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Are you thinking of hiring a content marketing agency for your business?

Maybe you already have one. But wait a second – what is this ‘transparency’ thing you keep hearing about? I mean, their office SEEMS to have windows, so it’s all good – right? Kidding.

But let’s have a look at the photo above for a second (because we certainly didn’t add it for style!).

Look at that chap on the left – let’s call him ‘Joe’. Joe’s just about to buy some marketing services from that bloke on the right – let’s call him ‘Roy’.

Does Joe even know what he’s actually getting in that box? Hmmmm. Roy could be selling him anything in there. And how will he know if he’s getting everything he paid for?

Transparency is something all agencies should have automatically for clients, but what is it and why is it so important? Let’s take a closer look, below:

What is transparency and why is it needed?

Let me make this clear straight off the bat – if you’re paying a content, SEO or digital marketing agency to provide services for you every month, you need to know exactly what you’re getting for your money!

You’d think this would be a given, but you’d be surprised how many businesses I’ve spoken to who have stumbled on this question, and replied with something like: “I think they’re… ummmm… well. They’re taking care of my SEO. I hope it’s working,” or “They’re doing my social media campaign, but I couldn’t tell you how.”

Transparency is knowing the following:

  • The exact services you’re paying for every month
  • The work that has been completed in that time – and anything that for some reason hasn’t happened
  • The results your agency is achieving for you, reported in detail on a monthly basis
  • That you’re able to communicate, ask questions and be kept up-to-date with everything your agency is doing – that includes any problems or issues!

I’ve worked for my fair share of agencies over the years, and you’d be surprised how many things go wrong behind-the-scenes. A lot of them would rather bite off their left foot than tell the client, for fear of being fired. And the client? Well, mostly they remain completely oblivious.

The best way to keep things transparent with your agency of choice

If you’re reading this and you already have an agency, take note. These are the very basic things EVERY agency should be doing with their clients, so if this isn’t happening for you, ask why.

transparency painting

1. Know the plan

What’s the plan? Well, it’s essentially your content, SEO or digital marketing strategy. All agencies need one, and it will outline what activities they’re going to be doing for you, and why (based on your S.M.A.R.T goals). It should also be tracked, monitored and adapted as you go along.

A strategy is important for delivering a better ROI, and getting your business to where it needs to be. In the past, I’ve seen ‘social media strategies’ that have basically consisted of posting humourous photos to an FB page, with no real call-to-actions or purpose. (DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME, DEAR READER)

That is NOT what I mean by a strategy.

Your marketing agency should also be happy to explain WHY they’re choosing to go down a certain route, and what results they’re looking to achieve from it.

2. Track their activities

If your marketing agency is just giving you a report at the end of each month, you’re living in the dark ages! With most agencies (especially for content, inbound or holistic strategies), marketing should be a collaborative effort.

Project management software (such as Basecamp, Asana, Teamwork – and so many more!) should be something that you’re included in as a client. It allows you to go in and see the work that has been completed, and the work currently underway at any time during the month.

Okay, so not many clients like to get too involved in this – they’re too busy running their own businesses. However, it’s still a nice option to have, and it’s there if you’re ever curious or want an idea of how long something might take to be completed.

Pro Tip: Check out this article by Cloudwards about some of the best virtual team software tools available right now. We’ve used many of these ourselves at some point!

Some of them also have handy communication functions, where you can add in files and attachments that everyone on the project can access. It’s nice, and it makes you feel more involved.

3. Access to automation software

Regardless of the automation software your marketing agency chooses, you should be able to access it and learn how it works. You might have no interest in using it yourself, but it’s still useful to know – as you’re the one paying for it!

Agencies who don’t give you access and then threaten to ‘turn off’ your marketing if you cancel with them should be avoided at all costs. With HubSpot, this isn’t possible – however, with other platforms, it’s still a possibility you should be aware of.

No-one should want to hold YOUR leads and YOUR content ransom.

4. Detailed marketing reports

marketing reports desk

Finally, detailed marketing reports are usually delivered on a monthly basis. But not just in a spreadsheet you have to work out yourself – your marketing specialist should be happy to go over your results in a call. They should explain what they mean, and what’s going to happen as a result.

If they haven’t gotten the results they’re hoping for, they should explain why, and what they’re going to do about it. You should feel comfortable enough to ask any questions you have, so you can feel confident in going forward.

TIP: Most agencies will be careful to manage your expectations – for example, content or inbound marketing can take months to start working, so you shouldn’t be too disheartened if you’re not seeing massive increases by month three.

They should also be happy to listen to your suggestions and take your opinions on board – not just shut you down.

How to ensure transparency from the very beginning

After all – the very beginning is a very good place to start! [No-one tell Julie Andrews I just referenced the Sound of Music when talking about content marketing]

If you’re only just looking to hire a content or digital marketing agency, it’s important to ask them about many of the points above. This should also include the type and quantity of deliverables you can expect every month, and what you’ll be getting for your money.

Trust your gut. You should be able to get a good feel for the agency just by how they treat you, and how they answer your questions. If they’re vague, probe deeper. They should be asking questions about your business and your goals to get a better idea of the services they should be offering you.

TIP: It’s also worth talking to two or three different agencies to see how their proposals differ! You might find one seems to be offering you more value, whereas another may be charging more for services you don’t really need.

And finally – if an agency guarantees you results? Run away!

Final thoughts

Transparency is absolutely essential for any marketing agency. Especially with things like content or inbound marketing (which in my opinion should technically be the same thing if we’re looking at holistic services), it’s important to collaborate and work closely together.

So, if an agency isn’t showing you what’s going on? Time to look elsewhere.

What do you think of this article – sound advice? If there’s anything you’re unsure of, or perhaps anything important I haven’t mentioned, just pop me a comment below!

Remember: You is kind, you is smart, you is important.

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