Whenever a client at any advertising agencies leaves for a cheaper one, all of the marketers at that previous agency exchange words with the same sentiments:
- You get what you pay for.
- Welp, good luck with that (implying it will go terribly).
- They probably just white label and outsource to India / Pakistan / Vietnam / etc.
And so on and so forth. Regardless of the advertising agency — regardless of their talent, their pricing, their location — it doesn’t matter. All marketers think they’re amazing and all of the marketers at competing advertising agencies have a combined IQ of negative 60.
I guess it’s good they feel that way. If they think their agency sucks, that’s sad. But objectively and statistically, half of them do suck. It’s nothing personal — half of everything sucks in comparison to the corresponding better half. There’s sucky everything: sucky doctors, sucky teachers, sucky mechanics — and yeah, sucky marketers.
Price is usually a good indicator of quality. It’s a safe bet — quality things cost more money; in contrast, cheap things are… well, cheap. Marketers know this and exploit it, pushing companies into believing expensive advertising agencies are better than the ones charging less. Is it true? Are expensive advertising agencies better?
No. Sometimes. Maybe. If there’s a correlation, I don’t buy into the causation. Charging a lot for services is like having a college degree, it doesn’t mean you’re good; it means you’re probably not awful. It’s more useful to point out all of the potential marketing services arrangements and the realities of those situations. Let me do that, bluntly.
Freelancers on Market Places (Upwork, Fiverr, etc.)
Marketplaces are a crapshoot with a high propensity for crap, and that goes for both sides — crappy marketers and crappy businesses looking for cheap marketing services. The good marketers rarely stay long. They build a base then grow through referrals.
By this, I mean digital marketers with day jobs at advertising agencies who also do work on the side. This is one of the best arrangements: You know they can’t be terrible or else they wouldn’t have a job. There’s a good chance they’re underselling themselves too (since they likely aren’t concerned about the usual self-employed expenses).
You should consider the ethics though. If they’re doing the same thing on the side as their day job, they’re essentially undercutting their employers. I don’t like non-competes, but those marketers should differentiate their services and target market to prevent overlap with their employers.
The independent fellas. You don’t see or hear about them often, but I respect them. They often have a personal website with an outdated theme — like an architect whose house is falling apart because they keep putting their clients first.
Freelancers who refuse to partake in marketplaces are really good at what they do, but they get stretched to do more than their specialty and those results can be underwhelming.
Low-cost digital marketing agencies fall under three categories:
- They’re new and will charge more later.
- They outsource labor to countries where you shouldn’t drink the tap water.
- They won’t be here next year.
If you can get with #1, cool. The second one isn’t always bad, but there’s a trend. Agencies under #3 flop for numerous reasons, and those reasons don’t matter. They’re unreliable. That’s all you need to know.
From self-identified “boutique” agencies that charge thousands of dollars to get you Likes on Facebook to legitimate ecom performance agencies, there are a lot of agencies in the middle. Some are great. Results-wise, most aren’t.
Expensive advertising agencies are easy to identify. Their names are just the last name of some old guy who may or may not be dead now. That, and their websites say literally anything EXCEPT what it is that they actually do.
For example, the feature headline on an expensive advertising agency’s homepage might say something like “Integrated Solutions for a Complex World”. What does that mean? It means they’re expensive.
There may have been a time when that old guy who founded the agency was still alive and they were good at marketing. Now, they white label their services and outsource them to guys like me. If I can say anything nice about these agencies, it’s that they have excellent presentation skills. They’re great at selling themselves; not so much for their clients.
The problem with marketing is that it’s a catch-all profession for people who choose to get their lives together a little too late. It’s a safe haven for the college-educated who feel entitled to a nice white-collar life but failed to major in STEM (to be clear, I’m insulting myself here). To find a good marketer, you have to filter through that.
Some of them are at expensive agencies. Some are in countries where you shouldn’t drink the tap water. Some sell on the cheap because they don’t know what they’re worth.
How do you identify them? Most marketing agencies purposefully make it hard to do so. Between you and the person actually doing the work for your business is usually an account manager. Their job is to keep you out of the way, and God bless ’em for it. It’s in your best interest too, because the best strategists are regularly the worst schmoozers.
The same applies to freelancers — if you pick digital marketers based on their suaveness, you’re going to be disappointed.
You want the nerds.
And you should do an informal background check to confirm that they’re nerds.
If you’re looking to work with an agency, find the person who will be doing the implementation part of your marketing. Agencies aren’t people; they’re made of people, so push to find the ones who will be on your account and ask for references. Are other businesses happy with the composition of their team? I’ve never heard of a business getting this granular, but they should, and no agency with any confidence would be opposed. The same logic applies to freelancers; it’s just a much easier process.
There are other tactics, but they aren’t foolproof. You can try to find content (articles, videos, etc) created by the marketers you’re looking to work with — the more technical in nature, the more likely they know what they’re doing. But a lot of great marketers don’t take the time to make anything with their name on it. It’s too bad; I wish they would.
The last thing is to simply ask how they would do what they plan to do and why they believe it will work. That’s hard when you probably don’t understand what any of it means. But it’s worth a shot, and you can ask about other businesses and the results they’ve seen with similar strategies.
Overall, trying to find a good digital marketer is a lot like trying to find an honest car salesman. Some of us never find one, but it’s awesome if you do.