One of the biggest fears of every business looking to hire a paid advertising agency is “I hope I don’t get conned”.
How do I know that?
Because every person sitting across my table (or at the other end of our Zoom calls) starts the conversation with the exact same look on their face – a mix of suspicion, fear, a realisation they don’t know enough about the subject, and that feeling that they’re about to give this bunch of media agency people access to their business and they don’t have guarantees on what’s going to happen next.
Tell me, how far off the mark am I?
So — I decided to list the 7 most important things to know, do, ask and understand before you sign on the dotted line:
- How media agencies get paid
- There is no such thing as guaranteed results
- The agency doesn’t own your accounts
- Get on a discovery call, fast
- Ask to speak to current customers
- Read the contract thoroughly
- Ask what optimisation work will be done in the accounts
Let’s dive right in!
Things to know
How agencies get paid
Most paid advertising agencies work on the same model:
- they agree on monthly advertising spend you can afford
- they run the ads for you based on that monthly spend
- they charge a management fee for that (either a % of ad spend, or a set amount per month).
I’d recommend you enquire with multiple agencies to sanity check what I’ve just said for your own peace of mind — don’t take my word for it!
What’s a management fee?
A management fee is an amount the agency gets paid for the work they do in your accounts. Going into details here would take pages and pages, and frankly would be really boring unless you’re into this kind of things, but top-level, the fee usually includes, yet is not limited to:
- Campaigns & ads creation
- Optimisation and maintenance
- creating new ads
- regular improvements of ad copy
- new a/b tests
- keyword research,
- Make sure you’re not spending money on audiences/keywords that are not relevant
- and lots more
Potential one-off fees
Sometimes there is work that needs to be carried out before you’re able to start advertising. This is a separate, one-off cost that shouldn’t be included in future monthly management fees, and includes:
- Advertising accounts setup (usually if you’ve never advertised before)
- Tracking setup (those little bits of code on your website that tell you where your enquiries have come from, so you know what is working and what isn’t)
- Google Analytics setup
- Google Tag Manager setup
For clarity: 100% of the agreed advertising spend is used to advertise.
Google, Facebook, and any other advertising platform take money directly from the bank account or the credit card attached to the advertising account – the agency doesn’t get a penny.
This means there is no way for the agency to take a cut of the advertising spend behind your back as well as their management fee.
There shouldn’t be any reason for the agency to ask you to pay them the advertising spend as well as the management fee. If you get this request, question it — the agency would have to keep the money in a separate bank account, record it as disbursements, and be able to prove at any point that the entirety of the sum was used as advertising spend.
A lot of faff, if you ask me when you can simply let Google or Facebook take money from your card every time you hit the spend threshold.
There is no such thing as guaranteed results
There I said it.
Now that I got that out the way, let’s unpack why with a famous saying.
“You can lead the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.”
Whether you advertise with leaflets, newspaper ads, social media, or digital ads – whether or not people enquire or buy from you, it’s something no agency in the world can control or guarantee.
What agencies SHOULD guarantee though, is targeted, quality eyeballs to your product, offer, or service. Common sense says that when we lead people with a problem you can fix to your solution, they are likely to enquire or buy from you, right?
I love good ol’ common sense.
The agency does not own your ad accounts
If at any point the agency:
- Wants to create a new advertising account for you, despite you having one already
- Doesn’t want to give you access to the account
- Gives you access to the account, but on a view-only permission level
- Insists to run advertising campaigns from their account
- Refuses to hand back the account after you decide to stop working with them
Then you know things are going to go south, FAST.
Let’s be clear: your advertising account, like any other online account you have, is your own asset. You own the account, you own the data in it, you own the ads, you own the images, the website you’re advertising to, EVERYTHING.
Any agency that tries to convince you otherwise is operating from Dodgy Land — avoid partnering with them at all costs.
Things to do
Get on a discovery call, fast.
There are two reasons this is important, and they’re not what you think they are.
One – you need to get a feel for the people.
Are they on time? Are they friendly? Do they take the time to make technical concepts simple and easy to understand? Are they really listening to what you’re saying and asking probing questions, or are they just waiting for their turn to speak so they can get on with it? Are you both on the same page? Do you even like them at all?
Two – they should be talking about business, not paid ads.
Let’s be real, nobody outside of the paid advertising community cares about paid advertising. It’s hard work, it’s technical, it’s boring, and people get a headache just thinking about it.
So if you get in a meeting, and the agency guys snow you under with technical lingo, you might want to reconsider, because this is likely how they’re always going to interact with you.
Paid advertising people are supposed to take time to ask about your business, your goals, what you’re currently doing, why have you decided it’s time to advertise, and what are your expectations.
They should specifically ask, and probe, and ask and probe again, around your goals and what you’re trying to achieve.
They should make sure they REALLY understand what you’re after. Sometimes even help YOU clarify what you’re after — after all if you know very little about paid advertising, how are you even supposed to know what is possible?
Paid ads people should be less like another third party and more like a partner / consultant.
The Mickey to your Rocky, the Miyagi to your Karate Kid, the Yoda to your Luke Skywalker — capiche?
If you need in-person testimonials, ask to speak to current customers.
If the agency has got nothing to hide, they wouldn’t have any problem at all introducing you to other customers so you can have a quick chat with them about their experience. If anything, having someone else sing their praises should only be a good thing!
Things to ask
Can you send me your T&Cs to read through?
At no point, you should agree to work with an agency (or a freelancer, for that matter) on a handshake or via email, without a proper contract in place. You have to protect yourself in case things don’t go the way you thought they were going to go.
Take notes during the meeting, and double-check in the fine print that there are no surprises.
Specifically, pay attention to the following:
- Length of contract: there is usually a set number of months (3, 6 or 12) on a rolling basis, with a break clause. Make sure you note down when the break clause is, so that if you decide to not renew the service, you know when to hand in your notice.
- Advertising spend amount: it should be pre-agreed and clearly stated.
- Management fee: again, it should be pre-agreed and clearly stated.
- Other one-off fees: if any one-off work needs to be done before you can start advertising, this has to be clearly stated and accounted for separately.
Most of the time, agencies are open and willing to negotiate on the terms, provided that, of course, you’re being reasonable, and don’t try to get them to work for free.
(You might be laughing right now, but I had a few businesses trying their luck like that!)
What optimisation work will you do in the account?
As I briefly mentioned while talking about what’s included in the management fee, there is regular activities and maintenance that has to be done in your advertising accounts on a weekly, bi-weekly and monthly basis.
The best way to think about them is to see your account like an athlete. The athlete needs to train regularly to improve his performance and have a shot at winning competitions. As soon as the athlete stops training, he’ll stop improving, and will more than likely keep losing to his competitors.
Different agencies have different approaches to account optimisation, but regardless of their approach, they should be able to tell you exactly what they’re going to do and how frequently they’re going to do it.
If they start glossing over, or say anything along the lines of “it’s difficult to say”, this is a cue you need to run.
We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again: pushing buttons to create ads is the easy part. It’s the optimisation that makes or breaks an account.
Get into this with your eyes open! Ask all the questions, don’t be afraid to ask again if you don’t understand something, and make sure you dot the I’s and cross the T’s before committing to anything.
I’m not saying be overly suspicious – there are amazing professionals out there. But don’t be tempted to believe in miracles. If they promise you something that’s too good to be true, it usually is.