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Cracking the Marketing Code: How Not to Get Played by Agencies

We’re going to deep dive into how to go about driving an engagement with a marketing agency so that  you can achieve your strategic objectives and optimize your dollars spent. Ready? Let’s go.

1. Ensure all of your vendors are chasing the same goals & metrics as you.

Conversions come first. You know, sales, sign ups, purchases. That’s what matters. An increase in web traffic and vanity metrics like social media “likes” are not acceptable outcomes or consolation prizes. Those are natural byproducts of any campaign. Your priority and sole focus is the conversion(sale), and your metrics need to be consistent with your vendors.

It’s important to note the realities of marketing in 2023. Your metrics and goals will have to be met with your budget. Period. You can’t expect more and pay less. Digital Marketing is not WalMart.

Here’s the real, raw and relevant truth about going all in on any marketing effort:

  • It’s not cheap. The market is flooded with more businesses than ever spending heaps of money to advertise. You can’t belly up to the bar in the high-end club and expect a 4 dollar drink. It’s 2023, it ain’t gonna happen.
  • There are no silver bullets. You will not go viral. Stop thinking about it, stop banking on it. It better not be in any strategic document or proposal. Just stop. If it happens, great. But the odds are, you’re going to have to do the formidable work to achieve the results you want. You won’t be winning the lottery or going viral.
  • It doesn’t matter how cool you think your brand, product or service is. It is not cheap or easy to get started when you are new and data poor. The less data, history and marketing experience you have to inform and guide the vendors, the more expensive it will be AT FIRST. Why, because going from 0 to 1 is a lot harder than 1 to 2 and so on. The first goal is to get to your initial conversions, from there you need to expand while optimizing. You or your vendor is basically going to growth hack your cost of acquisition by tweaking all these variables to drive down the cost of acquisition of those conversions and sales, while driving up the total number of sales.
  • There are many marketing wolves out there. They will happily give you proposals that are total grifts. I’ll give you some examples.

Note: You ABSOLUTELY have to build up a groundswell of traffic and engagement in order to reach conversion rates, and the truth is you might not be able to stomach the volume of traffic needed to achieve the conversion results you want. But it is what it is and they are correlated.

2. Keep it on YOUR Dashboard – Have Them Pipe In Their Performance To Your Dashboard.

This is so you can see their performance and results in real-time, on a dashboard that you already know how to use.

This is going to get me in trouble with the marketing world, but we’re a business consultancy first and foremost. To maintain clarity on campaign performance, ask your vendor to integrate with your tools and dashboard you  look at and analyze. Whether you’re using Fathom Analytics (private, crystal clear and easy to use) or Google Analytics 4 (hot, overly complex trash), their efforts ought to be measured on your terms. The pros will know how to do it. It may cost you extra but at the same time, it will get you real-time data in a format you’re familiar with.

Use Fathom Analytics (not a sponsor yet), and have your vendor use their UTM campaign creator, so you can track their efforts in one place.

All the grifters are going to be pissed for me poisoning the well but here you go- It’s a common thing for marketing grifters to use a bespoke analytics platform they’ve built in house, to measure results of their efforts. The problem is that those tools are not completely transparent and you have no idea how easy those are to manipulate. I mean, It’s neat that they show you charts and analytics and all but are those metrics consistent with what you’re seeing on your analytics dashboard? Grifters love hiding in their graphs on these custom systems. You need to be sure you can trust the integrity of what you’re looking at. They know darn well that most people aren’t looking at their analytics on the regular anyways (YOU NEED TO). Anyway the more you know.

3. Have Them Break It Down: Ad Spend vs. Labor

Any experienced, trustworthy marketer, should have a breakdown of labor vs. ad spend in their proposal. Amateurs and grifters will blend them together, which is a red flag for me and should be for you as well. Your ad spend, the actual advertising budget that is spent on ad placement is extremely important, and the larger it is, the higher potential for better results. Like any credible contractor who separates parts from labor, you should expect the same transparency from our vendors. And on the flipside, contractors who are good at their job have no problem providing this, and stand by their numbers and rationalize them.

Giving you one big monthly number with no breakdown, effectively hides the labor costs and actual ad spend by blending them together. This is a rookie move and a grifter move. This is done so that you don’t actually know how much of your dollars are buying the attention time you need to make the sale. Also, if you accept an engagement like this, the vendor is incentivized to minimize the ad spend and maximize their labor costs. That is a horrible way to go, because now the vendor is basically incentivized to destroy your results and pocket the cash, or give you a variable outcome to keep the grift going. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN.

Imagine if a contractor didn’t break down material costs vs labor costs. Why would you put up with this from a marketing agency? This is a red flag sign for amateur hour.

4. Narrow Down Their Role & Scope: Focus Explicitly On What’s Needed – No Fluff.

Look, vendors will come at you with a whole suite of services, but if you've got your strategy locked down, why pay for the extras? Streamline their responsibilities to exactly what you need. This isn't just about saving some bucks but ensuring every penny counts.

In every proposal with a new vendor, you can bank on a few things, there will be assessment, discovery, planning, then execution, measurement, refining, etc. These are all important. However, if you already have your strategic ducks in a row, if you already have your brand identity, brand narrative, experiential touchpoints, and digital strategic plan in hand, you don’t need yet another vendor to reinvent the wheel for you. So narrow down their scope to focus on what you need, and make sure they move forward in alignment with your strategy, brand, etc. while still preserving room to be creative and deliver results. This should save you some dollars, OR you can keep the proposed budget the same, and pump the rest of those dollars into your ad spend, which is easy to calculate if you’ve followed the previous tips listed above.

You don’t always need a complete makeover. Sometimes, you just need a solid pro, to get ads going on a few channels. Yes they will have to plugin to your digital asset management system, Yes there’s activity there, but it’s better that they are providing things to your platform so you’re less dependent on theirs. Why? Because bottom line, marketing is hard. And not every marketing firm will be a high performing fit for your brand or business. And you may have to rotate through a few vendors to get to the right one. You don’t want to start from scratch each time.

5. Own Your Systems & Plans : They Plug Into Yours Not the Other Way Around

Make sure you have an independent core hub system and strategic plans in place. Think of it as your command center. Everything – from your content strategy to your brand narrative – should be in one place, easy to access, and easy to share. Whether it’s Notion, AirTable, or Coda – you choose. But make sure your vendor can sync with it.

  • Strategic plans:
    • Actual written digital strategic plan designed for vendors to plug in to and be aligned with, so you’re not dependent on any one vendor
    • Content Strategy – An organized category structure of topics, themes, content and channels of distribution
    • Distribution Strategy – Spells out all the categories of various message types, what channels you will distribute them on and when.
    • Brand Identity, Brand Narrative, Experiential Touchpoints, Core Messages – This is critical to successful modern marketing
  • Systems: Just a few for starters
    • Digital Asset Management – a tagged and categorized catalog of media, imagery, video, ad creatives, and copywriting for your brand
    • Content Management System – Blogs, scripts, downloadables, live here too. All tagged and categorized.

All of this can live together in one hub, that you can give your vendors appropriate levels of access to, in order to drive successful marketing campaigns. Let’s grab a Cup of Clarity and I can tell you more about that.


In the fast-paced game of modern marketing, it's eat or be eaten. These tips can help you rise to the occasion and avoid some major pitfalls. If you follow these tips, the ROI will be more than just financial – it'll be the pride of crushing it in the marketing arena. Let's get it.

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