What NOT to Look for in a Marketing Agency

If you’ve ever shopped around for a marketing agency, you know there are many factors to consider. Whether you’re looking for a short-term, project-based relationship or to establish a long-term partnership, you’ll want to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much and what kind of experience does the agency have?
  • Who will be working on your account?
  • Do they understand your niche?
  • How are their prices in comparison to other agencies?

Perhaps the most important consideration is: Will they be a good fit for your organization. The best relationships feel symbiotic—as if the agency were an extension of your own marketing department. They understand your unique needs and actively help you grow your business.

Let’s face it. Not all agencies are equal, and choosing the right one can be tricky. Some may sound too good to be true or overpromise results. Or they may charge an arm and a leg for the privilege of working with them. If you’re shopping around, beware the ones that say:

They want you to pay for six months of discovery and research before they’ll start any work.

That’s a bit much. Sure, it’s important to get to know one another and for an agency to do their due diligence, but six months is excessive. What client can honestly wait that long for deliverables and results?

They lock you into a service contract for up to a year.

You’ll know before a year is up if the relationship is working. And if it isn’t, like a bad boyfriend, you’ll want to be able to break up if things aren’t going well.

You get a new project manager every two months.

It doesn’t matter the industry; high turnover means unhappy employees. And unhappy employees are less invested in both their employer’s and clients’ success. High turnover also means less organizational learning. Basically, you’ll have to start the relationship-building all over again each time you get a new project manager.

They want you to pay just to meet with them the first time.

The initial consultation should be free. Period. If you like each other, then you sign a contract. Moving forward you will pay an hourly rate or a retainer fee based on the terms of that contract.

They don’t have any in-house designers, developers, or writers.

If everything is outsourced, you’ll always pay more. They have to pay their contractors and still make a profit, so it only makes sense that they’ll pass those expenses on to the client.

They guarantee results.

Marketing can sometimes be like predicting the weather. We can generally tell you what will work and what won’t. But sometimes results can be unpredictable, and in the marketing world that’s normal. The important thing is that the agency works with you to discover what does and does not work and never claims they can guarantee sunshine and blue skies every day.

Here’s what should you look for:

Honesty & Integrity

It should go without saying, but there are a lot of bad actors in the world today who would be happy to swindle you out of your money. Make sure you’re doing business with a legit agency. And before you sign a contract, make sure it includes an escape clause. If you don’t like the work, you need to be able to get out.


It’s perfectly fine to work with a new agency or startup as long as they’ve got work experience in a related field and can prove their value.

Samples of their Work

This is important. You need to look at their work to see if it aligns with your design aesthetic and brand. If you don’t love what they’ve done for others, chances are you won’t love what they do for you. Any reputable agency will display a list of their clients and portfolio or case studies on their website and social media.

Familiarity with Your Industry

This isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but it helps if the agency has a general understanding of your industry. At the very least, they need to be willing and eager to learn about your business, industry, and competitors.

Reasonable Fees & Contract Terms

This is where shopping around helps. Bigger isn’t always better; however, choosing the least expensive agency may not always the best option either. More important is your overall gut feeling. Can you envision your team working productively in partnership with the agency?

A Solid Reputation

People inherently trust the opinions of their friends. When it comes to word-of-mouth marketing:

  • 74% of consumers said it’s a critical part of their decision-making
  • 92% says they trust recommendations from their friends

Read online reviews, visit the agency’s social media accounts, and ask friends for recommendations. Chances are if you’re hearing positive reviews from colleagues about an agency, then it could be a good match for your organization.

The Bottom Line

Do your homework and watch out for the “red flags” we’ve listed above. Ask questions, get recommendations, and go with your gut. You deserve to work with an agency that will partner with you to meet your needs and get results.

Schedule a Free Consultation Today!

Padron & Co. is a leading creative, marketing, and digital communications agency that helps nonprofits and corporations make meaningful connections and further their missions.

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