The Five Types of Digital Marketing Agencies You Want to Avoid

By Damian Santiago

As the old saying goes, there is one thing that money and degrees cannot buy, and that’s experience!  What’s even better than experience is wisdom. Wisdom can take your experiences and package it so that others can receive it and learn faster.

For those of you who are shopping around for a digital marketing agency, looking to replace your digital marketing agency, or believe that all digital marketing agencies are the same, this article is for you! My wish is to offer some of my wisdom. For the last six years, I have been a salesman in the digital marketing industry and in my time have recognized the five personality-types of digital marketing agencies that you want to avoid.

My goal is to make your search for the perfect agency a seamless and easy process for you. Avoiding these five personality-types of digital marketing agencies will save you heartaches, revenue, and time!

The Five Personality-Types of Digital Marketing Agencies You Want to Avoid

“Turn & Burn Tim” Agencies

“Turn & Burn Tim” is what I like to call digital marketing agencies who are the “macho” type. They like showing off how big their company is, how many employees they have, the square feet of their building, etc. These agencies spend most of their efforts on appearance to attract their prospective buyers.

How to Identify a “Turn & Burn Tim”

You will most likely identify a “Turn & burn Tim” agency during the sales process when in their presentation one of the very first slides is a picture of their massive office building with a caption following stating the number of employees they have. What they neglect to tell you is that 70% of those employees are often salespeople. They have a huge salesforce because 90% of their revenue is generated in new partnerships instead of retention and repeat business.

You can find these types of agencies at the latest trade booths and conferences. They live by the T-shirt motto “suns out, guns out.” When at conferences and trade booths, these agencies are showing off those “guns” with impressive trade booth displays and stands ranging anywhere from $30,000-$50,000 with features like its own private upstairs patio custom-built and top of the line furniture.

In addition, “Turn & Burn, Tim” agencies never ride solo.  At conferences, they are seen with 10-20 employees (all of which are salespeople with maybe one or two exceptions) and if they are not attracting big crowds by their size alone, they usually do it with their outlandish giveaways like New Range Rovers or all-expense-paid vacation destinations.

Why Avoid “Turn & Burn Tim” Agencies?

These agencies usually have a very low Net Promoter Score.  A Net Promoter Score (NPS) judges how happy clients are with a product, service, or company.  The lower the NPS of a company, the higher probability that the company is in the habit of disappointing customers.  These agencies also have a poor annualized client retention rate usually well below industry averages.

Again, they rely on new business instead of repeat business. Case studies are often abstract or irrelevant to your industry like a case study to a one-off bank or a local ice cream parlor. Think of an upside-down ice-burg where the body of the ice is above ground so that what you see is a massive and overly impressive object, but below the water, it floats on a tip that is 1/5 its size.

Underneath that high money rolling appearance, there is a little agency that is unsure how to deliver real results and fulfill the promises made to its partners. Word of mouth spreads and, in the end, they make a big splash as they come crashing down.

“Jack the Terror” Agencies

Jack “the Terror” agencies hold a partner captive by offering to build free websites in exchange for 100 percent control of the sites and a long-term partnership.

Agencies like Jack “the terror” agencies, believe in the motto “go big or go home.” They only sell to corporate offices usually of a franchise network. They do not work with individual franchise locations unless they have a contract to work with all the locations at once or the ability to work with all of them in the future.

Jack “the Terror” agencies love playing the game “hostage” with their partners.  This is where they pretend to be on your side and say all the right things, but the minute you want to add a new vendor to the mix or go a different direction, they make it impossible for you to cancel.

How to Identify Jack “the Terror” Agencies

Be on the lookout for contracts that require you to stay on for three to five years and give them 100 percent control over your website. In addition to this, this type of agency will often demand the partner to sign a non-compete agreement that severely limits who the partner can work with vendor-wise in the future.  This allows for complete and total control without any fights or competitors in the mix.

Why Avoid “Jack the Terror” Agencies?

This one is a little self-explanatory at this point. They will lock you into long-term contracts, own all rights and products including websites, and control what agencies you choose to work with. In other words, they prefer that you eat from their hand. No thanks!

“Bill the Unarmed Bandit” Agencies

Unlike the agencies listed above, “Bill the unarmed bandit” agencies are relatively good-hearted at its core. They are typically personable and friendly. Because of this, they “win” a lot of accounts and retain business well.

The catch?

They do not know jack squat about digital marketing, let alone your industry, and how to drive results in it. These agencies live by the motto “fake it until you make it” except they never really do make it.   Those who work with agencies like “Bill the unarmed bandit” agencies realize over time that results are never going to come in despite the charm and personalized touch given them.

To “Bill the unarmed bandit” agencies, everything is a “test” and no results are guaranteed.  This allows for the continued delivery of poor results without being questioned on it because it was just a “test” that so happened to not work out.

For people who partner with “Bill the unarmed bandit” agencies, it can be difficult to end a partnership with them. Not because of any long-term contract, but because of the relationship that they build with you.  These agencies make it their mission to know everything about you, how many children you have, your dog’s name, your anniversary, etc. so that you feel connected. This connection breeds trust and loyalty even though the data is screaming that they are not a good fit to meet your growth objectives.

How to Identify “Bill the Unarmed Bandit” Agencies?

I gave these agencies their nickname because they come to your table with very little case studies to show you and very little experience to back them up, “unarmed” so to speak, yet they walk away stealing your business somehow like a  “bandit.” They butter you up with their charm and personal touch but in the end, they are robbing you of resources and results.

These agencies do not serve a lot of clients at one time. They operate on quicksand and do not have stable revenue streams or long term retention to hire additional support. They usually sit somewhere between 15-30 employees or fewer with a yearly growth as a company of 10% or less.

When it comes to pricing, “Bill the unarmed bandit” agencies set their fees low enough so that the combination between charm and low fees will secure the contract.  You can usually spot this type of agency by size of the company, experience, and the constant selling point of being “personable”, “custom”, and “one-on-one attention.”

Why Avoid “Bill the Unarmed Bandit” Agencies?

Simply put, they do not know what they are doing, and your results will always be a little obsolete.  If you are a sensitive person who values relationships, I would avoid companies like this right away. It will be very hard for you to end the relationship later even though your business is shrinking.

“Thrifty Sandy” Agencies

“Thrifty Sandy” agencies are all about low fees and “refurbished” products. The fees typically match the level of service they offer you.

Their motto is “cover the basics.” Do just enough that your basics are covered but nothing more. They brand themselves as being the “economical” choice. Over time, they sink into terms like “cheap”, “affordable”, “discounted” to describe themselves.  Being the most affordable is their #1 goal.

This allows them to sign a bunch of small accounts that take little effort to execute. To “Thrifty Sandy” agencies, the results do not matter because the spending is justified. Growth goals for their partners are never a thing that they strive to reach, and accountability is usually not there. After all, you get what you paid for.

How to Identify “Thrifty Sandy” Agencies?

If a “Thrifty Sandy” agency can refurbish something, they will.  Whether it is old blogs, old social media posts, old reviews, they will use these to make their costs cheaper and love to share this with you in the sales process. “Thrifty Sandy” agencies do not believe in “Wining and Dining” clients to gain new partnerships. They prefer to give you the check right away by going immediately to the pricing slide.

“Thrifty Sandy” agencies attract corporate office employees who are responsible for digital marketing yet run on a very tight budget. “Thrifty Sandy” agencies will partner with any company, unlike their counter-part “Cookie-cutter Karen” agencies whom we will read about next.  Contract lengths for “Thrifty Sandy” agencies are usually between two to four years.

Why Avoid “Thrifty Sandy” Agencies?

It is true that they are very economical and if you are on a tight budget, they make a lot of sense to cover the basics. However, if you are serious about growth via digital marketing and would like to dominate your local area, “Thrifty Sandy” agencies are not the partner for you.

“Cookie-Cutter Karen” Agencies

“Cookie-Cutter Karen” agencies motto is “one-size fits all.” They do not believe in customized solutions or “personal touches”, but only a tried and true approach.

When they find success in an industry, they stick with it. They do not believe in serving new industries, trying new services, or implementing new tests. The biggest complaint “Cookie-cutter Karen” agencies receive is dullness and a lack of creativity.

How to Identify “Cookie-Cutter Karen” Agencies?

“Cookie-Cutter Karen” agencies want long-term relationships.  They do not waste their time with uncommittable partners or partners who want a custom approach.  These agencies also dislike being told what to do. More often than not they try to avoid one-on-one meetings with their partners since this could invite unnecessary feedback and criticism of their “sound” and “true” process.

If a partnership fails, it is never their fault, but the blame is almost always given to the partner’s “unusual market” or area they serve. If partners try to end the partnership, “Cookie Cutter Karen” agencies will demand full payment.  They live by the saying “you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”  When it comes to fees, they are typically on the low end which helps justify their cookie-cutter approach and releases them of any custom solutions that are needed to find real success in a market.

Why Avoid “Cookie-Cutter Karen” Agencies?

“Cookie-cutter Karen” agencies are not necessarily bad. If in a network where they have a tried and true process and a big collection of offices using them and seeing good results, then it is a statistics game.  Chances are, you may be like their clients, but if not, you most likely will not see results. In my opinion, you should avoid “Cookie-Cutter Karen” agencies because of their lack of creativity and custom solutions for your local market.  Your website and your social media channels will have a generic feel to them as opposed to a local feel. If you are in a city that is quite defined by suburbs or areas unknown to most of the world, you will want to avoid “Cookie-Cutter Karen” agencies.

Save Yourself the Time, Money, and Peace

So, the next time your searching for a digital marketing agency, look out for these five-personality types in digital agencies and avoid them at all cost.  You will be saving yourself a lot of time, money, and peace. Cheers!

About the Author

Damian is a couch philosopher and theologian at heart.  He loves sitting around with friends and family to talk about God, country, and family.  He loves being active and cherishes group sports which he plays almost weekly.  His favorites are ultimate frisbee, softball, golf, and disc golf.