10 Questions To Ask An Advertising Agency Before You Hire One

Read this first: 

Real quick, let’s address the obvious…  Obviously, we are an advertising agency, so you couldn’t be faulted for thinking this whole article is just one big biased sales pitch, but that is in no way my intention.  During my time as both a consultant and a media buyer/agency operator I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about business owners hiring so called “agencies” that are really just some 21 year old kid that bought a Facebook Ads course online, and is now selling their service as an “expert”.

It is also not my intention to dissuade you from hiring another advertising agency just because they don’t do things the same way we do things here at Profit Layer.  There are a lot of great agencies out there, with a lot of different methods and standardized operating procedures, etc.  I’m not a “my way or the highway” kind of guy, and hopefully this article does not come across that way.  That being said, I have tried to keep these questions and answers intentionally broad so that they could be applied to the hiring process as basic principles and not neccessarily as “Yes” or “No” copy/paste questions.

Cool?

Cool.

Over the past several years, our team has had the opportunity to consult with hundreds of business owners regarding their advertising.  In that time, there have been many recurring points that have popped up during those conversations.

All of which can essentially be boiled down to,

Business owners generally do not know how to interview or hire advertising agencies.

Which is understandable.  It’s tough to hire someone to do a job that you yourself have not specialized in at some point.

Sometimes the business owner ends up hiring an inexperienced or lazy agency that just doesn’t know what they’re doing, but most of the time the issue is just a matter of poor communication from both parties, and improper expectations being set up front.  Most of these situations can be solved simply by asking the right questions during the interview.

That is the purpose of this article… To give you the right questions.

This is probably not an exhaustive list, but it should cover the vast majority of points where issues seem to pop up the most.

 Note:  If you’d rather get the cliff notes version of this post, you can download it using the link below. We’ll send it to you via Facebook Messenger (cause we’re fancy like that).

It’s not nearly as thorough, and some of the context will be missing, but it’s enough to get you through an interview with any agencies you might currently be vetting.

Here goes…

Question 1:

Have you ever run ads for a business in my industry? 

If so, what were the results?

While you might think that this is a make or break question, that is not necessarily the case…

But depending on what “season” you are in with your business, this could determine the type of agency you hire.

See, even if the advertising agency that you are vetting does not have experience in your industry, a good agency will have a process in place to complete the market research, creative development, funnel and follow-up validation, and all the other elements that need to be in place for a successful advertising campaign.

That does not mean that their scope of practice includes all of those other activities, but simply that their process SHOULD allow them to step into new industries with minimal learning curve.  If an agency does NOT have that process, it is likely that they are an immature (young) agency that has either not been around long enough to develop that process, or they are simply disorganized.

The other factor that comes into play when hiring an agency that specializes in your industry, is that if you hire someone that runs ads for all of your competitors, your advertising is probably going to look a lot like the advertising of your competitors…

“Most innovation comes from outside your industry, 

applied to your own.”

– Tony Hsieh – CEO of Zappos

The answer that you’re looking for from the agency representative here really depends on your unique business and advertising goals, as well as what “Season” your business is in.

If you’re new in business, stability and reliability may be your top priorities, as small mistakes made early on can sink a startup very quickly. In this case, it may be a good idea to look for an advertising agency that specializes in your industry. They know what works and likely have a history of decent campaigns that can then be replicated for your business. They probably won’t blow you away with their creativity or out-of-the-box thinking, but they’ll likely get the job done.

If you’re a little more established in business, and this isn’t an advertising campaign that will make or break your company, then you may be better off working with a more creative and diversified agency that has experience across a wide variety of industries. These are the types of companies that are often able to come up with innovative strategies and unique creative that rarely come from more specialized agencies. That being said, an agency is only going to be as creative as you allow them to be. If you hire an agency like this, but then you are not open minded enough to entertain any of their suggestions, you might as well just go with the copy-paste niche agency.

As for the “What were the results?” portion of this question… DO NOT expect that an agency will tell you WHO they ran ads for and what the numbers were. This information should be confidential unless the other company allows its disclosure.

They should however be able to tell you what their average ROAS (return on ad spend) and CPA’s (cost per acquisition) are for clients in similar niches with similar offers. Just no specifics.

Keep in mind that even if the numbers seem high, it may simply be that you have unrealistic expectations. Contrary to what client success stories, case studies, and testimonials may have you believe, 30X returns are NOT the norm in any industry.

Which brings us to our next question…

Question 2: Here are my expectations… Can you tell me if these are realistic?

As one of the primary members of our Agency who often ends up taking calls from prospects who are NOT referrals, I get the opportunity to speak with business owners of all kinds, and from all walks of life.

One thing that I often encounter from business owners and entrepreneurs alike, both aspiring and experienced, is that they have very unrealistic expectations of what digital marketing can accomplish. Facebook Ads as a niche is especially bad for this.

It’s our fault as marketers and advertisers really… Agencies and so called “gurus” who gain some level of notoriety in the space end up using cherry picked case studies and testimonials to market their client results and, because of their large follower count on social media, skew the expectations of business owners looking to hire an agency.

I spoke to a prospect several weeks ago who was expecting that we would be able to consistently get quality leads to book calls with him for less than $10 per phone call. This is in no way a realistic expectation, but it’s not his fault for thinking that it might be possible. No doubt some advertiser had a 3 day streak 18 months ago where he managed to get a client 4 calls for $10 each, then blasted that all over social media as a case study, and now there are dozens of business owners with that expectation.

Any advertiser or salesperson can tell you what you want to hear and assure you that “Yes, your 200X ROAS is totally possible!” but an experienced and competent advertiser will tell you the following,

 

1) “I don’t know what to expect for YOUR business, because every business is a little bit different.”

2) “A lot of the success of this campaign is going to depend on things like the load speed of your website, your sales teams ability to follow-up and close calls, the quality of your product or service and what others have/are saying about it online.”

3) “While I might not be able to tell you what the results of this campaign are going to be, I can give you a realistic range of where similar clients have landed in the past.”

 

For example, that prospect I spoke of a moment ago who wanted sub $10 booked calls… I informed him that on average, and depending on the industry, niche, follow-up, etc., he could likely expect booked calls to land somewhere in the range of $80 – $200 AFTER both the offer and campaign had been optimized, which can take anywhere from 30 – 90 days.

Did he become a client?

No. Because for him that was just so far outside of his expectations that he couldn’t see how that would work. It didn’t matter that for his company a single lead could be worth up to $50,000…

The point is, a good agency will not just tell you what you want to hear just to sell you… They will tell you what outcome you can realistically expect and then let you decide for yourself.

Question 3: Do you manage the ads in house, or do you outsource them to other agencies/contractors?

This is also not always a make or break question, but it is a great question to ask because it gives you an idea of the dynamic and of the stability of the agency you are vetting.

If an agency outsources accounts to contractors rather than employees, it is likely that the agency does not have a single proven process as I discussed above. It is more likely that they have a bunch of different contractors and freelancers who have all worked in different agencies in the past and all have their own unique way of doing things.

This can be great as it can accelerate innovation IF and only if all of these contractors and freelancers communicate with one another. But this is almost never the case.

Before we started ProfitLayer, and GS Media before that, I worked as a freelance Facebook ads manager for an agency, and I had zero contact with any of the other freelancers working on other accounts. However, we all had the same point of contact (the agency owner) and she was able to facilitate that internal communication for us, so that we could all test out one anothers tactics and strategies. She would see something that worked in another freelancers account, and then bring that to me on an account that I was struggling on.

If an agency has this dynamic, it can be very helpful as you are essentially reaping the rewards of having all of those often brilliant minds put to work on your account.

However, if they do not have this dynamic, and none of the freelancers communicate with one another, it is almost always preferable to have an agency that manages everything in house.

There is more accountability, more internal communication, more consistency, and just a more harmonious and less chaotic working environment. This will usually (in my experience) translate to more stable and consistent client results and a far better working relationship with the agency.

All that to say, hire an agency that manages accounts in house whenever possible, or at the very least, treats their freelance account managers as they would treat employees.

Question 4: How do you determine a campaign, ad set, or ads success?

If an agency rep answers this question with anything other than some form of,

“It depends.”

Run.

The variety of campaign mediums, types, objectives, etc. that are available to choose from are too many to list, so the only acceptable answer at this point in the discussion is,

“It depends.”

The end.

Question 5: How do you track results and then report those results to me and my team?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients about ad agencies (ours included) is,

“I just didn’t know what was going on…”

Or…

“There just wasn’t enough communication.”

Which are both basically saying the same thing.

Being able to concisely update clients on campaign results is one of the most challenging parts of running an ad agency, simply because almost every client is a little bit different, and not every client wants the same information.

It can also be very challenging because some clients just do not have the ability or the desire to view their marketing holistically.

Let me explain…

I once had a client selling a digital course. The course had 3 levels, each with more 1-on-1 involvement from the owner.

He wanted a report that looked like this,

1) How many booked calls/sales did I get where the last click was from a link in an email?

2) How many booked calls/sales did I get where the last click was from a Facebook ad?

3) How many booked calls/sales did I get where the last click was from Facebook messenger?

As you might expect, for about 70% of the results, the last click was from email. For about another 20%, the results were from Facebook Messenger. And for a very small percentage, the last click was directly from a Facebook ad.

I was always very careful to point out, however, that the ONLY way that people were getting onto his email list or his messenger list, was from Facebook ads. So when we looked at first click attribution, it was almost 100% from Facebook ads.

This client didn’t care, and decided to shut his ads off and just rely on email and messenger.

2 months later I saw he had fired up an ad campaign again, after he had no doubt bludgeoned his lists into oblivion with endless calls to action, wondering why his conversion rate kept going down and down and down.

The point here is that, while I was providing him with a detailed report each and every week, as well as periodic phone calls, this client only heard what he wanted to hear and only saw what he wanted to see, and from what I heard, almost drove his business into the ground as a result.

So, well it is very important for you to be getting WEEKLY updates from your agency (daily is far too frequent and monthly far too infrequent), be sure that you actually pay attention to what they are telling you as opposed to just scanning the reports for the data that YOU want to hear.

At ProfitLayer, we often structure our client reports and touch points as follows,

 

Discovery Call – This is essentially the sales call, where we first get introduced and get to know one another.

Jumpstart Call – This call only happens once we have decided to work together and have begun the onboarding process. It’s just to make sure that everything is on track and that we have everything we need from you to get started.

Check-In Calls – For the first 1-2 months, it’s often a good idea to meet weekly so that we can get things dialled in and profitable as quickly and easily as possible. This is often when clients are the most nervous as well, so it helps keep clients comfortable that they know what is going on. After that, we switch to monthly.

Weekly Video Updates – All campaign results get simplified and the primary KPI’s (key performance indicators) go into a spreadsheet with both monthly and weekly breakdowns of results. This makes it easy to spot trends and weak points in campaigns that need to be fixed. In these weekly video updates we share our screen and provide a 5-10 minute video walking you through all the KPI’s and all the things that we see as being most important from the previous week.

Client Success Manager – We have a full-time Client Success Manager that sends out an email once per week to make sure that you saw your report and to ensure you understood everything and don’t have any pressing questions or concerns.

Asana – We also have daily contact through Asana, our project management tool, which clients gain access to so they can see progress and contribute thoughts and suggestions.

 

If an agency does not have a built in client communication similar to this, then you’re probably not going to be getting what you need from them and probably will not end up sticking around as a client.

Despite our excessive client communication, we still get complaints every now and then that communication is not good enough, or not thorough enough. Often this has little to do with us, but is simply a case of the client not taking the time to review the information and reports that we are sending them.

Don’t be that client…

Question 6: What is the scope of your service? What is included?

Probably one of the most important questions, as the answer to this really dictates whether you’re hiring an advertising agency, a marketing agency, a PR firm, etc.

Basically…

“What do you do?”

ProfitLayer is an advertising agency, so my answer to this is usually something like this,

“We plan, execute, optimize and scale the ad campaigns. We do not touch the website, other than to install our tracking codes. We do not touch email or follow-up other than remarketing ads. We will build messenger bots if requested or if we think they will be beneficial.

“Once we are up and running you should not have to touch anything related to ad creative (unless you want to run video ads), ad copy, ad targeting, or ad reporting.”

And that’s pretty much it.

There are a million and one answers to this question, so I won’t go into all of them, but you cannot set up proper expectations if you do not ask this question and get a thorough answer, so keep asking until you’re satisfied.

If this is not covered before the agency starts work on your campaigns, things will almost certainly fall through the cracks as you’ll be expecting the agency to handle something that you’re actually responsible for, or vice versa.

This one question will likely turn into multiple questions, but make sure to ask any and all you can think of, as any missed ones could cause problems down the road.

Question 7: Do you lock clients into a contract, or is it a month to month agreement?

Agencies that do this make me mad. Don’t hire them.

The only acceptable answer here is “No.”

The end.

Question 8: Do you charge more once a client reaches a certain level of ad spend?

If you know anything about digital advertising, you’ll know that managing $2000/month in ad spend on a platform such as Facebook or Instagram is lightyears different than managing $150,000/month in ad spend, or $1,000,000/month in ad spend.

Agencies that have a set one-size-fits-all monthly retainer are usually charging way too much if you’re a smaller business not looking to spend as much money on ads, or they’re charging way too little for the bigger clients and not giving them the attention to detail that they require.

Some agencies are performance based, but this can turn into an absolute nightmare unless the parameters of that deal are thoroughly discussed and agreed upon in advance. Remember that first click vs last client client I talked about that didn’t understand that ALL of his leads were originally coming from Facebook ads? He would probably have a VERY different idea of what he owed an agency that was “performance based” than the agency would.

Because of this, the simplest way to structure payment is for agencies to create an adjustable retainer that moves up or down based on your ad spend and KPI’s on any given month.

At ProfitLayer, what we do is have a base retainer of $2500/month, or 10% of ad spend, whichever is larger, but the caveat is that it is performance based. So even if we are spending $100,000/month in a clients account, if we are not hitting the agreed upon KPI’s, the monthly retainer is still only $2500/month.

The reason this works is, it incentivizes us to work hard and get as much profit out of the clients campaigns as possible, since in this scenario, hitting our KPI’s equals another $7500/month in revenue.

It also ensures that if we are not able to hit KPI’s, the client is not stuck with a huge management fee after a month of barely breaking even on ad spend.

And really, if we are not hitting KPI’s, we probably should not be scaling their account to $100,000/month or more in ad spend anyways, and should likely either pull back, or part ways.

Essentially we try to structure every working relationship to be a win-win, and if we cannot make it a win-win, we shouldn’t be working together. I suggest you work with an agency that does the same.

Question 9: How many other accounts does the person managing my account currently manage?

This one is getting a little nitpicky, but when it actually comes time for the agency to start running your ads, this one is going to be very important.

Firstly, if an agency doesn’t know who on their team is going to be managing your account by this point in the conversation, they are likely either,

1) A very large agency with designated salespeople who are not informed on the day to day internal operations of the agency. I won’t even go into all the reasons why this is less than ideal. That’s a topic for another day.

2) Near or at capacity, but just in “sales mode” and will have to “overflow” one of their ad managers schedules in order to fit you in, or hire a new ads manager to manage the account, both of which are less than ideal. These things will both impact quality of service, attention to detail, and communication.

3) I am sure there are probably other reasons why the agency rep might not have this information at this point, but most of them are not acceptable.

As the Chief Ads Expert and COO at ProfitLayer, my answer to this is almost always,

“I will personally be managing your ad account and ONLY your ad account until we get everything dialled in and working consistently – as in, you have profitable campaigns that are hitting KPI’s week after week. Then I will hand it off to the ads manager on our team whose skill set I feel matches your accounts needs most accurately, and who has availability. If we cannot get things working within the first 30 days, I’ll let you know, and we can decide where to go from there.”

Question 10: Is someone going to be checking in on my campaigns every day?

Some advertising agencies work 7 days a week, and expect their employees to be checking on client campaigns 7 days a week as well. I’m not gonna lie and say that there isn’t SOME value in that, but at ProfitLayer, we DO NOT work 7 days a week and we DO NOT expect our employees to work 7 days a week, and it has not hurt our results at all.

If your ad campaigns are so unstable and ineffective that they require 24/7 365 management or they’ll crash and burn, well… they probably sucked in the first place.

That being said, our answer to this is,

“Yes, someone will be checking your campaigns every single weekday, and we also utilize a variety of automated rules and failsafes to manage campaigns while we are out of the office.”

Everything from scaling high performing campaigns, ad sets or ads, to turning off poor performers, and even turning back on previously paused ads that had delayed attribution and are now meeting KPI’s.

Digital advertising is an incredibly competitive and challenging industry, and if an agency is not using some form of automation in combination with actual human oversight, mistakes will be made and money will be lost, which is why we use both on every account, and we recommend you hire an agency who does the same.

If having a human review campaigns on weekends is a make or break factor for you, we’re probably not the agency for you.

Bonus Questions:

What do you need from me to be able to get started?

The answer to this question will tell you how organized the agency is. They should be able to quickly and clearly tell you the next steps that you will need to take to start working together. If they can’t it’s likely because they have no processes or systems in place for their onboarding, which is another sign of an inexperienced agency and does not bode well for their internal organization and ability to effectively manage ad campaigns at scale or communicate with you, their client.

The variety of answers here is vast, so I can’t possibly cover them all in this article, but suffice it to say that you should be able to hang up the phone at the end of this call with clear expectations of what happens next. If you don’t, that’s probably not a great sign and maybe you should keep looking.

SUMMARY:

 

In summary, hiring an advertising agency should not be a short term commitment for the vast majority of businesses. If you take your time in the beginning and hire a reputable agency that meets all of the above criteria (or at least provides satisfactory answers), then you should be able to maintain a long working relationship which will make things easier for both your business and for the agency in the long run.

You’ll be able to avoid having to go through onboarding process after onboarding process and testing campaign after campaign without ever actually reaching the optimization and scaling phases.

The agency will be able to actually become familiar with all the inner workings of your business as well as get very familiar with your brand voice, creative preferences, etc.

Not to mention, if you finally come to an excellent agency and tell them that you’ve worked with 6 agencies in the past 18 months, they are likely going to run for the hills as they are going to see you as a potential nightmare client.

And can you blame them?

If you were to hire 6 different personal trainers, and fire every one of them, it is highly probable that the trainer is not the problem. Agencies are no different.

So if you’re currently in the process of hiring an agency, you can request an abbreviated PDF download of this post by clicking the button below,

And if you’d like to add ProfitLayer to the list of agencies you’d like to interview, feel free to use the link below to schedule a call with yours truly,

Cheers,

Glen Hoddinott
COO @ Profit Layer

10 Questions To Ask An Advertising Agency Before You Hire One

Read this first: 

Real quick, let’s address the obvious…  Obviously, we are an advertising agency, so you couldn’t be faulted for thinking this whole article is just one big biased sales pitch, but that is in no way my intention.  During my time as both a consultant and a media buyer/agency operator I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about business owners hiring so called “agencies” that are really just some 21 year old kid that bought a Facebook Ads course online, and is now selling their service as an “expert”.

It is also not my intention to dissuade you from hiring another advertising agency just because they don’t do things the same way we do things here at Profit Layer.  There are a lot of great agencies out there, with a lot of different methods and standardized operating procedures, etc.  I’m not a “my way or the highway” kind of guy, and hopefully this article does not come across that way.  That being said, I have tried to keep these questions and answers intentionally broad so that they could be applied to the hiring process as basic principles and not neccessarily as “Yes” or “No” copy/paste questions.

Cool?

Cool.

Over the past several years, our team has had the opportunity to consult with hundreds of business owners regarding their advertising.  In that time, there have been many recurring points that have popped up during those conversations.

All of which can essentially be boiled down to,

Business owners generally do not know how to interview or hire advertising agencies.

Which is understandable.  It’s tough to hire someone to do a job that you yourself have not specialized in at some point.

Sometimes the business owner ends up hiring an inexperienced or lazy agency that just doesn’t know what they’re doing, but most of the time the issue is just a matter of poor communication from both parties, and improper expectations being set up front.  Most of these situations can be solved simply by asking the right questions during the interview.

That is the purpose of this article… To give you the right questions.

This is probably not an exhaustive list, but it should cover the vast majority of points where issues seem to pop up the most.

 Note:  If you’d rather get the cliff notes version of this post, you can download it using the link below. We’ll send it to you via Facebook Messenger (cause we’re fancy like that).

It’s not nearly as thorough, and some of the context will be missing, but it’s enough to get you through an interview with any agencies you might currently be vetting.

Here goes…

Question 1:

Have you ever run ads for a business in my industry? 

If so, what were the results?

While you might think that this is a make or break question, that is not necessarily the case…

But depending on what “season” you are in with your business, this could determine the type of agency you hire.

See, even if the advertising agency that you are vetting does not have experience in your industry, a good agency will have a process in place to complete the market research, creative development, funnel and follow-up validation, and all the other elements that need to be in place for a successful advertising campaign.

That does not mean that their scope of practice includes all of those other activities, but simply that their process SHOULD allow them to step into new industries with minimal learning curve.  If an agency does NOT have that process, it is likely that they are an immature (young) agency that has either not been around long enough to develop that process, or they are simply disorganized.

The other factor that comes into play when hiring an agency that specializes in your industry, is that if you hire someone that runs ads for all of your competitors, your advertising is probably going to look a lot like the advertising of your competitors…

“Most innovation comes from outside your industry, 

applied to your own.”

– Tony Hsieh – CEO of Zappos

The answer that you’re looking for from the agency representative here really depends on your unique business and advertising goals, as well as what “Season” your business is in.

If you’re new in business, stability and reliability may be your top priorities, as small mistakes made early on can sink a startup very quickly. In this case, it may be a good idea to look for an advertising agency that specializes in your industry. They know what works and likely have a history of decent campaigns that can then be replicated for your business. They probably won’t blow you away with their creativity or out-of-the-box thinking, but they’ll likely get the job done.

If you’re a little more established in business, and this isn’t an advertising campaign that will make or break your company, then you may be better off working with a more creative and diversified agency that has experience across a wide variety of industries. These are the types of companies that are often able to come up with innovative strategies and unique creative that rarely come from more specialized agencies. That being said, an agency is only going to be as creative as you allow them to be. If you hire an agency like this, but then you are not open minded enough to entertain any of their suggestions, you might as well just go with the copy-paste niche agency.

As for the “What were the results?” portion of this question… DO NOT expect that an agency will tell you WHO they ran ads for and what the numbers were. This information should be confidential unless the other company allows its disclosure.

They should however be able to tell you what their average ROAS (return on ad spend) and CPA’s (cost per acquisition) are for clients in similar niches with similar offers. Just no specifics.

Keep in mind that even if the numbers seem high, it may simply be that you have unrealistic expectations. Contrary to what client success stories, case studies, and testimonials may have you believe, 30X returns are NOT the norm in any industry.

Which brings us to our next question…

Question 2: Here are my expectations… Can you tell me if these are realistic?

As one of the primary members of our Agency who often ends up taking calls from prospects who are NOT referrals, I get the opportunity to speak with business owners of all kinds, and from all walks of life.

One thing that I often encounter from business owners and entrepreneurs alike, both aspiring and experienced, is that they have very unrealistic expectations of what digital marketing can accomplish. Facebook Ads as a niche is especially bad for this.

It’s our fault as marketers and advertisers really… Agencies and so called “gurus” who gain some level of notoriety in the space end up using cherry picked case studies and testimonials to market their client results and, because of their large follower count on social media, skew the expectations of business owners looking to hire an agency.

I spoke to a prospect several weeks ago who was expecting that we would be able to consistently get quality leads to book calls with him for less than $10 per phone call. This is in no way a realistic expectation, but it’s not his fault for thinking that it might be possible. No doubt some advertiser had a 3 day streak 18 months ago where he managed to get a client 4 calls for $10 each, then blasted that all over social media as a case study, and now there are dozens of business owners with that expectation.

Any advertiser or salesperson can tell you what you want to hear and assure you that “Yes, your 200X ROAS is totally possible!” but an experienced and competent advertiser will tell you the following,

 

1) “I don’t know what to expect for YOUR business, because every business is a little bit different.”

2) “A lot of the success of this campaign is going to depend on things like the load speed of your website, your sales teams ability to follow-up and close calls, the quality of your product or service and what others have/are saying about it online.”

3) “While I might not be able to tell you what the results of this campaign are going to be, I can give you a realistic range of where similar clients have landed in the past.”

 

For example, that prospect I spoke of a moment ago who wanted sub $10 booked calls… I informed him that on average, and depending on the industry, niche, follow-up, etc., he could likely expect booked calls to land somewhere in the range of $80 – $200 AFTER both the offer and campaign had been optimized, which can take anywhere from 30 – 90 days.

Did he become a client?

No. Because for him that was just so far outside of his expectations that he couldn’t see how that would work. It didn’t matter that for his company a single lead could be worth up to $50,000…

The point is, a good agency will not just tell you what you want to hear just to sell you… They will tell you what outcome you can realistically expect and then let you decide for yourself.

Question 3: Do you manage the ads in house, or do you outsource them to other agencies/contractors?

This is also not always a make or break question, but it is a great question to ask because it gives you an idea of the dynamic and of the stability of the agency you are vetting.

If an agency outsources accounts to contractors rather than employees, it is likely that the agency does not have a single proven process as I discussed above. It is more likely that they have a bunch of different contractors and freelancers who have all worked in different agencies in the past and all have their own unique way of doing things.

This can be great as it can accelerate innovation IF and only if all of these contractors and freelancers communicate with one another. But this is almost never the case.

Before we started ProfitLayer, and GS Media before that, I worked as a freelance Facebook ads manager for an agency, and I had zero contact with any of the other freelancers working on other accounts. However, we all had the same point of contact (the agency owner) and she was able to facilitate that internal communication for us, so that we could all test out one anothers tactics and strategies. She would see something that worked in another freelancers account, and then bring that to me on an account that I was struggling on.

If an agency has this dynamic, it can be very helpful as you are essentially reaping the rewards of having all of those often brilliant minds put to work on your account.

However, if they do not have this dynamic, and none of the freelancers communicate with one another, it is almost always preferable to have an agency that manages everything in house.

There is more accountability, more internal communication, more consistency, and just a more harmonious and less chaotic working environment. This will usually (in my experience) translate to more stable and consistent client results and a far better working relationship with the agency.

All that to say, hire an agency that manages accounts in house whenever possible, or at the very least, treats their freelance account managers as they would treat employees.

Question 4: How do you determine a campaign, ad set, or ads success?

If an agency rep answers this question with anything other than some form of,

“It depends.”

Run.

The variety of campaign mediums, types, objectives, etc. that are available to choose from are too many to list, so the only acceptable answer at this point in the discussion is,

“It depends.”

The end.

Question 5: How do you track results and then report those results to me and my team?

One of the biggest complaints I hear from clients about ad agencies (ours included) is,

“I just didn’t know what was going on…”

Or…

“There just wasn’t enough communication.”

Which are both basically saying the same thing.

Being able to concisely update clients on campaign results is one of the most challenging parts of running an ad agency, simply because almost every client is a little bit different, and not every client wants the same information.

It can also be very challenging because some clients just do not have the ability or the desire to view their marketing holistically.

Let me explain…

I once had a client selling a digital course. The course had 3 levels, each with more 1-on-1 involvement from the owner.

He wanted a report that looked like this,

1) How many booked calls/sales did I get where the last click was from a link in an email?

2) How many booked calls/sales did I get where the last click was from a Facebook ad?

3) How many booked calls/sales did I get where the last click was from Facebook messenger?

As you might expect, for about 70% of the results, the last click was from email. For about another 20%, the results were from Facebook Messenger. And for a very small percentage, the last click was directly from a Facebook ad.

I was always very careful to point out, however, that the ONLY way that people were getting onto his email list or his messenger list, was from Facebook ads. So when we looked at first click attribution, it was almost 100% from Facebook ads.

This client didn’t care, and decided to shut his ads off and just rely on email and messenger.

2 months later I saw he had fired up an ad campaign again, after he had no doubt bludgeoned his lists into oblivion with endless calls to action, wondering why his conversion rate kept going down and down and down.

The point here is that, while I was providing him with a detailed report each and every week, as well as periodic phone calls, this client only heard what he wanted to hear and only saw what he wanted to see, and from what I heard, almost drove his business into the ground as a result.

So, well it is very important for you to be getting WEEKLY updates from your agency (daily is far too frequent and monthly far too infrequent), be sure that you actually pay attention to what they are telling you as opposed to just scanning the reports for the data that YOU want to hear.

At ProfitLayer, we often structure our client reports and touch points as follows,

 

Discovery Call – This is essentially the sales call, where we first get introduced and get to know one another.

Jumpstart Call – This call only happens once we have decided to work together and have begun the onboarding process. It’s just to make sure that everything is on track and that we have everything we need from you to get started.

Check-In Calls – For the first 1-2 months, it’s often a good idea to meet weekly so that we can get things dialled in and profitable as quickly and easily as possible. This is often when clients are the most nervous as well, so it helps keep clients comfortable that they know what is going on. After that, we switch to monthly.

Weekly Video Updates – All campaign results get simplified and the primary KPI’s (key performance indicators) go into a spreadsheet with both monthly and weekly breakdowns of results. This makes it easy to spot trends and weak points in campaigns that need to be fixed. In these weekly video updates we share our screen and provide a 5-10 minute video walking you through all the KPI’s and all the things that we see as being most important from the previous week.

Client Success Manager – We have a full-time Client Success Manager that sends out an email once per week to make sure that you saw your report and to ensure you understood everything and don’t have any pressing questions or concerns.

Asana – We also have daily contact through Asana, our project management tool, which clients gain access to so they can see progress and contribute thoughts and suggestions.

 

If an agency does not have a built in client communication similar to this, then you’re probably not going to be getting what you need from them and probably will not end up sticking around as a client.

Despite our excessive client communication, we still get complaints every now and then that communication is not good enough, or not thorough enough. Often this has little to do with us, but is simply a case of the client not taking the time to review the information and reports that we are sending them.

Don’t be that client…

Question 6: What is the scope of your service? What is included?

Probably one of the most important questions, as the answer to this really dictates whether you’re hiring an advertising agency, a marketing agency, a PR firm, etc.

Basically…

“What do you do?”

ProfitLayer is an advertising agency, so my answer to this is usually something like this,

“We plan, execute, optimize and scale the ad campaigns. We do not touch the website, other than to install our tracking codes. We do not touch email or follow-up other than remarketing ads. We will build messenger bots if requested or if we think they will be beneficial.

“Once we are up and running you should not have to touch anything related to ad creative (unless you want to run video ads), ad copy, ad targeting, or ad reporting.”

And that’s pretty much it.

There are a million and one answers to this question, so I won’t go into all of them, but you cannot set up proper expectations if you do not ask this question and get a thorough answer, so keep asking until you’re satisfied.

If this is not covered before the agency starts work on your campaigns, things will almost certainly fall through the cracks as you’ll be expecting the agency to handle something that you’re actually responsible for, or vice versa.

This one question will likely turn into multiple questions, but make sure to ask any and all you can think of, as any missed ones could cause problems down the road.

Question 7: Do you lock clients into a contract, or is it a month to month agreement?

Agencies that do this make me mad. Don’t hire them.

The only acceptable answer here is “No.”

The end.

Question 8: Do you charge more once a client reaches a certain level of ad spend?

If you know anything about digital advertising, you’ll know that managing $2000/month in ad spend on a platform such as Facebook or Instagram is lightyears different than managing $150,000/month in ad spend, or $1,000,000/month in ad spend.

Agencies that have a set one-size-fits-all monthly retainer are usually charging way too much if you’re a smaller business not looking to spend as much money on ads, or they’re charging way too little for the bigger clients and not giving them the attention to detail that they require.

Some agencies are performance based, but this can turn into an absolute nightmare unless the parameters of that deal are thoroughly discussed and agreed upon in advance. Remember that first click vs last client client I talked about that didn’t understand that ALL of his leads were originally coming from Facebook ads? He would probably have a VERY different idea of what he owed an agency that was “performance based” than the agency would.

Because of this, the simplest way to structure payment is for agencies to create an adjustable retainer that moves up or down based on your ad spend and KPI’s on any given month.

At ProfitLayer, what we do is have a base retainer of $2500/month, or 10% of ad spend, whichever is larger, but the caveat is that it is performance based. So even if we are spending $100,000/month in a clients account, if we are not hitting the agreed upon KPI’s, the monthly retainer is still only $2500/month.

The reason this works is, it incentivizes us to work hard and get as much profit out of the clients campaigns as possible, since in this scenario, hitting our KPI’s equals another $7500/month in revenue.

It also ensures that if we are not able to hit KPI’s, the client is not stuck with a huge management fee after a month of barely breaking even on ad spend.

And really, if we are not hitting KPI’s, we probably should not be scaling their account to $100,000/month or more in ad spend anyways, and should likely either pull back, or part ways.

Essentially we try to structure every working relationship to be a win-win, and if we cannot make it a win-win, we shouldn’t be working together. I suggest you work with an agency that does the same.

Question 9: How many other accounts does the person managing my account currently manage?

This one is getting a little nitpicky, but when it actually comes time for the agency to start running your ads, this one is going to be very important.

Firstly, if an agency doesn’t know who on their team is going to be managing your account by this point in the conversation, they are likely either,

1) A very large agency with designated salespeople who are not informed on the day to day internal operations of the agency. I won’t even go into all the reasons why this is less than ideal. That’s a topic for another day.

2) Near or at capacity, but just in “sales mode” and will have to “overflow” one of their ad managers schedules in order to fit you in, or hire a new ads manager to manage the account, both of which are less than ideal. These things will both impact quality of service, attention to detail, and communication.

3) I am sure there are probably other reasons why the agency rep might not have this information at this point, but most of them are not acceptable.

As the Chief Ads Expert and COO at ProfitLayer, my answer to this is almost always,

“I will personally be managing your ad account and ONLY your ad account until we get everything dialled in and working consistently – as in, you have profitable campaigns that are hitting KPI’s week after week. Then I will hand it off to the ads manager on our team whose skill set I feel matches your accounts needs most accurately, and who has availability. If we cannot get things working within the first 30 days, I’ll let you know, and we can decide where to go from there.”

Question 10: Is someone going to be checking in on my campaigns every day?

Some advertising agencies work 7 days a week, and expect their employees to be checking on client campaigns 7 days a week as well. I’m not gonna lie and say that there isn’t SOME value in that, but at ProfitLayer, we DO NOT work 7 days a week and we DO NOT expect our employees to work 7 days a week, and it has not hurt our results at all.

If your ad campaigns are so unstable and ineffective that they require 24/7 365 management or they’ll crash and burn, well… they probably sucked in the first place.

That being said, our answer to this is,

“Yes, someone will be checking your campaigns every single weekday, and we also utilize a variety of automated rules and failsafes to manage campaigns while we are out of the office.”

Everything from scaling high performing campaigns, ad sets or ads, to turning off poor performers, and even turning back on previously paused ads that had delayed attribution and are now meeting KPI’s.

Digital advertising is an incredibly competitive and challenging industry, and if an agency is not using some form of automation in combination with actual human oversight, mistakes will be made and money will be lost, which is why we use both on every account, and we recommend you hire an agency who does the same.

If having a human review campaigns on weekends is a make or break factor for you, we’re probably not the agency for you.

Bonus Questions:

What do you need from me to be able to get started?

The answer to this question will tell you how organized the agency is. They should be able to quickly and clearly tell you the next steps that you will need to take to start working together. If they can’t it’s likely because they have no processes or systems in place for their onboarding, which is another sign of an inexperienced agency and does not bode well for their internal organization and ability to effectively manage ad campaigns at scale or communicate with you, their client.

The variety of answers here is vast, so I can’t possibly cover them all in this article, but suffice it to say that you should be able to hang up the phone at the end of this call with clear expectations of what happens next. If you don’t, that’s probably not a great sign and maybe you should keep looking.

SUMMARY:

 

In summary, hiring an advertising agency should not be a short term commitment for the vast majority of businesses. If you take your time in the beginning and hire a reputable agency that meets all of the above criteria (or at least provides satisfactory answers), then you should be able to maintain a long working relationship which will make things easier for both your business and for the agency in the long run.

You’ll be able to avoid having to go through onboarding process after onboarding process and testing campaign after campaign without ever actually reaching the optimization and scaling phases.

The agency will be able to actually become familiar with all the inner workings of your business as well as get very familiar with your brand voice, creative preferences, etc.

Not to mention, if you finally come to an excellent agency and tell them that you’ve worked with 6 agencies in the past 18 months, they are likely going to run for the hills as they are going to see you as a potential nightmare client.

And can you blame them?

If you were to hire 6 different personal trainers, and fire every one of them, it is highly probable that the trainer is not the problem. Agencies are no different.

So if you’re currently in the process of hiring an agency, you can request an abbreviated PDF download of this post by clicking the button below,

And if you’d like to add ProfitLayer to the list of agencies you’d like to interview, feel free to use the link below to schedule a call with yours truly,

Cheers,

Glen Hoddinott
COO @ Profit Layer