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How to Work with a Marketing Firm (Without Getting Burned)


I can’t tell you how many horror stories we’ve heard from clients on the experiences they’ve had with marketing firms. Whether it involves someone skipping town with money, delivering a worthless website, or simply an experience that feels somewhat like giving birth, the client is always left feeling burned. The cause is typically the same; the client just doesn’t know what questions to ask, so the relationship can be easy to take advantage of by someone less than scrupulous. In the end, the client is left lighter in the wallet and heavier in the heart.

In an effort to weed out shady agencies, read this list before your next meeting with a marketing firm.

1. Don’t rely solely on references. The truth is, you’re only going to get a list of clients that the firm knows will give them a good reference, and that list could be the only clients they’ve ever made happy.
2. Google them. If they’re good marketers, you should get plenty of search results. Little to no information online equals little to no marketing done on their part.
3. Ask to see results. This is particularly important for SEO firms. Dig deeper than the reference, and ask for conversion data or the Google Analytics from current campaigns. How many new customers did the client get as a result? The SEO firm should be able to provide that information, which you can then confirm with the client when you do your reference checks.
4. Look for industry experience. This can be a double-edged sword. While relevant experience can be invaluable, make sure they’re not violating a conflict of interest. This is also especially relevant for SEO firms. Make sure that there’s a strong understanding of your industry, but no current clients that are competitors.
5. Base your decision on value, not price. The goal with your marketing is to drive growth, not pinch pennies; and going with the cheapest price doesn’t mean you’re getting the best value. In fact, the result is usually inferior, and you may not get the money back you invested in the first place.
6. Know what good work typically costs. This is the most nebulous, and most companies have no clue. Fortunately, there are some online tools that can help give an idea of what most projects cost (an example is the Web Design Price Calculator at DesignQuote). Do the research before you start to look for a firm to work with.

With these steps, you will dramatically increase your odds of having both a wonderful experience and a successful marketing campaign.


Patrick King

Patrick is the Founder of Imagine and advisor to places on brand strategy and creative. His insights have been published in Inc. Magazine, SmartCEO, Washington Business Journal, The Washington Post, and Chief Marketer, among other publications, and shared at conferences throughout the US. He also has an amazing sock collection.

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