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9 Red Flags That Clients Can’t Afford to Ignore

Is This the Year You Get a New Marketing Agency?

It’s the end of the year, which means that it’s time to start planning for 2020. For many clients, that means thinking hard about their choice of marketing partners. Will you stick with “the devil you know” or find another agency to help you grow your business?

It’s not an easy choice. If you’re going through a rough patch with your marketing agency, remember that even the best agencies occasionally experience ups and downs. So if the shortcomings are new or unusual, it’s smart to try and fix them before moving on. Short-term problems happen and can be fixed.

But What if Your Problems Are Chronic?

What if your agency is always full of drama, missing deadlines, skimping on reporting, or just not meeting the numbers?

It’s not easy to switch marketing agencies, logistically or emotionally. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t move on if the relationship is not working. Consider this: every agency puts its best foot forward to clients. Every agency tries its best to be as smart, professional, and creative as it can be when clients are around. If you are consistently seeing that your marketing agency is disorganized or missing the mark, remember that you are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. When you’re not around, it’s not better. It’s not the same. It’s worse.

A List of Red Flags

Not sure if it’s time to switch? We’ve put together a list of nine red flags. If these issues describe the agency you work with, it may be time to move on. (And if this doesn’t sound anything like your agency, let them know how much you appreciate them. They are doing great!)

(1) Always Waiting ‘Til the Last Minute

Deadlines are there for a reason. They help everyone stay on track and keep projects moving. But some agencies are overworked or disorganized and constantly push the limits of every timeline. If you ask for a project on Friday and they submit it on Friday at 7 pm, they technically met the deadline, but their timing shows they struggled. In fairness, every agency gets busy and must push deadlines to the limit…occasionally.

Rule of Thumb: If late submissions are business as usual for your agency, or if you find yourself moving deadlines ahead a day to avoid missing your own deadlines, you can do better. Consider looking for a new partner.

(2) Flimsy Excuses for Missed Deadlines

If you have an agency that exhibits the first red flag (last-minute submissions,) it’s likely that you are familiar with flimsy excuses. And if there’s anything worse than a missed deadline, it’s a missed deadline with a poor excuse. While we all want to think that we can detect a lie, studies show that humans are either pretty good at lying or pretty poor at detecting a lie. You have about a 50/50 chance of correctly assessing whether someone is telling the truth. This means that you can’t trust your gut on excuses.

Rule of Thumb: One missed deadline means that “shit happens.” If your agency misses one deadline with a crazy excuse (or rarely misses deadlines), you may want to accept it and move on. But if it happens again and again, that’s a red flag. At an organized, well-run agency, they build time into schedules to allow for unexpected issues or emergencies.

(3) Sharing the Drama

Is your marketing partner surrounded by drama? Is every meeting or phone call prefaced with a dramatic retelling of crazy, unlikely, or even unsavory things your marketing agency has experienced? Does it feel like they are constantly in hot water, in unsafe situations, facing legal actions, or in the midst of emotionally wrenching dilemmas?

In this age of frequent social media posts, it’s inevitable that you may become aware of personal issues related to your marketing agency or contact. But unless you are working with your best friend or your first cousin, your agency contact should establish and respect a professional distance.

It is their job to make your interactions pleasant, professional, and stress-free. While some personal chit-chat is a normal part of the business relationship, you are paying them to help your business grow. That means that a seasoned marketer will keep their personal issues to themselves and not treat your business meetings or calls like a therapy session.

Rule of Thumb: Once in a blue moon, you may catch your marketing contact at a bad moment, and it’s okay to be sympathetic. But if it happens again and again, or if you start to dread talking with your agency because you know you’re going to have to endure descriptions of the latest issues, it’s time to look for another agency.

(4) Rescheduled or Cancelled Meetings

If your agency reschedules meetings (or phone calls or photo shoots) on a regular basis, they are telling you that they don’t value your business as much as they value their other business.

And beware of the person who cries “family emergency” over and over. This is going to sound cold, but it’s true: a responsible marketing agency or contact with serious family emergencies will find a way to manage client meetings instead of continually rescheduling them. In this age of cell phones, laptops, and mobile internet, it’s no longer acceptable to cancel an hour-long call on Friday because you have to travel to a friend’s funeral on Saturday.

Rule of Thumb: Everyone is surprised by a family emergency occasionally. If one meeting is rescheduled, let it go. But if it happens two or three times, you need to move on. Several canceled meetings due to a family emergency mean one of the following:

  • Family matters are so pressing that your contact is unable to service your business effectively. Sad but true. This may be a short-term issue.

  • Your agency is unable or unwilling to assign a more reliable contact to your business.

  • Your marketing agency is lying to you. They’re putting new business or other clients ahead of your business. And that’s not okay.

(5) Social Media Numbers are Flat or Declining

This one isn’t complicated. If your social media account audiences and engagement are not growing, your agency is not doing something right.

Rule of Thumb: Switch.

(6) Changes the Creative Direction on a Whim

Here’s an insider secret. Most agencies get bored with their own work very quickly. They like new and different. And they can often justify higher fees if they’re always working on something new. But your customers need A LOT of repetition to see and internalize your message. They need to see your creative messages dozens, even hundreds of times. That means that you don’t need to change your creative direction every few months (or even every year) if it’s working.

Rule of Thumb: If your agency wants to change creative, ask them why. If they have well-thought-out rationales, listen. It may be a great idea. But If they tell you “the work is getting stale,” or “we want to keep the work fresh,” that’s a sign that they’re bored or using new work as a revenue generator.

(7) High Turnover

Marketing agencies are famous for having very high turnover…unless they’re not. Some agencies are hard to work for because they are run by stressful managers and ruled by chaos. Not surprisingly, those places will experience very high turnover. People may quit, or they may be fired. Or the agency may tell you it’s the economy. But no matter which reason the agency gives, if the turnover is high, year after year, it is the agency management that is at fault.

There are marketing agencies that treat their team members well and are able to manage the workflow in organized ways. Those businesses avoid drama. As a result, people like to work there, and the managers like working for the company. Fewer people quit. When well-managed, fewer people are fired. You’ll have a more reliable, responsible partner.

Rule of Thumb: If your marketing partner is a revolving door for staff and team members, run away.

(8) You Can’t Understand Their Reports

Your marketing partner owes you a report that you can easily understand. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated the marketing is or how new you are to any aspect of technology. They MUST provide information to you in ways that are easy for you to understand.

It’s an industry secret that many agencies bury bad results in confusing reports.

Rule of Thumb: Agencies must provide clear reporting. Anything else is a deal-breaker.

(9) Reports are Irregular (or Nonexistent)

Same as above. An agency that produces good results can’t share them fast enough. Inconsistent or late reporting is the behavior of an agency that is unable to produce positive results.

Rule of Thumb: Deal-breaker

Closing Thoughts

2020 is the start of a new decade. If you’re unhappy with your agency, this is the time to examine your relationship and make sure you’re being fair and reasonable. Make sure you’re giving them reasonable deadlines and prompt feedback. In other words, make sure it’s them, not you, before you switch.

But it’s also true that there are many unreliable or incompetent agencies out there. If they’re not able to accept the same level of accountability and expectations as other employees within your organization, it may be time to get a new agency for the new decade. If that’s the case, we hope you will consider Cup O Content.


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