How to find a marketing agency that’ll make you look damn good

Robin Emiliani  /  Jun 20, 2019

Well, hello there, marketer. Here’s your cheerful news of the week: If you’re reading this, there’s a 50-50 chance you hate your ad agency.

That’s right.

In 2016, just under half (48%) of marketers said they were unhappy with their agency partners, and only 8% gave their agency relationships top marks for satisfaction. Then, in 2017, CMO turnover reached its highest level ever. And those stats have only gotten worse since then.

So, what’s going on here? Why can’t CMOs keep their jobs? Why aren’t agencies helping those same CMOs win big and look like heroes? And, more importantly, how can you find an agency partner that will actually knock your marketing out of the park?

The answers start with knowing what a great agency looks like. Here are nine characteristics we’d look for if we were hiring an agency ourselves:

  1. Relax, Janet. They’ve got your back.

It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t:

Your agency shouldn’t be a source of a stress.

A good agency should pluck that stress right off your shoulders and toss it over their own backs. They should be the calm in the storm. They shouldn’t require babysitting or miss deadlines.

And if they aren’t a source of calm? If they don’t have your back?

Fire. Their. Asses. Yesterday.

Marketing is stressful enough without your agency partner falling down on the job.

  1. They bring you new ideas.

You’ve got enough to do without having to come up with every marketing idea yourself. A good agency partner should be constantly bringing you creative new ideas and helping you solve new problems and understand new marketing trends.

  1. They’re risk-takers.

Change is hard. Seizing new opportunities is hard. Getting out of your marketing comfort zone is hard.

But the companies that do change—the companies whose products, marketing efforts, and sales roll with the ever-changing customer desire punches—they win big.

Which is why a good agency partner should push you to take risks and make changes. Not just for the sake of risk itself or to be edgy, but because change is what customers demand. Because taking the right risks can come with big rewards.

  1. They care about your business.

If your agency doesn’t care your business—its growth, its goals, its bottom line—then why are they even in this business?

Getting apathy from your agency? Confront them or let them go. The stakes are too high to hire partners who aren’t excited about and invested in your business success.

  1. They know you as a person too.

Fun fact: Business is just people working with people. (Well, and robots, but they’re not really decision-makers…yet.) And any agency worth their salt should care not only about your business and your customers, but about you.

After all, research shows that social connections at work (and this should include agency partners) increase happiness, lower stress, boost engagement, and improve health—all of which contribute to increased productivity.

  1. They’ve got grit.

According to researcher Angela Duckworth, grit is about sticking with long-term goals. Gritty people keep going through setbacks, they push through distraction, and they finish what they start—even if it takes years.

Grit is a predictor of achievement. People who don’t give up are more likely to get things done.

And that’s what you want from an agency partner. A team that gets things done.

  1. They’re customer-first. Every damn day.

Nearly 50% of brands aren’t meeting customer expectations, survey says.

Your agency should be committed to making sure you aren’t one of them.

Which means they should be committed—passionately, relentlessly—to understanding and representing your customers. If they’re not asking for, developing, or talking about buyer personas, journeys, customer data, and customer advocacy, part ways. You don’t need yet another opinion about marketing that isn’t informed by customer needs.

  1. They’re creative, boundary-pushing badasses.

Brands that take customer-centric, well-thought-out marketing risks reap pretty massive rewards. And those risks only come from creative thinking and a willingness to push boundaries.

  1. They skip the ego and focus on making you the hero.

Those 8% of brands who love their marketing agencies? We’re pretty sure it’s because those agencies are focused on their clients. Helping them win big. Helping them be marketing heroes. Helping them better serve customers and, in turn, reap the brand loyalty, high-customer-lifetime-value rewards.

You know what we think those agencies are less focused on? Making themselves look good. Winning awards. Taking the hero’s mantel on their own shoulders.

Not that winning awards is bad. (Our people have definitely won their fair share.) But awards and accolades and ego should never be the point. Big wins for the client should be.

(I mean, I’m biased here, since Catalyst’s brand purpose is to help marketers be heroic, but why wouldn’t you want your agency to help you be a hero?)

If your agency is all ego, find a new one. Find one that cares about you and your business and your job and your big wins.

Agency partnerships that don’t suck

So, about half of the businesses out there aren’t so happy with their agencies.

And here’s the fix: Fire them.


You deserve an agency that’s passionate about building your business—and your career.

If you’re looking for an agency partner, we’d love to talk. No bullshit. No ego. Just real people who care a whole lot about our clients’ successes. Say hi here.


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