Why Clients Feel Overcharged by Marketing Agencies and How to Fix It


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“I’ve just wrapped up a meeting with our marketing agency, and I must admit, I was taken aback by their charges given the somewhat underwhelming results we’ve seen,” a sentiment shared in a social media group for marketing professionals, echoed by others. It’s a refrain I encounter frequently. As the owner of a marketing and public relations agency, I often hear stories from new or potential clients recounting how their previous agencies fell short in delivering results that justified the cost. Therefore, it’s no surprise that a 2023 global report highlighted businesses’ reluctance to invest in marketing.

I can’t blame business leaders or marketing professionals for approaching agency partnerships with caution. Having previously held a senior marketing role in-house, I understand firsthand the pressure of reporting to the C-suite or board. It involves the delicate balance of budget allocation and making decisions that guarantee marketing generates more revenue than it costs — a challenging position to be in. This underscores the importance of marketing and public relations agencies not only comprehending but also empowering their clients to reach their goals, entering board meetings armed with compelling results and feeling like rockstars.

Related: 5 Things to Look For When Hiring a Marketing Agency

The challenge in achieving a scope of work that both the client and company leadership deem worthwhile often stems from ambiguity. In today’s digital age, ambiguity should be avoidable, right? With tools like GA4 and various software programs for tracking metrics and attribution, results are at our fingertips in real-time. ROI, a buzzword agencies love to tout, is on everyone’s wish list. However, ROI, sophisticated metrics and the agency’s interpretation of results or deliverables are just that — an interpretation — and may not align with the client’s true expectations or what they find meaningful for their investment.

To combat ambiguity and ensure that the agency-client relationship delivers results that bolster the company’s performance, financials and stability (in other words, success), the following best practices lay a solid foundation, promoting transparency, setting clear expectations and, most importantly, ensuring both the client and agency are on the same page regarding what success entails.

1. Set the right budget expectations

Clients have the prerogative to set the budget, but it falls on the marketing or PR agency to provide counsel on whether it aligns with the desired goals. Results and budget often correlate, especially in digital marketing’s context. Integrating marketing tactics like social media, SEO, Google Ads and email marketing can yield better results than pursuing them individually. This synergy should be communicated effectively to clients who may have ambitious goals but limited budgets.

2. Pinpoint and agree on goals and metrics

SMART goals, while often met with a sigh, and as overused as the concept of “smart, measurable, achievable, relatable and time-bound” might be, SMART goals work and are essential to the relationship. The agency and client must collaboratively define the goals, metrics and timeframes that translate into measurable revenue growth. The client’s input is vital in this process to ensure alignment with their objectives. We describe this to clients as how we’ll agree on what success looks like.

Related: 4 Tips for Hiring the Right PR Agency

3. Make clear agency commitments

Agencies that don’t provide outcome projections are simply lazy or not qualified.

Agencies should have the confidence to specify the results they can deliver based on their track record, experience and industry benchmarks. Agreements should outline minimum expectations for media placements, lead generation or social media growth, for instance. While many agencies avoid this due to the risk, an agency should be capable and bold enough to stand behind their ability and skill set. Transparency on the specified results is key to avoiding miscommunication.

4. Conduct ongoing, consistent communication

Nothing good ever comes from information voids. Regular meetings and frequent results reporting foster trust and eliminate surprises. Transparency extends to addressing issues promptly and suggesting solutions when goals aren’t being met.

I stress to my team that hiding behind constant email communication can be detrimental to the relationship. Pick up the phone or meet in person on a regular basis. There’s still a lot to be said for face-to-face collaboration.

Related: Does Your PR Firm See You as a Project or a Partner?

5. Make a personal investment in outcomes

Agencies should view their clients’ success as their own. They should provide well-researched, thoughtful recommendations and actively problem-solve to ensure the client’s money is being spent in the most productive way possible. A successful agency serves as a guide, recognizing that the client is the hero of their business’s story.

Ultimately, the path to success in agency-client relationships hinges on clarity, transparency and a shared commitment to achieving meaningful results.

Agencies can be successful, but it requires transparent communication, a commitment from the client side and continuous assessment of business outcomes related to the scope of work.


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