, agencies working in the US or in Australia.
- Quality of work—The price of hiring a marketing agency very much depends on the quality of work they’re capable of delivering. This is the same as with any other business —the better the work an agency is capable of doing, the more clients will be interested to hire them and they’ll be in a position to ask for higher fees.
- Reputation—Finally, the more reputable an agency is, the more money they’ll want for their services. Companies with rich portfolios will always be in a position to demand more money than those who are still working on establishing their brand.
Based on the four factors listed above, KickAssGrowth prepared a small formula that’ll help you determine the approximate monthly price range of an agency you’re looking to hire.
First of all, you need to decide which marketing channel you’d like to pursue. Once you make that choice, you establish the price base of our formula. Depending on which one you picked, these are as follows:
- The price base (B) for SEO is 500,
- The price base (B) for Social Media Marketing is 250,
- The price base (B) for Content Marketing is 400,
- The price base (B) for AdWords is 200,
- The price base (B) for Growth Hacking is 600.
The remaining three factors (Location (L), Quality of Work (Q) and Reputation (R)) are split into three scaling categories, each represented by a number of their own:
|(Q) Quality of work
(L) Location has three levels, each representing a different payscale. The first level is reserved for countries where hiring a marketing agency comes with least expenses (e.g. India and Eastern Europe), while the third level represents the crème de la crème of the payment ranges (the United States, Canada, Australia, etc). The middle category is, obviously, reserved for the countries which do not quite fit into either of the extremes.
(Q) Quality of work and its categories are very much self-explanatory. The more certain you want to be that the quality of work will be satisfactory, the more cash you’ll have to part ways with. The higher the level you want to go with, the higher are the chances of you getting what you want—and vice versa.
Finally, (R) Reputation levels are also very straightforward—the more reputable an agency is, the more cash they’ll be comfortable with requesting. Choosing a very reputable firm will perhaps make you sleep easier at night, but it will also cost you a lot more than what you would need to pay to hire an up-and-coming team.
Once you decide which category of each factor fits your bill, the monthly price formula (in USD) is as follows:
Monthly price = B * (Lx + Qx + Rx)
Example: Let’s say you’re looking to hire an India-based agency to do your social media marketing. The agency you’re looking for would have a proven track record of doing solid work, but you’d like it to be on the up-and-up in order to lower your fees. This means that your Price base (B) would be social media marketing ($250); the Location (L) factor would fall into the first category, the Quality of work (Q) factor would fall under the second level, and the Reputation (R) under the first one. Your monthly price range would then be:
Monthly price = 250 * (1 + 2 + 1)
This means that, according to the conditions we’ve laid down earlier, you’d be looking at a bill of around $1000 per month.
Now that you are clear on your budget and which payment model works best for you, you’re ready to actually start looking for an agency to hire.
Here comes the tricky part: even after you’ve narrowed down the search thanks to your budget range, there are thousands upon thousands of marketing agencies out there. This means that finding the right one is a lot like searching for a needle in a haystack, if not a needle in a stack of needles.
Narrowing the number of potential agencies is done by looking for the ones that are a good fit for what you need to get done.
What Makes for a Good Fit Between a Marketing Agency and a Client?
Not every agency is an ideal fit for every type of client, and figuring out what’s a good fit for your company is more-or-less half the task at hand.
While determining which team might be the perfect fit with your requirements is a feat that’ll be mainly decided during the interview stage, these are the things you should keep an eye out on from the very start of your search:
- The agency must fit your predetermined budget,
- They must be fine with the payment model you’ve decided to go with,
- The team must be experienced with products or services similar to the one(s) you are trying to sell,
- They must have experience within the niche of your product or service,
- Their team must have the necessary skills for your campaign,
- The agency’s work methodology should align as closely with your own as possible.
Where Can I Find Marketing Agencies?
There are a lot of ways for you to find the right agency for your needs—and we’re going to go through all of them now.
Before we go over each method, however, there’s something important we need to mention and that you should keep in mind at all times. Technology has enabled us to completely cooperate with someone through our digital devices. This means that you’re not in any way, shape or form limited to working with an agency that’s within your geographical reach.
With that being said, let’s take a look at the all the ways you can seek out potential marketing agencies:
- Word-of-mouth referrals—You should rely on a word-of-mouth recommendation whenever possible. Statistics show that client-agency relationships worked out best when there was someone advocating for the match. Before you even consider going with any other method on this list, make sure to talk to individuals and companies you trust, and find out if they can refer you to someone worth hiring.
- Events and conferences—You can visit conferences and similar events, and see what you can find out there. Of course, you’ll want to be looking for summits that have something to do with either digital marketing or your particular niche. When there, measure the pulse of the event and see who’s who—if a bunch of clients is raving about how good an agency is, they’re probably worth a closer look.
- Searching through agency directories—While there may not be a definitive list of all the agencies out there, there are a few comprehensive websites that will allow you to filter agencies based on their location, expertise, price, etc. We recommend scouting out Clutch, Digital Agency Network, Redbooks, HubSpot, Growth Hackers and Bidlist.
- The reverse engineer method—This method requires you to search for relevant content and then see who wrote it, before inquiring if they are available for outsourcing. For example, if you want to launch an SEO campaign, look for blogs and articles about SEO. If you like the style of a blog and it’s ranked well, see if you might be able to commission the writer. This will lead you to a single freelancer you can hire. Furthermore, there’s a chance the writer is working for some marketing agency, so you might consider hiring them as a whole.
- Scouting out freelance platforms—Seeing what you can find on freelance platforms also can’t hurt. This will expose you to a bunch of quality freelancers, just like the reverse engineer method. However, a lot of smaller marketing agencies are also present on these platforms, so you might run into a good fit there. We recommend taking a closer look at Upwork, Freelancer and Toptal.
How to Narrow Down the List of Potential Agencies
Once you’ve generated a list of all the potential marketing agencies you might pair up with, you need to start crossing names off the list. You can do this by scouting agencies out, which requires you to thoroughly investigate their website, social media accounts and reviews.
Examining the agency’s website is the first thing you want to do. After all, digital marketing is all about the online world, so you’ll want to see how the agency is holding up in that regard. Once you do land on a website, these are the things you want to analyze:
- Their brand: Obviously, since you want them to take care of your brand, it’s only fair to expect they know how to care for their own. Check out their design, logo, goals, the messages they’re communicating—this will reveal precious information about how good at digital marketing the agency really is.
- Their content: Chances are the agency did not outsource someone to write the content for their website. This means that, by analyzing the style of what’s displayed on their official page, you can see what you can expect to get in terms of content, in case you hire them.
- Portfolio: If an agency has done good business in the past, they will surely be as transparent about it as possible. Go to the portfolio page and see what clients they had in the past, what niches they’re comfortable working in, and see what results they were able to produce during their previous projects.
- Team: Another thing you want to check out on an agency’s website is their team. See how many people they’ve got employed and what their roles are. See what you can find out about them on Google—this will help you get a better sense of their skills. Also, make sure to scout out their founders as they are probably the backbone of the work the agency is capable of delivering.
After you’ve thoroughly analyzed an agency’s website, you want to start examining their social media accounts. Any agency worth their salt will be an active participant on their own platforms, utilizing the same techniques that they use for clients. These are the things you should look for:
- Are these pages regularly updated?
- How active is their community?
- How many followers do they have?
- What kind of content do they post?
- Do they respond to comments?
Finally, sweeping through forums and unbiased reviews also can’t hurt. Yet again, websites like Clutch, Digital Agency Network and Growth Hackers are quite useful here.
Use this spreadsheet to collect contact data and rank the marketing agencies you might hire
As in real life situations, first contacts matter a lot. Reach out to a potential agency, and lay down your plans and aspirations, telling them a bit about your situation. You’ll probably get a quick response from an agency’s representative, after which you’ll set up a meeting, which will take place either online or in person.
This initial meeting will, in many ways, tell you how good of a fit is the agency in question when it comes to your goals. Preparing for the first conversation with their representative will also help you properly evaluate their strengths and weaknesses.
While this may vary from agency to agency and from the scope of your work, the following kinds of questions and topics are the ones you should be interested in discussing:
Technicalities you need to get out of the way:
- How much do they charge for specific services?
- Which payment options are they okay with?
- Who will you be working with on a regular basis if you sign with them?
- How much will they charge you if you decide to hire them?
- Who are some of their most noteworthy previous clients, preferably those that have things in common with your niche?
- How did they solve the problems of their previous clients?
- What do they see as the most impressive results they were able to achieve in the past?
- Depending on what kind of a campaign you want to initiate, ask them to discuss specific strategies (eg. SEO, Social media, PPC, AdWords).
- Which marketing channel would they highlight as their strongest asset?
- What sort of campaigns are they currently running?
- What would they highlight as their team’s main skill(s)?
- What sets them apart from other agencies?
- What project management tools do they prefer using?
- Which marketing software do they specialize in?
- How do they onboard their content creators to new industries?
- How do they infuse content with brand strategies?
- Do they have designers on staff?
- How about developers?
- How do they enhance a site’s conversion rate?
Questions concerning your project:
- How do they plan to help you reach your short and long-term goals?
- Which marketing channels do they see as the most suitable ones for your product?
- Will some of the work be outsourced?
- How often will they be able to send you reports or have direct contact meetings?
- At which point do they expect to start seeing results of their work?
- What metrics will they monitor and ultimately report back on?
While it may drag on for a while, asking these kinds of questions will help you get a better sense of the agency’s skills, and ultimately make you aware of whether you’d be a good fit or not.
All the questions you should ask the marketing agency during the interview stage
Making the Final Choice and Hiring an Agency
After you’ve gone through the interview phase with a few agencies, you should have a clearer picture of which ones should be taken into the final consideration.
Sometimes, you’ll end up with two or more agencies that fit your requirements. If that’s the case, make sure to be as realistic and calculative as possible when making the choice between the two.
Take all the parameters into consideration and make a cold-blooded business decision. Afterwards, notify the agency’s representative or executives, and let them know you’re on board with hiring them.
A Blueprint for an Ideal Client – Marketing Agency Relationship
Hiring an agency is just the beginning of your marketing journey. Now comes the part of actually getting the most out of the newly formed partnership, which is best achieved by developing a harmonious relationship with the hired team.
That, however, is neither something you can do easily nor overnight.
Maintaining a quality client-marketing agency relationship requires a substantial level of collaboration and effort from both sides. You want the partnership to be profitable, productive and sustainable in the long run, which requires time and, of course, that the two parties are a good fit for each other.
Long-standing partnerships in the marketing sector are a result of huge amounts of trust, honest communication, and mutual understanding. As a client, you should certainly work hard on promoting all three of these factors as they help lay the foundations for generating better results.
The Client Onboarding Process
Once you’ve hired an agency, you should expect to be welcomed via a client onboarding process. If you’ve made the right choice about which agency to hire, they should really not drop the ball when it comes to officially introducing you to the team and kicking off the relationship on the right note.
The key to a successful client-agency relationship is making sure both parties are on the same page right from the start. A great client onboarding process does precisely that, while also making the transition a smooth one.
An onboarding process includes addressing any additional questions you might have missed during the interview and preparing to complete the work you previously agreed upon. While this may vary depending on different circumstances, onboarding should generally include things like:
- Gathering the necessary information,
- Defining goals and KPIs,
- Agreeing on strategies,
- Figuring out protocols and means of communication,
- Setting deadlines,
- Outlining the work they’re going to do, both short and long-term,
- Adding initial tasks and organizing teams,
- Scheduling next few kick-off meetings, if necessary,
- Creating and sharing accounts,
- Giving appropriate permissions where necessary,
- Setting up all the necessary marketing tools.
As a client, being aware of what’s going on should be your top priority. This is exactly what stems from having good communication with the hired agency.
Bad communication, on the other hand, is the main root of the majority of problems that can plague client-agency relationships. Poor communication can lead to any or all of the following problems with your project:
- Being suspicious of the work or the progress,
- Being prone to berating the agency for no good reason,
- Not motivating the team to do good work,
- Being impatient with results,
- Stagnating and even sabotaging your own project.
All of these issues can be avoided if you foster an environment that puts emphasis on regular and quality communication between yourself and the marketing team you hired.
The main method through which you can promote a culture of good communication is to see the hired agency as the extension of your own in-house team. They will do the best work they can if you show the willingness to coach them, motivate them and help them whenever necessary.
Show them that you share the same goals and that you are both working on making them a thing of reality.
These are some of the things that can help you establish a sense of quality communication with the marketing agency you hired:
- Conduct daily standups,
- Insist on everyday correspondence,
- Promote the idea of shared objectives,
- Be upfront with problems,
- Be transparent with all the relevant information,
- Be friendly,
- Never hesitate to ask questions,
- Always be as objective as possible,
- Be honest, both with them and with the results of their work.
Usually, you’ll be doing the majority of the talking with an agency’s executive or two. However, most marketing firms use team communication software like Slack, so you should be able to reach out to everyone between content writers to graphic designers with just a few clicks. Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts are also popular tools in that regard.
How Should You Be Measuring Results?
The most important metric when measuring results of an agency’s efforts is ROI (return on investment). However, how ROI is calculated in large part depends on the channel or strategy you opt for.
If you’re running a paid advertising campaign, it’s easy to calculate your Cost Per Acquisition right away, and decide whether the channel is profitable enough or not. Hiring someone to write you a blog post, on the other hand, will not result in an immediate ROI. If it ranks well on Google search, however, you will continue to acquire new users long after you pay for the article, which will eventually give you back your investment.
Another important factor when measuring results of a hired marketing agency is considering the time for trial and error. Your conversion rate may double or even triple after a small change is made on the landing page, but marketing teams usually need some time for testing and figuring out what works best.
Bedrock Markets has a great little tool that can help you calculate ROI based on the amount of time and money you invested into a campaign, so be sure to try it out.
How Much Time Should You Invest in Micromanagement?
Whenever possible, you should resist the urge to micromanage.
Going down the micromanagement rabbit hole will lead you to nothing but needlessly irritating your agency and obsessing about minor details.
Instead, aspire to understand the overall process it will take to achieve the end goals and do not meddle with trivial details.
Leave hitting daily targets and other less important aspects of running a campaign to those in charge of them, and set your sights set on the bigger picture.
If you still can’t resist the urge to pry into less important tasks getting done, most agencies use tools like Trello which give you an overlook of all the current tasks on an agency’s radar. However, even that should not lead you to start micromanaging every single task that gets done.
A good way of satisfying both your micromanagement hunger and not coming off as too intrusive is to insist on a practice where every single finished task needs to be reviewed by you personally. You give feedback and push the tasks in the right direction, while also being aware of what’s precisely going on and leaving an impression that you’re committed to the project.
How to Get the Most out of Your Marketing Agency
Getting the most out of your marketing agency takes both time and effort. A good fit between you and the hired team helps a lot, sure, but maximizing the partnership never comes overnight.
Luckily, there is a number of simple steps you can take to foster a long-term, successful relationship with the agency and nudge it in the right direction:
- Constantly reinforce a strong spirit of partnership: Undoubtedly, the best marketing campaigns are created in absence of fear. Lack of respect for the agency’s expertise, regular threats of terminating the contract, and similar attempts at intimidation will only undermine the positive atmosphere you want to have in place.
- Provide well-written and effective briefs: Good agencies are always more effective if they are aware of what they are set to accomplish. You should give them routine pushes in the right direction by clearly defining what you expect and making sure all the critical information is at their disposal. Good briefs also show that you care about what’s at stake, which motivates the agency to do its best.
- Stick to the plan: Unless something drastically changes, you and your marketing agency should stick to the same core strategy you’ve created at the start of the relationship—that’s why so much care went into those initial conversations. Constantly tinkering with the game plan without a real reason to do so will only confuse the marketing team and prevent them from doing good work.
- Treat the agency team with respect: This one’s definitely a no-brainer. The complex and interconnected relationship between you and your agency will certainly function better if they feel like they are working with you and not for you. Don’t approach your potential long-term partner as just another vendor, as this will disrupt the synergy. Instead, foster an environment of friendship and teamwork that gets the best out of everyone.
- Always state your wishes: Try not to ask for a new tactic simply because the current one “isn’t working” or a new content layout because “others made it work.” Great clients state precisely what’s bothering them, then challenge the agency to find a solution both parties can agree upon.
- Regularly evaluate the progress and be up to date: Aside from being a great way to make slight course corrections, being up to date via quick evaluations shows that you are on top of things and that you care about the everyday effort the agency puts into your campaign.
- Encourage new ideas: Be open to things that can shake up the relationship you have with the agency. Keeping things fresh and exciting boosts motivation and opens up the possibility of growth.
- Give credit where credit is due: Do not be afraid to praise your team if they’re doing a good job. Giving credit is both invigorating on a psychological level and hints at what you like to see going on. Also, keep in mind that, at the end of the day, both you and the marketing agency are looking for the same thing—profitable business growth. Mutually agreed-upon remuneration contracts and a well-defined State of Work are simple to administer, and give you the flexibility to accommodate any possible changes in the future.
Judging by the list above, maximizing the work your marketing agency delivers comes down to developing three factors of your relationship—trust, transparency and mutual respect.
If either of the three is missing, you’re probably not anywhere near a position where you can expect optimal results.
All Relationships Have Bumps in the Road
Anyone who says you won’t hit an occasional bump or two on the road when dealing with a marketing agency is misleading you.
After all, maintaining a good relationship with anyone means being able to work through any issues you come across, and the same applies here.
Since partnerships between clients and agencies orbit around highly subjective and abstract subjects, such as brands and customer perceptions, these relationships tend to be extremely volatile and emotionally charged.
Disagreements are bound to occur from time to time.
And that’s more than okay as long as both sides know how to handle themselves and get the most out of each other’s input. This is what we like to call thoughtful disagreement.
Remember that you may know more about your brand than the agency, but they should know more about how best to market it and how to engage customers—that’s why you choose to hire them in the first place. Good agencies will always look at things from a different angle, so heed what they have to say, even if you are certain your point of view is better.
← Chapter III
4.0 What to Do When Marketing Agencies Don’t Meet Your Expectations
Up until this point, we concentrated on giving suggestions for times when you feel like the hired marketing agency is doing their job well. However, while you should always strive to get the maximum out of every partnership, there’s no reason to tolerate an agency that’s not pulling its weight.
If you hit a wall like this and you’re certain that the problem is not coming from your own actions, there are only two routes you can take. In these situations, you’ll either want to terminate the arrangement or attempt to improve the situation and try to make it work.
Both of these options have their own sets of drawbacks, and none of them are ideal.
The Most Common Reasons Why Partnerships with Hired Marketing Agencies Fall Apart
Identifying specific problems you may have with your agency is ultimately something you’ll have to do on your own, as every situation like that is unique in its own way.
What we can do, however, is give you the list of the most common issues clients often cite as the main reasons why the relationships they had with agencies deteriorated and eventually led to parting ways.
You may not run into your own issue on this list, but it may give you a better sense of your own problems and put things into a clearer perspective:
- Financial issues,
- Problems with new management on the hired team’s side,
- Lack of interest or understanding of the client’s business,
- Disagreements about strategies,
- Feeling like the client has “outgrown” the hired agency,
- Inexperienced personnel on the agency’s team,
- Creative inflexibility and arrogance,
- Scant attention to budgets,
- Lack of transparency,
- Feeling like the results and/or effort do not match the investment,
- Product failed to achieve market fit,
- Failure to raise additional investment,
- Switching to an internal marketing team,
- Finding better offers,
- Losing trust in the hired team,
- The need for a certain channel stopped existing.
Other than the reasons listed above, clients also often indicate that smaller issues, like poor attention to detail or running over deadlines, can gradually put tremendous pressure on the relationship with the agency.
Nonetheless, most of these issues, ranging from smaller frustrating ones to even some truly severe problems, can be resolved if acknowledged and addressed before they get out of hand.
It’s all about staying ahead of the curve.
Giving It a Second Go vs. Hiring a New Agency
As we said earlier, there are really only two options when the relationship with a hired marketing agency reaches the point where you’re unhappy with everything: you can either try and work on fixing the issue(s), or you can hire another team of marketers.
Sticking with the Agency and Trying to Make It Work
Attempting to fix the situation is certainly the path of least resistance when compared to the alternative route. Depending on the level of their infringement, giving the hired team a second chance may make the most sense to you.
- You get to stay with the team you know,
- All the tools and communication channels remain in place,
- The core strategies remain the same—if they were not the root of the initial problem,
- You get to keep relying on the areas of expertise the hired team is actually good at.
- There’s a chance they might revert to their old ways,
- The mutual trust is already damaged,
- They’ve already shown their incompetence.
If you do decide to try and work around the mistakes a hired agency made, the first thing you’ll want to do is tell them exactly what your concerns are. Talk to the people in charge and see if they are willing to clean up their act.
If they are, discuss your problems and try to come up with the best ways to improve the situation.
If that indeed works, make sure the same mistakes are not made again somewhere down the line. Doing so may require a hefty amount of micromanaging, but, depending on the issue you had, you might not have another choice.
Hiring a New Marketing Agency
The alternative option to trying to fix the situation is to simply fire the agency and hire a new team of marketers. By doing so, you would effectively be restarting the entire marketing machine.
- You can look for a team that’s better suited to your branch, ambition, dedication and skill,
- You’ll yet again feel like your agency is capable of handling all that’s thrown at them.
- You need to completely separate yourself from the current team, which is never simple,
- There’s always the danger of burning bridges,
- There’s no guarantee that the next team will be better than the one you have now.
If you decide to go down this path, you should go back a few dozen chapters and read the part about finding and hiring a new agency from scratch.
However, before that can be done, there’s something that’ll require a great deal of effort.
You first need to part ways with the current agency.
Making a Clean Break: How to Fire a Marketing Agency
Just like in regular life, parting ways with someone is not easy.
Remember that cutting ties with a hired marketing agency must always look as a strictly strategic business decision. You should never leave an impression that things got personal.
However, before you can start thinking about firing the team you hired, the first thing you’ll want to do is make sure that the timing of the move is right.
These are the kinds of things that can present a problem when you decide to fire a marketing agency:
- There may be a contractual obligation in place that forbids you from breaking up the partnership,
- You may have some complex or time-bound campaign that’s currently running,
- Your platform(s) is currently in the middle of a critical update/upgrade,
- Your product/service is in the midst of overhauling.
If none of these factors are in play, then you are free to start planning on how to fire the agency immediately.
Ideally, you’ll want to discontinue the relationship with the hired marketing agency via a face-to-face conversation. If that’s off the table, consider a phone or a Skype call, and definitely restrain yourself from writing long-winded emails. Direct contact is your best bet in avoiding unnecessary egotistical point-scoring.
Once you determine the means of communication, get ready to have a heart to heart with someone at the executive level. Don’t beat around the bush—let them know that their performance is not what you want and need it to be. The person you’ll end up talking to will likely try to persuade you to stay with the agency, so be prepared to stand your ground.
You should ensure that the agency returns all passwords for your social media accounts, website and hosting logins, and access to marketing collateral. Forgetting to do so may lead to further complications, which you certainly do not need going forward.
Finally, you do not want to end up in a situation where you let your agency go and there is no one to pick up where they left off. Wait until you have a subsequent agency lined up and ready to be hired, waiting to take over the duties of the previous team from the moment you fire them.
Just be aware that the new agency you hire will need some leeway to start meeting your expectations, no matter how agile or well-equipped they are. Evaluating your assets, understanding all the objectives, learning about your brand and aligning with your community will all take some time.
Learning from Past Mistakes
Learning from your past mistakes is a huge factor when firing a marketing agency and it should be your primary concern. After all, those who do not learn from their mistakes are bound to repeat them.
Cliched, yes, but we can’t stress enough the importance of entirely understanding the “whys” that led to the shift you made.
Having complete clarity on what you want to see done differently will make you much wiser going forward. It will help you identify better fits with future agencies you hire and get new partnerships off on the right foot.
Marketing Agencies Do Not Do Magic
Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far into our guide, you’re well on your way to understanding both the basics and the subtleties of seeking out, hiring and maximizing the performance of your marketing agency.
However, there is one last bit of advice we saved for the very end of this guide in order to emphasize its importance and underline the entire text.
At the end of the day, marketing agencies don’t do magic.
What do we mean by that? Well, no matter how much you are willing to pay, no agency in the world has a magic wand that’ll turn a product or a service into an attractive prospect if what you are trying to sell is simply not worth the customer’s time nor money.
You’ve got a great idea, product or service? That’s fantastic! Hiring a marketing agency can do wonders for you and, if you keep what you’ve learned here close to heart, there’s no reason why you should not expect positive results.
On the other hand, if you have something that’s simply not worth the customer’s time or effort, no amount of marketing will take you to the promised land.
Sure, someone will always be interested in taking your money, guiling you with promises of profit. You may even see a bit of progress from time to time. However, you’ll never reach that level of success you’re hoping for—and that won’t be the agency’s fault.
Bad products and services are just that—bad products and services, and there are no marketing efforts that can change that.
Remember that marketing is always just an extension of whatever you have created—if what you came up with is good, then the marketing results will be good as well, given that you hire the right marketing agency.
Distinguishing good from bad products, however, is a broad topic that deserves a guide of its own.
KickAssGrowth has assembled a special guide to locating, hiring and working with marketing agencies. The guide is here to provide you with a number of tips and insights, and ultimately show you how to get the most out of any marketing agency you partner up with.
Ideally, you want to have an in-house team that consists of at least a CMO and a product marketing manager—the rest you can outsource. If there’s no in-house team at your company, hiring a marketing agency is an alternative route of promoting your brand—which you can take only if you can afford their services.
There is a variety of advantages clients can expect to start enjoying after they hire a marketing agency, and all of them are a welcome addition to any project. You should expect to attract new customers, gain an edge over your competition, boost brand awareness and quality, generate new leads, close more sales, improve customer loyalty, get more efficient in executing long and short-term strategies—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There are four budget-establishing methods you can use to determine how much you are able to invest in marketing: the percentage of revenue, objective and task-oriented, the goal method, and the all-in approach.
There are six different payment models marketing agencies consider accepting: hourly pricing, project-based pricing, retainer-based pricing, performance-based pricing, equity pricing, and the hybrid method.
How much you’ll have to pay for an agency’s services primarily depends on four different factors: which channel you’d like to market through, where the agency resides, what quality of work they’re capable of delivering, and what their overall reputation is.
You want to look for an agency that perfectly fits your brand’s specific requirements. Whether or not they are the right fit is determined by whether they have experience with projects similar to your own, if they know the niche of your product, if they have the skills required to make your goals come true, and if their work methodology aligns with your own.
There are five useful ways through which you can try to find the right agency for your needs: relying on word-of-mouth recommendations, going to specific events linked to your niche, searching through online agency directories, relying on the reverse engineer method, or scouting out freelance platforms.
Narrowing down the list of potential agencies you might consider hiring is done by thoroughly investigating their website and its content, social media presence and impartial reviews of their work.
The interview phase can tell you a lot about an agency, as it allows you to measure their strengths and weaknesses. We’ve prepared a bunch of questions you can ask them in order to evaluate if they would be a good fit for your requirements.
When you are ready to take the plunge and hire an agency, you need to be as calculative and realistic as humanly possible.
Maintaining a good relationship with an agency requires a great deal of effort from both parties. The key to doing so is fostering an environment of two-way trust, honest communication, and mutual understanding.
A quality onboarding procedure will allow both yourself and the agency to be on the same page right from the start. During this initial stage of your partnership, you and the agency’s team members will exchange all the necessary information, define final goals and KPIs, agree on strategies, establish means of communication, set deadlines, and outline the work that needs to get done.
Good communication will both foster a great working environment and make you aware of what’s going on with your brand. Bad communication, on the other hand, is the main root of most problems that happen between a client and a marketing agency, so avoiding poor communication should be one of your primary concerns.
Measuring the results of an agency’s efforts is chiefly done by calculating ROI of each individual channel of marketing. Considering the time for trial and error is also a big factor here.
Whenever possible, you should try to avoid micromanaging. Instead, try to understand the end goals and the wider picture, and have a review policy in place that lets you inspect each significant task after it gets done.
There are a lot of simple steps you can take to maximize the output of your agency, like constantly reinforcing the sense of partnership, providing effective briefs, sticking to the original plans, treating the hired team with respect, clearly stating your wishes and expectations, encouraging new ideas and giving credit where credit is due. It all comes down to working on trust, transparency, and mutual respect.
Despite your efforts, you are bound to hit a few frustrating road bumps during your partnership with a marketing agency. Do not let that discourage you and try to make the most out of those situations, treating them as thoughtful disagreements and not arguments.
There’s no reason to tolerate an agency that’s not fulfilling its part of the bargain. If you find yourself in a situation like this, there are only two choices you can make—either improve the current state of things or hire a different agency.
Reasons why clients decide to move on from certain agencies are quite diverse, but most of them originate from financial issues, management problems, lack of interest, disagreements about strategies, feeling like they’ve outgrown the marketing team, inexperience on the agency’s end, lack of transparency or feeling like not enough effort is put forth towards a project. Nonetheless, most problems between a client and an agency can be dealt with if they are identified and addressed early on.
Sticking with the agency that somehow let you down is a viable option, but it comes with certain concerns. You may avoid shaking things up too much if you don’t switch agencies, but you’ll still be staying with a team that didn’t live up to your expectations. On the other hand, if you decide to fire an agency and find a new one, you may be in for some turbulent times, but the end result can be a noticeable improvement over what you’ve currently got going on.
Ideally, you want to fire an agency via a face-to-face conversation during which you’ll explain to them precisely what led you to that decision. Just make sure that the timing of such a radical move makes sense. Finally, you want to make sure that another agency is waiting in line to take over the tasks and duties of their predecessor.
Whenever you fire an agency, your main concern should be learning from the mistakes that caused the situation in the first place. Remember what led to that moment and make sure the same does not happen with the next marketing team you partner up with.