Three Stories from the Agency Trenches

If you’ve been in business for more than a year, it’s likely that you’ve hired – or at least considered hiring – a marketing agency. Working with an external agency is a good move: especially if the project or campaign meets certain criteria, like having well-established brand guidelines or if funding comes up out of nowhere (for our cheat sheet on what and when to outsource, click here). 

Unfortunately, some agencies might give you the runaround when getting deliverables to you, or obfuscate their results on your campaign. In our own experiences working with clients and agencies both, we’ve picked up on how to identify when an agency is being less than honest, and more importantly, how to get around it.

(Note: these problems are all based on real experiences that our clients, or ourselves, have had with other agencies. Obviously, we’ve scrubbed the names and altered the situations for anonymity’s sake.)


The problem: Your deliverable is due today, but you haven’t heard a peep from your project manager. When you confront them about it being late, they say something like: “We’re working on something that’ll make it really great, but it could mean taking a little longer.”

What to say: It doesn’t matter if that “something” your project manager hinted at would turn your deliverable into a content supernova – the deliverable is due today, and due as agreed in the statement of work. Ask when the deliverable will be completed foregoing the “extra” component, and ask to see where it is at present (if it’s something like a website, they are able to show you this). Be sure to discuss where else in the workback schedule they can crunch to make up for lost time. 

How to protect yourself in the future: Request at the start of your engagement that you receive weekly project updates – like the MediaFace “Thursday Touchpoint” – over and above regular communication about the project. Ask that these include what the agency is waiting on from your end, so they can’t turn around later and say it was slow revisions that led to a late deliverable.


The problem: It’s been six months since you ran an integrated lead-generation campaign with an agency, and you finally get the results from them. They’re wordlessly faxed to you, on paper, without a covering letter. As you read through printed browser pages, you can’t make heads-or-tails of the numbers and retyping them into Excel is going to take forever. You just know you haven’t seen much of a shift in incoming leads on your end.

What to say: Call your project lead and ask to set up a meeting to go over the results. Explain your dissatisfaction with the overall return and ask if there are any secondary benefits to the campaign that you might not be seeing. Chances are that you’ll get a clearer picture of how the campaign performed.

How to protect yourself in the future: When setting up an engagement contract, don’t just stipulate that you’ll receive campaign analytics. Make sure you describe both what kind of results and analysis you’re looking for and in what format (no faxes!), as well as how soon after the campaign wraps that you expect them.


The problem: You join a routine status meeting with your agency, and your project manager tells you that they’ve gone over their hours by double what was anticipated, even though the project is far from finished. They say that they won’t be completing any more work until they’re paid more.

What to say: This is a tough one. Be very frank with your existing agency in asking how it is that they were so off in estimating their hours, and why you weren’t notified sooner. There could be a slim chance that someone on your own team is taking up undue amounts of their time – which might mean converting those lengthy status meetings to quick emails to make sure everyone stays on track and on budget.

How to protect yourself in the future: Never pay the full amount up front for a big project and make sure that your contract stipulates a kill fee, so that you have some recourse if you have to rehire in order to complete the work. 


Honest and transparent agencies lead to more fruitful collaborations (and a less stressful workday!). If you’re looking for a trustworthy collaborator for your next project, look no further – contact us to set up a free consultation on how we can help.


Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash.

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