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How to Find the Best Marketing Agency for Your Brand

Produced by Hanapin Marketing



Working with an agency can be a scary thing. It’s not always easy to know if the business relationship is working in a favorable manner. Transparency and good communication are virtues in any relationship, but especially for a relationship with an agency.


We asked brands in a variety of verticals – from ecommerce to education to travel – what matters to them the most when working with an agency. Here are the top 5 attributes chosen:


  • #1 Their level of expertise
  • #2 They grow my top line revenue
  • #3 They are responsive to me and my needs
  • #4 They are transparent
  • #5 They proactively find and execute new opportunities


What did most brands care the least about?


Working with them will provide me with opportunities for professional development and career growth.


Working with a marketing agency should feel like you are working on a team. As an agency that has been around for quite some time now, we’ve heard more than our fair share of not-so-great stories from prospects and clients about how other agencies have worked with them. When you work with an agency, there are certain things you should expect from them.


The following list is what you should ask about and look for in your current marketing agency or as you look for one in the future. The best marketing agency for you is one that is a true partner for you in values, ethics, and custom solutions that impact your company’s bottom line. If you find that some of these things are missing in your current agency relationship, it could be a red flag and you might want to re-evaluate.


1. Very transparent, with good communication.


An agency should be transparent with you at all times. If your agency isn’t on the ball with communication and transparency, then it’s probable that they’re hiding something from you. This is a clear red-flag that they don’t know what they’re doing. Companies don’t stay silent on positive results and they shouldn’t on negative results either. When things go south, the best companies will own up to it, tell you ahead of time, and remain proactive until you’re hitting your goals and beyond. Your success is their success. If you feel like you are being left in the dark and the agency won’t work it out with you, it’s best to walk away. Transparency equals trust and if you don’t have it, chances are, you’ll never have a great relationship with your agency. You should always expect 100% transparency. Period.


2. Have administrative account access

If your agency won’t let you access your own accounts, it is very likely that there is something they are hiding from you or don’t want you to see. As the client, you should be the copilot, not be locked out of your accounts.


3. No one can guarantee results


This is a surefire way to tell that your agency is full of it. Nobody can guarantee results in PPC marketing, but we can project the likelihood of lots of successful conversions. They should, of course, be able to project that you have a good enough campaign running to make a difference in your online sales, but guaranteeing specific results is a dead-end.


4. Focus should be on the impact on the business as a whole, and not just on PPC metrics

It is too easy for an agency to hide behind metrics. They could be blinding you with pretty numbers and percentages, when the account as a whole is failing miserably and costing you thousands more than it should be. If your agency is only giving you a piece of the pie, ask for the whole thing. For example, Hanapin specializes in paid advertising, but we would be doing a disservice to our clients if we didn’t bring all digital marketing channels to the table that help both improve PPC performance as well as bottom revenue lines. We know the more value we can bring to the table, the better the agency/client relationship.


5. Always have access to your Account Manager directly

Not only should you be able to call your specific Account Manager with any questions or concerns you have, but you should always have access to several agency team members and other people working on your account so that you will have constant contact and never be left waiting for answers. This includes actually having answers for you when you do call, and responding in a timely manner.


6. Accurately tracking work completed in your account


As with any other progress-driven account in business, you should have at least a weekly report that gives new statistics with descriptions of what these numbers define, and a detailed outline of a plan to either continue as is or implement new solutions. If your agency refuses this courtesy (or worse – never even mentions it) this is a big red flag for your bank account.


7. Sales process should be more than emails


You should not trust a business partner if you have only spoken with them through email. Even if you can’t meet in person, multiple phone calls are a must to begin and maintain a trusting, professional relationship.


8. Don’t fall for “too good to be true”


If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

Beware of “too good to be true” situations when your company’s finances are involved. Anytime you wonder if something is really possible, chances are you’re being deceived. You get what you pay for and in situations where agency fees are drastically lower than other vendors you’re vetting, it’s highly likely the work is being outsourced elsewhere or will go in to auto-pilot mode sooner rather than later in order for the agency to profit.


9. Ask for references


There is no situation in business where not having references is an acceptable situation, and surely wouldn’t get you hired as an individual. So why should it be any different for an agency? No references, no deal.


10. Clarify goals at the beginning of the relationship


This is the kind of agency that is probably not focused on your best interests as a client, but rather generating lots and lots of leads so that they can charge you as much as possible. Just like any relationship: communication is the key to success. If your agency has no idea what you’re looking to achieve, (or worse – doesn’t care!) then it is likely they will not be able to fulfill your needs as a client.


11. Take action if they report suspicious timelines


Some projects take longer than others, but if your agency is telling you that a simple task is going to take three weeks, you might want to start asking some questions. Likewise, if they claim to be able to complete a complicated change to your account in two days, they may not be doing a very good job.


12. Beware of “full service” marketing agencies


If an agency describes themselves as “full service,” it can mean two things: one, that they do not specialize in any one area, and therefore cannot provide the accuracy and detail in any one area of marketing that a specialized agency could. Or two, that they are such a large agency that they can have a team that specializes in every area of marketing, meaning that you would never have a direct contact at the agency and may be easily forgotten or have your needs postponed for a bigger ticket client.


13. Budget shouldn’t increase without a plan presented and a reason why


Budgets are the main way that companies can track and control their spending on any one expense. If there is a sudden change in your budget provided by the agency without any explanation, this is a major cause for alarm. When faced with a sudden and unexplained budget change, you should start asking where the other budget went, and what the plan for each part of the new budget is.


14. You should have more than a single point of contact


Only having one person to communicate with in your agency is not only a factor in slowing the process of getting anything done, but could also prove to be a major problem if that one POC is unavailable for extended periods of time. Make sure you have more than one or even just two POCs in your agency to ensure that you can always be in control of your account.


15. Your agency should ask for backend data


If your agency isn’t asking for this information, then it is likely that they really don’t care whether anything comes from the clicks they generate as long as the lead happens. They should be asking you (the client): after a PPC ad is clicked, what happens next? If they fill out a lead generating form, are they a good lead? How many people turn into repeat customers? How many people end up coming into a physical location or making a phone call? Most of this information is privy to (only) the business – but a good PPC manager will be interested in the “real world” conversions that their ads are generating.


16. They should ask background questions during the onboarding process


Part of creating a new PPC account is the specifications that you learn from asking questions during onboarding. Without asking these questions, accounts are generalized and nearly identical for vastly differing companies. Will PPC be the main marketing function? How familiar is the client with PPC marketing? What will count as a conversion? Onboarding an existing account is similar, but the questions should focus more on current statistics versus goals: What are KPI goals? Is performance on target or is a key metric missing the mark? Which issue is of highest priority? Have you been working in-house or with an agency? If you are not asked these kinds of questions, chances are your account is lacking individuality.


17. Make sure they have a structured on boarding process

The process of onboarding should be structured whether it is for a client new to PPC marketing or one with an already existing account. When onboarding a client: ask relevant & necessary questions, confirm often that both sides are on the same page and don’t make assumptions about anything. Make sure that the methods of communication are sufficient, that communication is complete and that long and short-term goals are both addressed and planned for. If there is no structure to your agency’s onboarding process, some serious holes may be left to address when it is too late.


18. Don’t let them limit you to only tracking a certain amount of conversions or additional metrics

Not being able to see the progress of every aspect of your account is a major problem. If your agency is not allowing you access to every piece of your PPC ad progress, it is likely that they are covering up some fault not seen by conversions. If you are limited to viewing a certain amount of conversions, start asking questions that pertain to the others you aren’t seeing, and ask for comparisons to those other conversions. Not being able to access every metric available in your account is a major problem and should be met head on before the account is completely out of your control.


19. Be wary of short cuts when building out and creating your account


Each account should take priority for account managers. If they are cutting corners and leaving out important steps in making your account as good as it possibly could be, then you should demand that they start over. Missing steps in the foundation building of an account only means disaster for it later on in its life.


20. The agency should believe in testing


This is a HUGE red flag, as testing is one of the only ways of trial and error that allow the AM to see what works and what doesn’t for your particular account. While some keywords may have worked well in the past, the nature of your account might make it so that these keywords don’t work as well now. The preferences of the audience may have changed. The demand may have changed. Without testing, you will not be able to tell if one kind of ad could lead to more conversions than what you are currently using, and could cost you a lot of money.


21. Don’t sign a long contract with no out clause and no clarifications


You don’t ever want to completely back yourself into a corner. Before you sign a contract with an agency, make sure that an out clause is included and that the agency takes the time to clarify any questions you may have about the contract. If there’s no out clause and no clarification, don’t sign.


22. They should be proactive, not reactive


The mark of a good agency is their ability to stop problems before they even happen. Occasionally, this will include some damage control, but on the whole your agency should be able to foresee problems with your account and head them off before they become an expensive mistake.


23. They are unwilling to share information


Communication between agency and client is the most important key to success. Without sufficient communication, the understanding and cooperation of the account suffers, and it can cost you a hefty chunk of change to make up for the lack of progressive interaction in your professional relationship with your agency. If your agency refuses to share information with you about your own account, it should set off some alarms in your head that something might not be going according to plan, and they don’t want you to find out about it.


24. Your Account Manager shouldn’t be constantly be replaced


There are various problems with this. First of all, your main point of contact will never be consistent. You will notice that your account suffers from exposure to a different point of view and from changes to a person who may not have been privy to your previous AM’s plan of action. If you keep getting assigned new AMs, then it’s probably time to switch agencies.


25. Make sure you are getting the kind of feedback that you need


If you can’t get constructive feedback for your account, you will never know what needs to change on your end to make your campaigns more effective. If you have killer ads but a terrible landing page, you are not likely to get as many conversions. The problem: if no one tells you how to fix your landing page to make it more accessible or attractive to prospective customers, the issue will never change, but continue to manifest new problems as your page gets more and more views from your ad leads.


26. They should be reporting changes, whether positive or negative


Changes in your account, positive or negative, mean that something that was created in your account (a new ad, bid, etc.) has altered the way your account is received. Knowing about these changes can help you to make decisions about duplicating or suspending whatever that action was to benefit your ads.


27. “Best Practices” should be for your vertical/industry/company, not in general


If you ask five agencies what their ‘best practice’ for account structure is, you’ll likely get five different answers. As a prospect, the most important question to keep in mind is “why?” Why is one approach better than another? Surely the outcomes for the account differ, or else there would be one standard approach to account structure that every PPC professional follows. Be cautious towards any agency that approaches your campaigns with “because it’s the way we like to do things.” The agency should be able to connect the recommendation to results, or provide how the recommendation they’re making benefits the bigger picture.


Look for a Partner


Working with an agency should feel like you’re working on a team. Both should be providing the necessary information to succeed and working towards the same overall goals. Don’t be concerned about finding the cheapest marketing vendor, but instead look to find a true partner. It’s this partner mindset that sets agencies apart from one another – look for the one that offers solid strategy and the best solutions for your account. If you find that some of these red flags are coming up, start asking more questions and try to get to the bottom of the issue. If you’re agency won’t work with you and is keeping you in the dark, then its probably time to find a new agency.


If you’re struggling with your current agency, check out the solutions that Hanapin Marketing offers. We do everything from search to social to programmatic to display campaigns.

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