Bringing a social media or digital marketing agency on board can be a profitable way to jump-start your lead generation, sales, or other business goals. There's nothing better than having a specialist in your corner.

But you'll want to avoid the most common mistakes business executives make when bringing on an agency partner. In our experience, these are the most common mistakes made:

You Both Skip the Prep Work

Far too many clients and agencies alike bypass the critical foundational work required to make their partnership a success. Often, this is under the guise of getting started “right away.”

But without the agency knowing, in full detail, every aspect of your business, every step in your funnel, and every personality quirk of your ideal customer, the partnership is doomed to fail.

Good agencies begin with a detailed look at how you both will define success, and what all the steps in the work will be. They should walk you through a process of identifying the important personality traits, demographics, and behaviour of their ideal target. And you should get all that in writing before a single bit of the “real work” gets underway.

The Agency Doesn't Focus on Your Real Objectives

Agencies without a lot of real-world business experience will focus on the “soft metrics” of a campaign, like how many clicks or Likes you got. While soft metrics can provide a rough indicator of performance trends, they should not be the focus of your weekly briefing calls.

The first question your agency partner should be asking in your regular calls is “How's business this week?”

  • If you're a mall: “How was foot traffic and retail sales?”
  • If you're a hotel: “How are room bookings looking?”
  • If you're an HR department: “Are the quality of hires getting better?”

It's not good enough for an agency to say “Well, we can't track store visits that happened as a result of seeing your ad” (actually, you can), or “Your sales happen offline, so we can't attribute those to the campaign” (actually, you can).

A relationship with an agency, at its best, is a true partnership. They should be as obsessed with your bottom-line numbers as you are.

You Opt for the Cheapest Option

Creating a strong-performing Facebook ad campaign, for instance, takes time. In our experience, a basic campaign takes about 8-10 hours of your agency's time (for the creative development, audience research, an ad plan for you to review and approve, deployment of the campaign on the platform, working through any ad-denial appeals that are necessary, monitoring the campaign's performance hourly, and doing a full performance report and client call at the end of the campaign).

You will always be able to find inexpensive providers who say they'll do the work in an hour or two, but that will always result in a low-performing campaign.

As well, the cheap agencies bring the costs down by cutting corners. They won't making the ad creative fit each placement's dimensions, or they'll target too wide an audience, or they'll skip running multi-variate ads, so you'll never know if the campaign's creative is resonating with your targets.

If your agency is handling your social media's engagement and moderation, perhaps they're outsourcing the work to a country with limited English skills, or who don't understand your core business. If your agency is publishing daily organic posts, the links won't fit your business and the copy won't match your brand's voice.

Hiring the inexpensive option is especially dangerous when you're looking for an SEO partner, since they might be employing fast-but- questionable tactics to generate results — results that will come to bite you after they're long gone.

You Select a “Full-Service” Agency

Digital marketing is a complicated tangle of algorithms, best practices, and data.

Full-service agencies who do everything (SEO, Google Ads, public relations, web site development, etc.) can't be expected to be an expert in the complex world of social media optimization. And they usually aren't.

Take the Facebook algorithm, for example. Understanding the fine details of both how to get posts reliably on News Feeds and how to compete inexpensively in the ad auction are paramount. Does your full-service agency understand how ad engagement affects your bid rate? Are they manually bidding or just letting Facebook dictate the ad rates? Are their organic posts scheduled for the right time for your audience? Have they even audited the organic performance of your channel to know?

Agencies which focus on a single category of expertise will always perform better than those which do social media “off the side of their desk.”

The same goes for all digital agencies — choose SEO specialists to get your rank up in Google, choose a firm that specializes in only Google ads to run your SEM, and pick an agency that specializes just in social media to work on that aspect of your business. You'll always get better results than trying to cram all your digital work onto a single generalist agency.

The Agency Runs Ads Under Their Account

Many digital agencies, in an attempt to get started quicker, will run your ads under their Facebook or Google ad account. Or they'll be the ones to set up your brand's ad account and give you access to it.

You should avoid agencies like this at all cost. For one, running your ads under their account means that:

  1. Whatever “reputation” their account has (in terms of a history of declined ads, etc.) will extend to your campaigns. This will result in a higher — sometimes significantly — bid price in the auction.
  2. Ads for another client which are against policy could get their ad account shut down, even though your campaigns had nothing to do with it.
  3. When you and the agency part ways, you will lose access to all the historical performance data, the ad creative, and any good algorithmic position you may have earned.

Often, we hear from clients whose previous agencies set up their ad account. Again, this means you will always need to be in the good graces of the agency, since they will be the top-level admin and can lock you out of your own ad account.

Not Always Optimizing Ad Campaigns

Social ad campaigns are active, living creations that require monitoring and tending to daily. Sadly, many agencies (particularly the busy, all-things-to-all-people agencies) will set up your campaign, hit the Start button, and not look at it again until it has finished. Or if they are monitoring it, that work is often farmed out to junior people or interns as a way of “learning the Facebook ads stuff.”

On Facebook, ad campaigns are controlled mostly by a metric called the Relevance Score (although this is being replaced soon by three metrics).

Relevance score is based on the positive and negative feedback Facebook expects an ad to receive from its target audience. The more positive or goal-completion interactions a campaign gets, the higher the ad’s relevance score will be. The more times people hide or report an ad, the lower its score will be. High relevancy scores are rewarded in the ad market with lower rates.

Your agency should be obsessively watching the critical metrics that indicate how a campaign is performing: At the very least, you should be able to call your agency contact and ask them for your campaign's Relevance Score, Frequency, and Goal Completion numbers. If they're on top of the campaign, they should know those numbers instantly.

As the campaign progresses, they should understand the ad auction well enough to know when to change your bid, when to adjust the creative, and when to tweak the targeting. If they don't, they shouldn't be running your ads.


In short, selecting a partner for your digital marketing or social media is a crucial decision. You should select agencies which specialize in the work you need, and have people you can talk to who can describe the intricacies of the channels.

engageQ digital is a social engagement agency. We're experts in driving business using social media. In fact, it's all we do.

We've worked with some of the biggest brands in the country, like Mountain Equipment Coop, the Grey Cup, the CBC, OK Tire, the Government of Canada, and dozens more. Here's just a sampling of the results we get for clients.

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