Digital Agency Red Flags

I've been in marketing for 16 years and spent six of those working at digital agencies. Throughout this time I have encountered all sorts of strange and shady business practices that agencies do to their clients. My hope is that if you are considering hiring an agency, or going to work for one, that has these policies, you'll think twice about it.

  • The agency will only work out of their own ad accounts, especially on Facebook. The reason this is an issue is if the client ever decides to part ways with the agency, they cannot take their account with them. ALL of the data and learnings will be lost. Ownership of Facebook ad accounts cannot be transferred.
  • The agency will create its own Facebook pixel or use its own Facebook pixel on the client's ad account. I've seen agencies claim that this is done for the benefit of the client because "our Facebook pixel has significant data on it that will improve your account's performance". Cool. They can share the pixel with the client's ad account and build an audience off of it while still using the client's pixel. The client should ALWAYS own their pixel.
  • The agency requires that you pay the ad spend directly to them, and in advance. Typically, this is a sign that the agency is outsourcing the work to another company, a contractor, or they are upcharging. Otherwise, the client should be able to attach their credit card directly to the platform i.e. Facebook Ads, TradeDesk, Google Ads, etc., and pay the ad spend themselves. Another reason not to do this is if the client decides to leave the agency, it will be incredibly difficult to get the agency to return the unused ad spend.
  • The agency charges one flat fee and that fee includes the ad buy. This was really popular back in the early 2010's and generally targeted small business owners. The issue is that many of those agencies were not transparent about how much of their flat fee went to the ad buy and how much was eaten up by management fees. In some cases, as much as 90% went to management fees.

I know this isn't an exhaustive list, so what did I miss? Have you encountered red flags when working with or at an agency that you think others should be aware of?

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