Marketing Pulse Blog

6 Red Flags to Avoid When Hiring a Digital Agency

Written by
Bex Del Pizzo

Partnering with a digital agency can be a vital part of your marketing and branding efforts. But with so many out there, making the same promises with the same buzzwords, how do you choose a partner who will be the best fit for your organization? Many agencies use similar messaging, offering “cutting-edge services,” “innovation,” “efficiency,” and “performance” – but what are they offering behind the jargon and alphabet of acronyms

Signing an agency is a commitment to a relationship, so you should be compatible and in alignment on your goals. There are various factors to consider when choosing an agency – and a few red flags to keep an eye out for, too.

1. Me Me Me

Take note if an agency makes it all about them, or talks about how great they are without any specifics on industries, clients, outcomes, or data. Do they talk about the wins they helped their clients achieve, or are all their bragging points about them?

Look for an agency who puts examples of their work front and center instead of hiding behind buzzwords. Bonus points if they feature genuine reviews or testimonials from current clients.

2. The Invisible Brand

Do you see yourself and your brand represented in the agency’s pitch? What about their team makeup? If you get a pitch featuring examples or outcomes that have nothing to do with your brand or vertical, the agency either didn’t do their research, isn’t in touch with your goals, or both. Either way, it’s not a good look.

An agency should come prepared to speak to your challenges and goals, with proven solutions and strategies for driving your highest-priority business outcomes.

3. Missing Homework

Ever gotten a sales email that’s so uninformed or tone-deaf, it’s actually offensive? Imagine an agency sales exec emailing you about strategic investments a week after your organization announces a round of layoffs, or offering a service for which you just won a big award. You’re probably not going to slam that “Reply” button.

If you’re truly a target account, the agency will treat you like one – which includes doing their research and respecting your time.

4. Money Pits

Team-bonding retreats and office perks are worthwhile investments for an agency’s budget; especially these days, good partners should focus on culture and employee retention to ensure continuity on account teams. Pictures of executives on their yachts, however, are another story. Do some research to see what matters to your potential agency partners, and whether their values and spending priorities align with yours.

5. Smoke and Mirrors

Agencies who spotlight their own proprietary tech may be using “differentiators” just for show. When you dig deeper, do they actually have concrete use cases and business outcomes that show their tech’s effectiveness? Are their tech’s biggest features live, or on a “roadmap” with no planned release date? If an agency is pitching “efficiency” as an advantage, does it benefit the client, or does it just allow the agency to hire fewer employees and pocket more margin? Any differentiator callout in an agency sales pitch should have a verifiable tie-back to client success.

6. One-Hit Wonders

Just about any agency worth consideration will promise measurable gains in the first six months; the strongest contenders will be able to present audit findings that back this up. But as brand marketing leaders know, those gains tend to plateau after an initial spike. What then?

Agencies with a myopic focus on performance without a parallel strategy to build the brand in a way that grows organic reach and customer loyalty will always be vulnerable to persistently high CPAs and macro-environmental factors. Especially for agencies looking to lock brands into long-term contracts, ask about the plan to get more value from customers after they convert, and ask how they plan to help develop your brand to make sure new customers want to buy from you without ever seeing an ad.

Set your brand up for a successful agency relationship by looking beyond the jingles and jargon to discover true differentiators. Real partners will be able to tell you exactly how and why they’ll give your business a competitive advantage in the areas that matter to you.

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Written by
Bex Del Pizzo

Bex (she/her) is a Content Writer at WITHIN. She’s always down to talk literature, marketing trends, DEI work, anime, the MCU, Iceland, memes, mental health, LGBTQ+ rights, and other general nerdery and pop culture.


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