Companies and brands partner with agencies for a reason. In theory, most would surely enjoy eliminating the back and forth of internal and agency communication to avoid worrying about things like scope or billable hours. However, brands don't always have the resources or knowledge necessary to execute large marketing strategies on their own, so they rely on the expertise of an agency.
Unfortunately, some agencies can be more than just an inconvenience -- they can be downright dishonest. Dishonesty isn't just defined as blatant falsehoods; gray areas and lies of omission are degrees of dishonesty too.
We've heard firsthand accounts of some agencies that are so consumed with getting the work done that they never stop to consider if the work they're providing is the best solution for their clients. These agencies get so wrapped up in execution and "closing the deal" that they fail to focus on the target audience for their clients.
I've done some research and conducted a few interviews to arrive at the five tell-tale signs that your agency is lying to you. Here are the most common agency lies:
All media campaigns are "performing well," and your agency provides no opportunity for improvement
Some agencies can be lazy. It's unfortunate but true. Do you often hear that "from a media perspective" the campaign is performing well and is successful? Yet the metrics your agency shares are based on ad spend, impressions, and click-through rates. It's great that the agency is achieving click-through rates higher than the industry average for your vertical, but it's more important to understand the effectiveness of that traffic once it's on the website. So ask your agency how media traffic influences conversion rates, or how conversion rates compare against other traffic sources. Is your agency able to tell you how the media influenced other types of traffic to your website? Ask your agency to dig deeper into the data to provide not only surface level information, but also a comprehensive interpretation of the data as it relates to your goals and broader budget.
If your agency reps aren't providing sufficient reporting to fully understand the impact of media efforts, they may not be lying to you, but they also aren't painting a complete picture of performance. Withholding that information so you don't get a clear picture of your marketing campaigns is just as harmful as being lied to. If it continues to be a battle, it may be time to look for a new agency.
Recommendations are based on a "best practice" approach
At the beginning of an engagement, we tend to ask clients what they've done in the past. We are often told the client executed a program because it was recommended by a prior agency that pitched a "best practice" idea. But blanket "best practices" lack supporting research or analysis to establish effective recommendation -- without analysis, how can an agency determine what will be effective for its client's target audience? It's frustrating to see agencies provide digital recommendations that aren't backed up by data because, in the end, marketers will have spent lots of money to execute a program for their brand without ever having received a report on whether it even performed well.
If this story sounds familiar, inquire before the engagement starts about a measurement strategy that details the metrics to prove success and how data will be collected. No digital marketing initiative should execute without a plan that details the metrics used to measure success. During and after the marketing initiative, reporting should inform performance so that optimizations can be made along the way and success (or lack of success) can be disclosed to the brand.
Your agency promises to take something "viral"
Viral campaigns are luck of the draw, with no algorithm that can predict success. Melonie Gallegos, social media expert from Fandom Marketing, explained it best:
"Viral happens. It's not planned. Typically, it's next to impossible to predict what will or will not take off like wildfire on the web. Anyone [who] tells you they will make your brand go viral either has loose expectations around what that means or has a team of spammers lined up to generate the appearance of it happening."
There are elements that many "viral" campaigns tend to have in common: It's often user-generated content, subtle, and funny. When working with an agency on a campaign that you want to resonate with your target audience, be sure to stick to your brand's core values. Find relevant ways to connect with your customers and make it entertaining. If you cater to your audience -- and make it fun -- the potential for people to share will increase significantly.
Your web analytics are being held hostage
Since the idea of measuring web performance is still a relatively young concept, agency employees who are more familiar with analytics interfaces will often set up a web analytics account for their clients. While it seems nice of them to offer, more often than not, many agencies do not have the client's long-term interests in mind and will set the account up using agency information. When it's time for the client to change agencies or take the responsibility of managing web analytics in-house, access to the account will be limited with no administrative access.
This is an enormous problem. All brands should have administrative access to their own web analytics data. No agency should be setting up a web analytics account for a client without the client owning the data and access to the credentials. When a partnership between an agency and a brand terminates, or if the brand wants to share data with other vendors or agency partners, the brand should be in full control.
Your agency says "Yes!" to all of your requests
I know what you're thinking. "How is an agency that completes all of my requests lying to me?" While the agency may not be outright lying to you, it certainly does not have your best interest in mind. Does your agency offer a point of view with supporting data on why you should (or shouldn't) be participating in something that you've requested? Do agency reps push back on any of your requests and offer alternative suggestions that are more suitable for your brand and goals?
You hire an agency for its collective expertise and experience. "We originally thought that would work too, but in our experience it has failed miserably," and "Our assumptions were wrong, and here's the data to back it up," are examples of things that your agency reps should say to you. If you don't hear "no" with a clear explanation on some requests, then your agency is not thinking strategically for you and your brand. Agencies should be viewed more as a strategic partner than another vendor that does work for you when you're too busy. If the agency is not able to offer this kind of guidance and support, then it's not a right fit for your brand.
Lying is a pretty big word and big deal if you ask me. Lying doesn't just mean telling falsehoods -- it also means being deceptive or withholding the truth. While the examples in this article may not be outright lies, they are examples of deceptive behaviors that are not in your brand's best interest. Marketers invest large budgets with agencies for a reason: Agencies tend to have more expertise and experience in digital marketing. Agency employees don't need to lie if they can provide the thought leadership that's expected of them.
If you suspect deception from your agency, ask directly for the facts. Ask your agency to show you the data that proves what you're doing is performing well. If representatives from your agency divert your request, it's likely they're not being entirely honest with you, and it's time to question their trustworthiness -- and the relationship.
Nicole Rawski is analytics manager of Digitaria.
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