Raise your hand if you’ve ever been burned by a digital marketing agency… we have a pretty good hunch that a lot of people have. Unfortunately, agencies in general have a reputation for overcharging and under-delivering, often reinforced by personal experiences. It’s definitely enough to give a brand marketer concern about engaging with one, especially fresh off of a bad experience.

But, of course, this negative reputation is not indicative of all agencies. If you’ve been left a dissatisfied customer by another agency, there’s still hope. Here’s what to do next.

Evaluate the bad experience in excruciating detail

Oh, we know. It hurts to relive a painful relationship, even if it’s just one between your internal team and an external marketing agency. But in order to avoid having the same problems rear their ugly heads the next time you need agency help, review – in detail – what went wrong the last time.

Here are some of the most common complaints brands have with their agencies, along with what you can do at the beginning of the relationship to prevent them:

  • They charged too much. If you’ve been left with a bill from an agency that was far higher than you expected, this can absolutely sour you on the idea of using an external team again. Marketing agencies often bill hourly, and many brand-side representatives end up shocked to find out how many hours a firm has claimed they worked on something. Before you sign on as a client with your next agency, ask for a breakdown of how their pricing works. If they bill hourly, make sure you understand roughly how many hours they average for a certain type of project so you can plan accurately for your invoices. Or, if the project you had in mind looks like it’ll blow your budget, tell them that – and ask for some alternate ideas that cost less.
  • There was a lack of transparency and accountability. Another common scenario is that something has gone wrong – like missing a deadline for an important sponsorship opportunity – and the agency refuses to take responsibility. Before you start your engagement, be abundantly clear about who owns what part of the marketing plan. Put it in writing, and have both teams sign it to show their agreement.
  • Measurement of success was confusing. As marketers, we love data and all it can reveal. But agencies are notorious for sending clients a dashboard or a pre-made report that includes so many numbers and graphs, it can make even the savviest marketer’s head spin – and may not really tell you anything of value. To avoid this, ask upfront how your new agency handles reporting and metrics. Request a sample report, and then discuss any areas that are confusing. Oh – and find out how frequently you’ll get those reports, too.  
  • The end deliverables were poor quality. There’s nothing worse than having a vision for a great piece of marketing collateral, just to get the final product and be severely disappointed – and maybe even out of time to fix it. Before you ever select an agency, check out examples of their work on their website. This should be their best stuff, and give you an idea of what they can do. Also, when you give your agency partners instructions about your vision for a project, send an example of something you like or have seen elsewhere. This can help them understand the level of quality you’re looking for, and keep them on track to deliver something you love.
  • There were personality clashes. Sometimes you jive with people, and other times, you don’t. And that’s okay. But there’s never an excuse for disrespect or poor customer service. If you experienced a lack of responsiveness or demeaning communication from your last agency, there’s no way to concretely know you won’t face the same at your next agency too. But, you can take the time to vet the people you’ll be working with. Ask to meet the people from the agency who will be your direct points of contact. Before you sign an engagement, try some simple communications with them and see how they respond. You just might find it’s a great fit, or identify some big red flags before you write any checks or sign any agreements.


Consider your own part in the relationship

There are always two sides to a story, as they say, and it’s important to take a look at what you could have done differently to prevent the problems that occurred. Or, if they weren’t preventable in nature, maybe there was something you could have done to be more proactive in seeking out information or ending the relationship earlier than you did. Oftentimes, the agency is absolutely to blame – but there are still usually one or two things you can learn about your role in the relationship that will help your next one be more successful.

Here’s an example. If you felt the ad designs you received were not unique and were low-quality, consider how you and your prior agency communicated about them. Did you give them ample time to complete the work, or were they always working to meet very tight deadlines you gave them? Or, maybe you felt uncomfortable telling them you didn’t like the work – so they kept giving you the same level of originality and quality, assuming it was okay with you.

However your particular scenario played out, think through your role as the client. You deserve to be treated with respect by your agency, thrilled with the quality of your deliverables, fairly charged and have successful results. It might help you the next time around to go into the engagement with this mindset, and be vocal (early on) if you’re concerned about any of these expectations not being met.

If you’ve had a bad experience with a marketing agency, don’t lose hope. They’re not all the same, and we’re proof that you can have an experienced, friendly team that acts as a true advisor and partner – and knows the last one percent means everything. Our goal is to be a refreshing change from past agency experiences, and help you reach your goals – together. Please contact us any time to learn more.