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Shopping online is a lot like shopping for a marketing agency. You spend hours poring over the different options until you think you’ve found the right one. And when you do, you immediately click buy! But, after waiting patiently (or impatiently, if we’re being honest), unboxing can either be the highlight of your week or a living hell. 

Unfortunately, some marketing agencies end up feeling a lot like the knockoff you ordered from Amazon at 2 AM. They look amazing online and come at such a steal that it’s almost impossible to say no. But in reality, they end up costing you way more time and money on returns, refunds (if you can even get them), and the eventual repurchase of a higher-quality option. 

No one deserves to do twice the work making up for an agency that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That’s why we put together this blog post to help you separate the good agencies from those that will inevitably fall flat. 

3 Marketing Agency Red Flags to Avoid at All Costs

Bad marketing agencies come in all shapes and sizes. But there are a few sneaky giveaways that you should recognize from the beginning. These tells are sometimes subtle, so make sure to pay close attention when you’re sourcing and vetting an agency. 

 🚩 #1: They Don’t Have Case Studies, Sample Work, or Testimonials

If someone offered to sell their home to you, but they wouldn’t let you see inside, you’d probably run the other way, right? The same should hold true for your marketing agency. 

Like buying a house, working with an agency is a considerable investment. So, case studies, sample work, and testimonials should be available (and ideally highlighted) on the agency’s site. 

These examples give you a virtual tour of the agency’s expertise—highlighting style preferences, communication skills, and their ability to demonstrate results. So if the agency doesn’t put their work on display, chances are it’s because it’s not display-worthy. 

Questions to help you suss out the sample work: 

  • When you look through the examples, do you like the look and feel of them? 
  • How detailed are their case studies and do they provide demonstrable results? Do they have the data to back up their claims? 
  • How detailed are the testimonials? Do they list the business name in the review or is it just from a generic Jane/John Doe? 

🚩 # 2: They Claim to Have a “Secret Sauce.” 

Look, the reality is that there are no real secrets to effective marketing. AIl, it takes is a team of dedicated individuals who are up to date on modern marketing tactics and know how to leverage your brand to drive results. 

Marketing = time+effort+effective strategies. So, if someone claims to have a “secret formula,” that usually means they are either:  

  1. using the same cookie-cutter strategy for all their clients (boo!) or 
  2. selling you unproven (or, god forbid, unethical) tactics at a premium.

In either case, these “secret formulas” can end up causing more harm than good. Not to mention, they also make it nearly impossible for you to take back the reins if you want to bring marketing in-house at some point in the future. It’s best to avoid these agencies and opt for one who can tailor tactics and strategies to your business’s unique needs. 

If you see these common phrases on an agency site, back away slowly: 

  • “Our secret formula will double your revenue in [insert wildly unrealistic timeline here]” 
  • “Our [insert cookie-cutter package] can get you results fast!” 
  • “Build your dream brand in 2 weeks with our proven [insert presumably untested formula name here].”

The key takeaway is if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

🚩 # 3: Communication is Slow, Sparse, or Confusing From the Beginning

Transparency and clear communication are must-haves in any business relationship, but they’re especially important for your marketing agency. Your agency will be charged with important brand, product, and campaign launches. And as you can imagine, these launches need to be well-timed and aligned with your internal business operations. So, if you routinely can’t get a hold of your agency, that’s a problem. 

You shouldn’t have to play hide and seek with your agency. To avoid this issue, pay close attention to how the agency communicates during the initial discovery calls. (*hint: if they don’t have discovery calls, that’s a big ‘ol red flag too!) 

Does the agency…

  • Routinely leave you hanging on requests for information?
  • Talk all about themselves and their accolades instead of asking about your business? 
  • Reschedule meetings last minute or blow you off entirely? 
  • Avoid any questions about past client results or relationships? 

If the answer is yes, you’re better off looking for someone else. 

With Savy, You Leave the Headache and Confusion Behind 

At Savy, we know that hunting for an agency might make you want to rip your hair out. But by avoiding these red flags, you can weed out the undesirables and focus your search on reputable agencies that are worth your time and effort. 

At Savy, we’re a top choice for new and established brands looking to own their space. With strategy, development, design, content, and marketing all under one roof, we’ve got all the skills you need without the red flags.

You can check out our case studies and learn more about our agency to see if we’re the right fit for your business.