Marketing

Working with a marketing agency? Here’s how to avoid the curse of a bloated budget

James Sutton /

As anyone who’s ever hired an agency or freelancer will know, embarking on a shiny new project with an external contributor provides conflicting feelings of excitement and apprehension.

Unfortunately, many agencies take businesses on a bumpy ride, snowballing a project until the scope of work is bloated and complex.

Marketing, advertising and digital agencies make a living from convincing their clients that all the bells and whistles are necessary. Many are skilled at taking their clients on the ride with them, using their excitement for the project as a means to grow the budget beyond what’s necessary.

Don’t get me wrong, excitement is vital for the project — but businesses need to make sure their agency is focusing on the end goal and catering exclusively to their needs.

A lot of the time, agencies aren’t even aware they’re doing it. They also get carried away with the project, adding endless hours of workshops, design iterations and meetings filled with way too many staff. The end result might look nice, or sound cool, but is it really helping your bottom line?

Businesses are primarily focused on one goal: making more money. The problem is, many agencies are more focussed on what they believe is the best option, which often has nothing to do with helping their client’s business grow. 

Finding a solution

So how can businesses avoid the curse of the bloated budget, and streamline the entire operation down to something much leaner?

First of all, approach every project with a clear understanding of what you want to get out of it. Simply saying ‘I want my site to look better’ isn’t good enough. Ask yourself how this new brand positioning, experience or communication stream will help grow your business. 

Find an agency or freelancer who asks these questions too. If you get the sense they’re simply trying to make your problem fit their specific solution, they’re not worth your time. Agencies who take the one-size-fits-all approach will convince you that you need their entire offering, no matter if it fits your specific requirements. A true business partner is one that understands your business problems, and takes steps to solve them — even if that means suggesting you spend your money somewhere else.

Search for a lean agency. By lean, I mean one which avoids the curse of too many managers, decision-makers and problem creators. If it’s taken you several hours and an entire team of people just to book in an initial meeting, you’re probably wasting your time. Instead, find an agency filled with accessible, direct and honest people. They might be slightly harder to find, but they do exist. 

Finally, if you don’t understand something, ask. So many misguided projects could have been solved by simply asking: ‘But what does that actually mean?’ New jargon, acronyms and buzzwords pop up all the time, and most of it is designed by insecure people who want to sound smarter in meetings. In reality, asking your agency to explain something better is the smartest thing you can do.

A lot of the time, jargon is used to make an offering sound more complex and important than it actually is. As Hamish Thompson told The Drum: “A few years ago, I remember seeing a business describe itself as ‘a global leader in the adhesive labelling solutions sector’ and I thought, what you mean is ‘we sell stickers’.”

Don’t be fooled by these kinds of wordy over-complications.

This article isn’t designed to put you off agencies. In fact, there are many great agencies out there that truly do approach projects with a business’ interests in mind. The real task is sorting the helpful ones from the snowballers.

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James Sutton

James Sutton is creative partner and founder at STUDIO LDN.