Beware of These 5 Marketing Agency Red Flags

Posted on July 23, 2020
  • Your scope is the foundation of your marketing program. A poorly defined scope can end in disaster.
  • Openness and transparency are a big deal in any relationship — especially a partnership.
  • Your marketing program should feel tailored to your business and goals, not like a checklist of tactics.
  • If you don’t understand how your marketing is translating to revenue, this is a serious problem.
  • A great marketing partner will go above and beyond in ways that don’t directly benefit them

Before founding Polymath, we spent years working in larger marketing agencies. The experience taught us a lot about marketing, and even more about how to run our consultancy.

We noticed that whenever we talked to new clients, or spoke with our agency friends and partners, a few issues kept coming up over and over and over again.

It’s frustrating for marketers who get a bad rap because of others’ poor practices, and it’s even more frustrating for business owners who know something’s wrong but can’t quite pinpoint the issue.

To help you spot these red flags from a mile away, here are 5 of the biggest issues we see.

pen to illustrate scope

Red Flag #1: A Poorly-Defined Scope

Your scope is the foundation on which your entire marketing program is built. Outlining goals, expectations and deliverables before you finalize your agreement sets the stage for both you and your marketing partner to move in sync toward the same goals.

If your scope is vague, confusing, or a pile of line-item deliverables, it can be tough to get traction on your marketing program.

An issue we hear of frequently is quarrels that start because the scope is either too vague or too restrictive.

When scopes are too vague, it becomes easy for expectations to become misaligned — leading to you hearing “sorry, that’s not in-scope” when you make a request. But upon review, it’s not clear what actually is in scope — potentially leading to damaged relationships.

We’ve seen the other side too. For example, the scope promises some combination of deliverables like 8 blog posts per month or 5 LinkedIn posts a week — without explaining why your partner is taking that approach.

What happens with this approach is your marketing agency is delivering all the required pieces — but you’re not getting results. When you bring up the discussion, you’ll hear some variation of, “but we’re doing what the scope says.” Again, this ends in damaged relationships way more than not.

The best scopes outline the goal you’re collectively working toward, the deliverables required to accomplish those goals, and a bit of flexibility for when your needs change or the data shows it’s time to try a new tactic. It would focus on the end game, such as bringing more web traffic to your site, and outlining the SEO, content, social media, and outline a game plan to get you there.

That way, should you discover you’re getting a lot of SEO traction from content, but not so much on social media, you can easily shift your resources.

vintage phones to illustrate communcation

Red Flag #2: Spotty Communication

Openness and transparency are a big deal in any relationship. If you’re kept in the dark, it’s never a good sign.

Ideally, you should be in regular contact with your marketing partner so you know what’s been accomplished, what’s in progress, and what’s next. It could be a regular status meeting, occasional Slack messages, a weekly email, or a cable sent by carrier pigeon.

Of course, we have worked with clients who simply didn’t care about the details because they trusted us to get the job done and do it well. If this is the case in your situation, you’re both doing something right!

Regardless of why you may not be hearing from your marketing team, it should be easy to get in touch with them when you need it. Our general rule of thumb is to respond within 24 hours.

If communication is hit-or-miss, it could be a simple oversight or a byproduct of the agency’s internal operations. We all miss the occasional email, but when it becomes a pattern, consider it a red flag.

marketers strategizing

Red Flag #3: Lack of Strategic Chops

Is your marketing strategy tailored to meet your specific business goals? And do you regularly review with your team to make adjustments as your business grows and changes (ex: new products/services, or focusing on a particular audience segment)?

If your marketing efforts seem to be more concerned with ticking the boxes of 8 blogs a month, 7 weekly social media posts, 2 new backlinks per month, and a partridge in a pear tree, it’s unlikely that you’re getting results — much less a return on your investment.

A marketing strategy that looks like someone Googled “how to create marketing strategy” and downloaded a checklist could be a sign your agency doesn’t have much experience in the industry — or your work is being created by junior employees with little oversight.

More important than the nuts and bolts of your strategy is the end result. If your campaigns get results, templated strategies are more of a yellow flag.

But if you’re not seeing an influx of new leads and your goals aren’t otherwise getting results, it could be a sign that your team is throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks.

And that’s not something you want to happen with your marketing.

charts to illustrate metrics

Red Flag #4: Shallow Reporting and Analysis

As we’ve written in other blogs, marketing is both an art and a science. What that means is that there’s no absolute certainty — just a combination of best practices, creativity, and reviewing the data.

If you have no idea how your marketing is performing — or translating to revenue — we consider this a major red flag. A good marketing partner will look at the data regularly, draw conclusions from it, use those insights to formulate the next steps — and keep you informed every step of the way.

When your campaign beats every goal you set, your team should explain what made it so successful, so future campaigns can be set up for the same level of success. On the flip side, if you didn’t get the expected results, your team should be prepared with a post-mortem of what went sideways and learnings from the experience.

At the end of the day, it’s great to know how much traffic came to your website and how many likes your team photo got on Instagram. But if you don’t know how these activities are translating to conversions and revenue, you’re missing valuable opportunities.

planning all the ways to get better

Red Flag #5: Not Going Above and Beyond

A team that doesn’t go above and beyond for you isn’t a serious problem like spotty communication or shallow reporting. But it indicates your team may not be personally invested in your success — which limits the success you’ll have together.

The best marketing agencies will provide next-level service in the following areas:

  • Flexibility: While an in-depth discovery gives your marketing agency a great starting place to craft your strategy, things often change over the long-term. Your business needs may change with the market, or data may show new opportunities to take your marketing to the next level. Every few months, you and your team should be reviewing the data together, discussing your needs, and charting a new course based on recent information.

  • Growth Advice: A great marketing partner will offer advice that will help your business — even if they’re not the right partner to execute. If your team never makes recommendations or offers strategic advice beyond your scope, your marketing agency is acting like a deliverable shop. If you hired a deliverable shop, this isn’t an issue. But if you hired a marketing partner and you’re not receiving advice, much better partners exist.

The Takeaway

Finding the right marketing partner can feel like finding a needle in a haystack. You may work with one who seems good — but they don’t quite hit the mark and you don’t know why.

If you’re reading this article and it sounds familiar, it’s worth digging deeper into your relationship to better spot the problem — and fix it. To sum it up, here’s the tl;dr version of our red flags:

  • A poorly defined scope
  • Communication troubles
  • Lack of strategic chops
  • Shallow reporting and analysis
  • Not going above and beyond

If, after reading this, you have a sneaking suspicion that your marketing partner isn’t quite up to par, or you’d just like an outside opinion, get in touch. We’re happy to share specific recommendations for how to improve your marketing. If you want to see how amazing your partner is, we’ll tell you that, too. Get in touch now and thank us later.