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5 Ways to Burn Money with a Full Service Agency

close-up of a hundred dollar bill

One of the first, most basic questions that companies ask themselves when weighing the decision to partner with a modern marketing agency is, “Can we afford it?” If the answer to that question is no, I encourage you to ask yourself a more difficult question next: “Can we afford not to?” If you dig deep—and before making the decision one way or the other, you definitely should—there’s a good chance you’ll find that the costs of marketing are outweighed by the benefits for your business.

However, if the answer to the affordability question is a “yes” from the start, another obvious question presents itself. No, it’s not “How can I work intelligently and efficiently with my new marketing partner to ensure I get the most bang for my buck?” That would be silly, right? No, the next question naturally becomes, “How can I burn through the most money while becoming as frustrated as possible and producing crappy results?” And I’m glad you asked!

Let’s dive into how to most effectively waste an engagement with a full-service, modern marketing agency with the help of perhaps the most infamous villain of all-time, Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight (but we’ll get to him later).

Don’t worry about being consistent!

If you really want to blow the money you’re spending on marketing without getting results, it’s important to make sure that you avoid any kind of consistency whatsoever. Constantly change your mind about as many of the core elements of your engagement as possible. Lose confidence in what you want to accomplish, question yourself and your team, and fail to lead your marketing partners where you want to go. Or better yet, don’t even maintain a consistent relationship. Go off-again, on-again, and shift your attentions from project to project.

One thing will remain consistent—the poor quality of the results of your marketing!

Communication is overrated!

To really make sure your marketing spend is wasted, don’t bother building a regular and clear communication cadence with your marketing partner. Don’t allow any transparency with regards to your budget—in fact, don’t bother sharing the business impact you hope your marketing will have, your strategy, or even your goals. Give ambiguous, subjective, unclear feedback instead of objective, goal-oriented critiques. And most importantly, make sure the first thing you ask of every new campaign is “why can’t this be cheaper?”

It’s your way or the highway!

One great way to ensure you’re wasting your marketing spend? Make sure your agency knows who’s boss—and that it’s you. Don’t bother with the effort of building a collaborative environment between yourself, the agency, and your vendors. Instead, treat them like a production house. They might be experts, but you’re the customer, and the customer’s always right.

When working with your agency, it’s important to ignore the strengths and weaknesses of your team and the agency’s team, and ignore how they can complement and augment each other. Better yet, you shouldn’t make the effort to understand your agency at all. Don’t get to know them as people or as professionals. And don’t treat your relationship as that of a single collaborative team. Keep it separate, and you’ll bleed money like never before.

Ignore structure and process!

Smart, clear process is a key to success in your marketing, which means that if you’re more interested in burning money than in seeing positive results, you should ignore it. Fail to tie your projects and engagements to any metrics or budgetary goals that you might have. Don’t spend time identifying the relevant stakeholders, how they affect your projects, or how they can shift from project to project. And most importantly, always always choose the cheapest option, even if it’s the one least likely to get results. You’ll spend less, but you’ll get less too. And isn’t that always what you want?

Cultivate immaturity in your relationship!

There’s a mature way to work with your agency and an immature way, and if you’re looking to waste your money then the latter is definitely the way to go. For one, you should give your agency loads of free passes. They’re not perfect, and even the best agency will miss the mark from time to time. So should you do anything about it? Of course not! They’re tough, passionate, accountable professionals—but you should definitely not let them know if they’re not meeting your standards. If you did, they could work to improve the relationship, and you can’t have that!

Instead, do your best to cultivate a “yes man” attitude among your contacts at your agency. Make sure they know that if they tell you “no,” there will be hell to pay. There’s no room for anything but sycophancy—sure, good ideas might fall by the wayside, but at least you’ll feel smart while your money goes to waste.

Most importantly, you need to put your agency in a box. Dictate the kinds of projects they’re allowed to work on, and the personnel and departments that they can work with. Leave no wiggle room! That’s where creativity is born, and creativity leads to success, not burning money.

So...what should we actually do?

Hopefully, if you’ve made it this far, it has occurred to you that all of the advice I’ve given you so far is very, very bad advice. In fact, in most cases it’s precisely the opposite of what you should be doing.

But these are some things that we’ve seen in our careers as marketers, or horror stories we’ve heard while sitting around the campfire at one marketing conference or another—things that have led to negative experiences for everyone involved. And honestly, they can put an agency-client relationship on the road to ruin, if they aren’t identified and dealt with.

Thankfully, it’s not difficult to see what good practice actually is. Concentrate on consistency, on finishing what you start and having faith in your convictions and those of your marketing partner. Communicate with your partner, regularly and clearly. Work together, and build a two-way relationship. Build smart and clear processes to make sure your goals get met. And never allow fear or pride to get in the way of good work.

One of the classic scenes from The Dark Knight features the Joker burning a pile of money after dousing it in gasoline. He cackles as he says to his mobster henchmen—and reminds the modern marketing executive—“It’s not about the money, it’s about sending a message.”

So what message are you sending to your consumers? And how much money will you burn on the way to sending that message? If you work intelligently together, that message can be very positive—and profitable—for all involved. But if you earnestly follow the advice above and burn down your budget, the message will be “don’t work with me and don’t buy from me.”

It’s your call.

Tyler Williams Team Photo at Element Three

For Tyler, it’s not about being the best as much as it’s about doing the absolute best that you can. His natural competitive streak pushes him to his limits—and it’s that nature that allows him to take his clients to the next level.