Rakefet Yacoby From
Rakefet Yacoby From 24 October 2019

Digital Marketing Red Flags Businesses Should Know About

Sometimes things go wrong when working with external marketers. Perhaps communication isn’t as frequent as you need it to be, deadlines are being missed, or maybe the results simply are not what you were promised during the hiring phase. Thankfully there are a few red flags that will signal when you have ended up with the bad kind of marketing support. If they start showing any of these, then it is time to end the contract as fast as possible before they turn into the kind of time and money sink that can ruin your business.

No working relationship with external marketing support is immune to the occasional rough patch. Perhaps communication isn’t as frequent as you need it to be, deadlines are being missed, or maybe the results simply are not what you were promised during the hiring phase. It is virtually impossible to go your entire career without encountering these issues eventually, but a good agency or freelancer will be able to get back on track without drama or difficulty. 

A bad agency will not. A major challenge for businesses bringing in outside support is telling the difference between a professional relationship that is fixable and one that isn’t, in a way that doesn’t involve throwing good money after bad.

Thankfully there are a lot of organisations out there that have had disastrous experiences before you, and because they have shared those experiences it is now much easier to work out when you’re working with the wrong freelancer or agency for your business. To help you work out when it would be best to break out of a bad relationship, we’ve curated a few of the biggest red flags you should look out for when working with your external marketing support of choice: 

#1 - Consistently poor communication

Good communication is the bedrock of any successful relationship. It may be a cliche, but it is a cliche for a reason. No matter how good your marketing contact is at creating at creating compelling content, if they can’t communicate their needs, their understanding of your needs, or the challenges they are facing in their work, then any campaign they work on will likely fail to meet expectations. It is worth remembering that we are all human. The occasional missed email is not something to cut all ties over, but you should be on the lookout for sustained poor communication not just between you and your primary point of contact but, in the case of agencies, internally within their teams as well. 

#2 - Erratic availability 

A major problem that often stems from poor communication, consistently poor availability is a dealbreaker. When it comes to your brand, you are the boss. You want your marketing campaigns to be completed on time, within the parameters that you have agreed on. If your digital marketing service providers said they’d be available to do the job but then miss deadlines and are conveniently unavailable to speak to when you need answers, they’re probably not the best fit for your business at this time. 

This can be a problem for even experienced freelancers and agencies, as priorities shift and disrupt the flow of business. What makes this a red flag is when this happens with no apology, no explanation, or plan to make it right. 

#3 - They are not motivated to ensure your brand succeeds

Motivation is a key driver of success. Your hires need to be motivated to secure your brand’s digital marketing success, not motivated to clock out, be paid out, or just scrape by. While on paper the act of paying money for a service should be all the motivation that your hires require, we all know that in the real world it does not work out this way.

You can test for a general sense of enthusiasm and motivation in the hiring stage, by making sure that all members of the marketing team are engaged and know a reasonable amount about your brand, your industry and their roles in creating success. Once the contract is signed however, keep an eye out for things like team changes on their side that can often sap motivation, or a noticeable dip in quality that can be an early sign of a much deeper issue. 

#4 - Systemic lack of transparency

A good digital marketing freelancer or agency will be able to show its working. Specifically how it gets from idea to execution. Those that are not able to show this, or even worse, act cagey about sharing this, are usually cutting corners, concealing the fact that they’re assumed ownership, or are engaging in other risky business. 

Transparency is more than just a hot button issue, it has become a necessity for doing business in the modern marketing ecosystem, where issues like plagiarism and guaranteeing brand safety are increasingly prevalent. In any event, you do not want to continue working with anyone who is not up-front and honest about their business practices and products, so do not be afraid to ask for answers, to protect your own brand if nothing else. 

#5 - Inconsistent results

This is one of the most difficult red flags to navigate. Sometimes you will find your agency or freelancer can achieve great results, but for whatever reason at a later date cannot. So if they have the skill but are not being consistent, you need to ask yourself, “why?” Are their priorities straight? Is it a temporary motivation or staffing issue? Are they really aligned with your brand’s mission, vision, and goals? 

Because this problem can have many causes, it is hard to tell at what point your working relationship becomes unsalvageable. After all, maybe their next big success is just around the corner? The root cause will determine whether you can help coach them towards a more consistent and successful performance rate, or whether you’re simply working with the wrong marketing partner altogether.

#6 - More focus on paycheck than doing the work

Money can be a great motivator when it comes to getting the job done, but if your digital marketing freelancer or agency cares more about their paycheck than the work they do, they are probably doing the minimum possible job just to scrape by. Worse still are those that do the minimum but regularly try to upsell you on different add-ons, and espouse how much more they could be doing for just a little bit more money. This is not what your business needs. And while you can try and change this by offering bonuses for certain ROI goal achievements, the “pay me first” mentality can be hard to shake.

It is in your best interests to work with the right digital marketing service provider that meets your brand’s unique needs. Learning what red flags to look out for is a vital part of making sure that is the case. Once you spot one (or more) of these situations developing with your marketing partner, doing everything you can to correct it should be your first course of action. Depending on how that works, it is up to you to figure out whether the working relationship is worth salvaging or if you should put serious thought into getting out of your current contract. 

Your digital campaigns are instrumental in driving sales, engagement, and retention for your brand, and the digital marketing service providers you hire to create and run these campaigns often hold the fate of your business in their hands. It is your business, and its needs come first. Don’t fall into the trap of throwing good money after bad, and be prepared to walk away when things are not working. There are too many excellent Freelancers and digital agencies out there to waste your time and money on ones that fail to live up to expectations. 

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