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16 Signs You’re Dealing with a Hack Marketing Agency [CHECKLIST]

Derek Smith // March 03, 2016

darkened city skyscape

Choosing the right marketing agency is a lot like dating. You’re trying to determine if there’s a good fit between your specific business needs and the agency’s areas of expertise. Can they help you solve your most pressing problems? Do they have relevant industry experience and adequate resources?Make sure there’s a cultural fit between your company and the prospective agency. Is it a work hard-play hard mentality? Do they think that people are more important than the work they do?If the fit isn’t there, a reputable agency will be willing to walk away – and maybe even refer you somewhere else.As you go through the process of selecting an agency, you might also be assessing whether you have the capabilities and resources to do a better job in-house. Or whether there’s an executional fit between the prospective agency and your own internal team.To help you make the best decision, here are 16 things to consider in making sure you’re dealing with the right agency.

1. Your initial impression

Maybe you’ve never heard of this agency. That’s not necessarily a bad thing as there are plenty of smaller agencies that do great work. That being said, you need to be careful about vetting an agency with which you’re unfamiliar by looking at some of the following considerations.

2. How you come into contact

Really strong marketing agencies get some initial contacts through referrals from existing clients. If the agency is contacting you, you’ll want to start vetting them by looking at how they’re viewed in the market and whether they’re growing.

3. The quality of their website

You always need to evaluate an agency’s website as part of vetting them. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does the site have a nice look, or is it shoddily designed? Whether they’re a traditional advertising agency or a digital marketing agency, the company should have a website that effectively communicates their value proposition and showcases their work.
  • How many pages does their website have? More than just a few, hopefully. And the site should be easy to navigate and find the information you want; if they can’t do that for themselves, they won’t be able to do it for you.
  • Are they regularly producing content? If their most recent blog post is from 2012, that’s a red flag. You want to see a solid blog that’s sharing helpful content, white papers that help prospects solve their problems, and insight into the employees who work there. Which leads us to the next warning sign.

4. How their team is represented online

Successful agencies have a solid team page that showcases the personalities of their employees. You should be able to read about the backgrounds of the copywriters, art directors, creative directors and company principals.

5. How their employees use social media

Particularly if you’re looking for a digital marketing agency, you want to make sure that people are practicing what they preach. Not everyone in any given agency will be active on social, but you should be able to easily find at least some employees who are effectively sharing content, having conversations and building a personal brand on networks like Twitter.

6. The agency’s presence on LinkedIn

The agency’s LinkedIn page should include a thorough overview, a list of their specialties, an address for their headquarters, a founding date and the approximate company size. You should also see plenty of recent updates and ideally a large number of people following the company (top right).

7. Whether they fixate on rankings

Stay away if they’re promising first-page Google rankings or launch into a soliloquy about link building or guest posting. The truth is that search engines have gotten much better in recent years at detecting spammy link building and companies looking to manipulate rankings. Rather, Google values user experience and content that keep users interested and engaged. You need patience to achieve SEO success.

8. Whether they promise fast results

Building a brand online or offline isn’t something that happens overnight. It requires a solid strategy followed by creative execution. So don’t get sucked in by false promises.

9. Whether they can point to long-term results

An agency worth its salt can point to long-term client results.. Steer clear of a company that just focuses on the short term.

10. Whether they focus on the sale or the actual problem

Are they actively trying to learn about your business and asking probing questions about your goals and challenges, or just giving you the hard sell? Your first interaction should be about them determining whether their expertise matches your needs and if it’s even helpful to keep talking. You should have questions to ask, and so should they.

11. How they approach that first interaction

You probably wouldn’t hire someone who doesn’t come to the interview with questions, right? So if someone treats you like just another target rather than asking some really intelligent questions about your business, tell them to pound sand.

12. How they speak of other agencies

Marketers are competitive, sure. But if someone repeatedly disparages other agencies, it’s a definite warning sign. Agencies compete for local talent and business, so legitimate ones aren’t going to burn bridges. An agency should be more about what they are than what others are not.

13. Whether they have partners

It’s really tough to do it all. Think about all the different aspects of marketing: there’s traditional advertising, digital marketing, branding, email marketing, public relations, video marketing, CRO, UX and many more. Unless you’re looking at a global agency, great agencies typically partner with other agencies that have complementary specialties.

15. Whether they have bad reviews

Today’s agencies can’t hide unhappy customers. You can easily find bad reviews with a branded search or two. While nobody is perfect, take a pass if you see a disturbing pattern – particularly of unkept promises.

16. Whether their office looks like a horror movie

Every agency has its own culture and process. Some offices will be fancier than others, and every marketer has their own way of doing things (I couldn’t survive without a second monitor). If you’re serious about hiring an agency, visit their office first and just observe. Is it an open environment that encourages collaboration? Do people look busy? Are there meetings going on?So now you have a better understanding of how to make sure an agency passes the sniff test. Good luck in finding the best agency for your unique business.