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Switching Marketing Agencies: 8 Red Flags to Look Out For

switching marketing agencies
Partnering with an agency to accomplish your marketing goals can be an amazing, successful investment in business growth for your company. However, not every partnership is a match made in heaven. 

We’ve found when talking to clients, prospects, and others in the digital marketing realm one theme comes up a lot when discussing agency underperformance: “I just thought this was normal.” 

It can be hard to decipher what’s the industry standard when it comes to agencies, and if you’re getting the most out of your investment. This guide aims to help you assess if the friction points you’re experiencing are expected or if it might be time to seriously consider an agency switch.

8 Boxes Your Digital Marketing Agency Should Be Checking

In talking with customers looking for a new solution for marketing services, the same pain points appear repeatedly. Quite frankly, there are certain boxes that any agency worth your money should consistently be checking – no excuses – including: 

  1. Frequent communication
  2. A careful onboarding & understanding of your business
  3. Data transparency
  4. Strategy transparency 
  5. A dedicated team of experts 
  6. Informed consent with any key changes 
  7. Budget and retainer transparency 
  8. Ownership of all assets & tech stack 

If you’re not sure if what you’re experiencing with your current agency and its services is “just the way it is” -- keep reading! Even if it’s not time to switch agencies, any of the above issues should be broached with your agency account manager. 

If you do decide to switch, we recommend ensuring that your new agency checks these boxes.

1. Frequent Communication

“Yeah, we have an agency, but we barely hear from them and we’re not really sure what they do…” 

We hear that one more often than you’d think. 

Communication is at the heart of any fruitful long-term marketing partnership and should be prioritized above all else.

When enlisting the help of an agency, you’re essentially broadening your team’s in-house experts and pulling in consultants to help supercharge your results. You shouldn’t have to work any harder to get in touch with your agency than you do with pulling in a member of your own in-house team.

Okay, but how frequent is realistic? 

Typically, we prefer to have weekly or bi-weekly standing meetings with our clients to tackle a variety of things, such as:

  • Getting notes on content
  • Providing status updates on projects
  • Discussing any new issues/opportunities

Between meetings, we correspond frequently (sometimes even daily) with clients as needed. 

Of course, it’s impossible to expect any agency to drop everything they’re doing to respond to an email or a request. That said, we believe the best practice is to adhere to a less than 24 hours response time on all non-urgent matters

2. A Careful Onboarding & Understanding of Your Business

Once you decide to partner with a marketing agency, you want to hit the ground running and start producing and seeing results FAST FAST FAST! This is understandable; you’re making a big investment and want to see it start paying off.

However, rushing into production and cranking out resources before the marketing service team is ready is a recipe for failure. Your agency’s team should spend some time getting a firm grasp on:

  • Your industry
  • Your business
  • Your customers
  • Your existing overall strategy 

Without an understanding of these things, the relationship with your agency is poised to be rocky. There’s likely to be friction within the partnership, performance metrics suffering, and ultimately wasted time and money.

To avoid this, check what the agency’s onboarding process looks like – it should be thorough and transparent. Every action during onboarding should be intentional and have a clear output for both teams. The timetable should be comfortable for both teams -- long enough for the marketing team to get everything that they need, but efficient enough to begin production as soon as possible.

Before switching agencies, make sure that your onboarding includes:

  • Buyer persona research and workshops
  • Thorough interviews with your existing customers 
  • Full competitor audit 
  • Brand workshop and brand guide development 
  • Full existing website SEO audit
  • A KPI check-in and sample report development
  • Goal forecasting
  • Strategy development 
  • Content map creation 
  • Quick win identification

Okay, but how long should it take to do all of that?! I want to get going! 

There is no silver bullet for how long a good onboarding should take. Our onboarding process lasts 8 weeks and covers all of the above.

If you’re thinking to yourself, “My agency didn’t do any of that before we got started” – that might be a red flag to either take a pause and insist on some of the above being accomplished or to look into a new solution.

3. Data Transparency

Your marketing agency should be giving you frequent, transparent, and thorough reports on the performance of the marketing activities that you’re paying for. One more time and in bold: Your marketing agency should be giving you frequent, transparent, and thorough reports on the performance of the marketing activities that you’re paying for!

What does a good marketing report answer? Good, bad, or ugly, it should address:

  • What happened?
  • Why did it happen?
  • How will it be addressed?

Your agency’s reports should also be specific, readable, and delivered in a digestible format. 

Here are some red flags we’ve heard of when it comes to agency reports:

  • The reports are only delivered on a call with the screen shared, no copy is sent to the client to review.
  • The reports are mystifying and no explanation is given for the marketing jargon.
  • The reports only focus on marketing metrics and have no impact analysis on long-term goals or ROI.
  • If the client feels like performance is declining, the agency has a smooth-talking answer with no real analysis of what’s going on and how to fix it.
  • There is no report at all…👻

Okay, but how often should I receive reports?

This depends on the activity level you’re investing in. The rule of thumb our agency sticks to for most clients is a monthly report on all key metrics. We provide a quarterly deep-dive into those metrics’ trends in order to make strategic shifts if necessary. For some clients, we have a weekly or biweekly at-a-glance KPI report for stakeholders depending on the needs.

4. Strategy Transparency

Everything that you and your marketing agency partner collaborate on should be laddering up to a larger goal, project, or purpose to keep the needle moving. Strategies should be created, executed, and measured periodically to ensure your business is taking advantage of all available marketing opportunities. 

Strategy and reporting transparency go hand-in-hand. Strategy suggestions and pivots should be a clear part of the report as data should be a major driving force behind the strategy that you’re implementing.

Similar to onboarding, taking the time to carefully set a strategy and sticking to its execution improves performance. If your marketing efforts are operating in silos with no unified, strategic vision, you’re probably missing opportunities for growth and efficiency across channels and campaigns.

Okay, but how do I know if the strategy my agency has presented is a good one? 

Unfortunately, there’s no one objective way to determine the quality of any given strategic plan. 

Similar to the expectations for reports, strategies should tie back to your goals, be easy to understand (no hiding behind confusing marketing jargon) and outline a specific path forward. 

Ultimately, a marketing strategy from your agency should make your team feel excited and confident in the path ahead!

5. A Dedicated Team of Experts

No one understands your business and its products better than your team. 

As we noted above, getting your agency team to understand what your business does to be able to sell it to your audience is no small feat. Because of this, your agency’s service team should be consistent. In other words, you shouldn’t walk into a meeting to find a new team of people from your agency waiting for you.

To be sure, there are plenty of legitimate reasons an agency might need to switch up who’s working on your account – for instance, someone gets promoted or someone leaves the agency. However, these occurrences should be rare, not the norm. 

Moreover, your agency should be able to appoint its in-house experts serving your company based on your needs and their team’s fortes

Do you know the phrase “jack-of-all-trades but master of none”?

Many agencies operate this way with their staff. While individual members may have a focus of expertise, they’re each able to pinch hit where necessary. It’s like the graphic designer being proficient in PPC management or the content writer being able to fix website errors.  

Okay, but the agency I hired is small – like four or five people small. 

We get that – not all agencies are big. We were there once, too. However, if you’re paying to retain an agency, you deserve the peace of mind its team is not being stretched too thin or that it can’t actually produce your deliverables. When vetting an agency, don’t be bashful about asking how many other clients it has or what the skill level of its team members is. 

6. Informed Consent

We’re borrowing from the healthcare world with this one – we believe this concept should be the standard of “care” and delivery that every marketing agency follows. The idea here is that you are investing in a team of experts to consult and help you make the best decisions possible for your business. Providing objective and clear consultation is essential to ethical marketing and success.

Your agency should neither push you in one direction without explaining all options and potential effects of the action taken nor leave the ball entirely in your court with no education or explanation on the topic at hand. All decisions that need to be considered should include an analysis of all of the pros and cons of every choice, as well as any educational resources needed to help you make the best choice possible.

Okay, but what if I want my agency to handle things on its own without me having to weigh in? 

For small decisions, this is usually fine It’s a great thing to have that level of trust built up with your agency. However, larger decisions (budget, branding, sales automation) should be made by you. Period.  

7. Budget and Retainer Transparency

There’s a reason that restaurants list pricing next to each item on their menu and you receive an itemized bill at the end of a meal. 

Why can’t agencies operate the same way?

Nobody likes a surprise bill. Nobody likes unclear pricing and arbitrary estimations. When you’re investing monthly in a marketing retainer, it should be clear how money spent translates to success. Although nobody really likes talking about money, it’s important to have open and honest communication with your agency on investment and value.

Okay, but surely marketing services can’t work exactly like a restaurant? 

Why not? 

At p80, we operate with a model of points-based pricing. Each of our clients’ retainer purchases a number of points to be used monthly; essentially guaranteeing the agency’s dedicated capacity. Our strategists work with clients to recommend how those points are spent on services based on the client's goals. As we talked about earlier, this is a process of informed consent where the client understands exactly why each service is being recommended and how it’ll impact their goals.

Points are a reflection of the value and effort that it takes to complete a given service. They are applied to our services catalog based on years of data. For client requests or services that have never come up before, we do our best to estimate and adjust throughout the delivery process as needed all while keeping the client in the loop on any changes.

It sounds a bit complicated, but is really simple! Clients know what they’re paying for, get what they’re paying for, and can feel confident in where their investment is going and the value it brings. As an agency, we’re able to appropriately allocate our team’s capacity and resources to the client to ensure we’re never stretched too thin or overpromising.

Further Reading: The Cost of Inbound Marketing Services.

8. Ownership of All Assets and Tech Stack

Your business should retain ownership of:

  • Paid media accounts and campaigns 
  • Visual assets created for campaigns 
  • Written content, like blogs, used on your website
  • Social media channels
  • Your CRM and all templates, properties, etc. created
  • Website content and hosting
  • Anything in your Google My Business, Google Analytics, Google Search Console

While you may be handing off the keys to any or all of the above for your agency partner to manage, your business should retain ownership of all associated assets and tech. If for any reason you sever ties with your agency, it should be simple and clean. 

Your company should be able to easily and readily access all of your marketing materials and campaigns at any point during the relationship or after. If your agency is being cagey about your ownership or has made you sign away your ownership of your materials, it’s likely a red flag.

Okay, but no one at my company knows how to set these things up -- we need an agency to do it. 

That is perfectly alright and something your agency can assist with while still ensuring you own all of it. This process can be as simple as a screen share walk-through of how to set something up or providing documentation of how to access it if needed. For so many of the above systems, you are should be able to then add the agency as a manager to the platform or give them a separate login with the appropriate credentials (another process your agency team can help walkthrough).

The bottom line is that when you’re investing in and working hard on your business's digital growth, you want to ensure that you own every aspect of that process.

Time for an Agency Switch?

The decision to place your company’s marketing in another organization’s hands should not be taken lightly. If reading this through something does not feel right to you with your current partnership, it’s worth considering what your other options are. No one wants to waste time, money, and resources on a fruitless partnership. 

Bring Our Approach to Your Business

If it seems like p80’s approach might fit with your values, this page has some more information about our processes to help you get to know us better.

When you’re ready to get started, just reach out using the link below:

Talk with an Expert About Your Strategy