Changing Digital Marketing Provider Isn't Always A "Silver Bullet"

Or why even if you think it's broken, sometimes it's better not to fix it

I recently got an urgent-response-required email from a former client.

This client had ceased using my services the best part of a year ago (everything ended amicably, they just wanted to bring all of their digital marketing activity under one roof and run it all via their website development company).

So why was my support required all of a sudden? 

Long story short, their new Google Ads agency (not the web development company mentioned above, but another company that they had brought on since then to run their Google Ads) didn't have sufficient permissions in Google Analytics to do some conversion tracking work.

The old new agency (the one that took over from me) had told the new new agency that I still had all the admins for everything - which wasn't correct.

In the end I managed to get to the bottom of the matter and set everything straight, and the moral of the story isn't about the importance of knowing who has admin control over your digital accounts like Google Ads, Google Analytics etc - that is a story for another time.

However, what was interesting is that during this process I managed to get a glimpse into how the digital advertising for this former client had progressed since I finished up. Now they were on to their second agency after finishing up with my services, you would assume they must be getting spectacular results to warrant changing provider three times in under a year.

You'd be wrong.

It doesn't appear that the needle has moved at all. As part of the process I got to see the performance data for this client, and they are no better off than they were when I was managing things (nor any better off than they were when the web development company was managing digital advertising).

Looking back over some historical information, this client has worked with about seven different digital agencies or freelancers in the past few years, and apart from a couple of phases of distinct improvement (one of which I am proud to be responsible for) this process of chopping and changing hadn't yielded much fruit.

In fact, I would argue it is detrimental to the business as there is always a cost involved with changing a provider. It takes your new agency or contractor time to get up to speed with your business - there is an intangible value to the knowledge of your business and industry that an established provider has - there can often be turbulence in terms of performance if there are substantial changes made to digital strategy or campaigns, and then there can be additional expenses in terms of set up etc.

Now I'm not just writing this article in the hope that a client of mine reads it and decides not to ditch me for the big shiny agency down the road. In fact, much of the work I pick up is from businesses that have been disappointed with the results they get from the conventional agency model ... so why on earth would I tell businesses to consider sticking with their current agencies or other digital providers?

The answer is simple - moving provider is very rarely a silver bullet, at least in terms of transforming your digital marketing performance. 

That is not to say that there are no good reasons to change your digital provider(s). Good reasons include: 

  • Poor service - I recently did some advisory/strategy work for a business whose web development agency said they could not action a couple of simple changes on their site until early 2022. This type of service (or lack thereof) is unacceptable. If your digital provider just isn't looking after you and taking too long to get things done, then of course that's a valid reason to change. 
  • Lack of communication - This is related to the point above, but somewhat distinct. If the only time you hear from your provider is invoicing day, then you might wish to move somewhere that is a bit more responsive - ideally even proactive in terms of communcation. 
  • Genuinely subpar performance - What constitutes good performance is one of those "how long is a piece of string" questions. Unless you and your provider have clearly-defined, measurable KPIs in place (which can be a double-edged sword, as so many factors are outside of any agency or contractor's control) it can be challenging to determine if you are getting performance that is above or below par. It's also important to remember that in this business, inputs don't necessarily equate to outputs. A Google Ads specialist might be able to generate better returns on ad spend in half the amount of time than a digital marketing "generalist" ... does the fact that they did less work mean their performance should be assessed differently? As I said, this is hard to measure and in some respects you'll need to go on gut feel. 
  • Excessive cost - As per the point above, price and value aren't the same thing. Changing to a cheaper provider might cost you money if you wind up with fewer leads and sales. At the same time, there are some making out like bandits in this industry, charging massively over the odds. 
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Any of these would be good reasons to consider swapping your digital provider(s)

However, in my experience (working for myself, and also in digital agencies in the past) many clients change provider almost out of a sort of "boredom" and misguided belief that a new provider will be a panacea to all their problems. 

So if you're thinking of changing digital provider (for any service, whether digital ads management, web development or anything else) it's important to be introspective and ask yourself why you're looking to do so.

Is there a genuine concern with regards to performance, communication and service, or perceived value for money? 

Or does the relationship just feel a little stale, or you've got a touch of the "shiny object syndrome" going on as the new agency has a flashier website and a better coffee machine in their office?

If there's something you're not happy about with regards to your current provider and the service they are providing, then it's well worth discussing that with them first. It might be that they are not even aware of the problem, and will be happy to rectify it. You then get the benefit of retaining that existing provider (and all their built-up knowledge of your business and industry). For example, if you need more detailed reporting on campaign performance, then ask for it in the first instance.

To conclude, it's important to remember that changing your digital provider isn't necessarily a silver bullet, or a magic ticket to better digital performance.

While there are some very good reasons to change, there is also a lot of change that occurs that may not necessarily yield fruit.

In writing this I might be discouraging a potential customer from ditching their current digital provider to come and work with me. That's a risk I take ... at the end of the day I want what's best for the businesses I work with (as well as those I don't).