“Three Ways Your Digital Marketing Agency is Bullshitting You” by Phillip Stutts

Are you a business owner tired of your digital marketing agency not delivering results? What if there was a better way? Are you a marketer who is frustrated with the same old ineffective methods? Do you want to do better by your clients but don’t know how? There is a better way to use digital marketing, and believe it or not, it’s already being used by the people that work in politics. My book, Fire Them Now, explains why political marketing agencies are light years ahead of regular digital marketing agencies, and how you can learn from them to either get more results from your agency, or be a better agency.


One of the strategies I spell out in the book is for business owners and their marketing agencies to cut the gobbledygook and “too safe to be effective” communications on social media advertising platforms. I appeal for them to speak from the heart, have fun, and build a customer following with authenticity.


To prove my point that this is an outlier strategy and too many businesses (and marketing agencies) would rather put out generic content that doesn’t move the needle — I conducted an experiment — and here is the set up.


I had many digital publications ask me to submit op-eds before my book launched. I submitted one that was outrageous in one aspect — I use the word “bullshit” in the title. It was an honest take and it would drive eyeballs to the article. But guess what happened when I submitted this article for publication? Every single editor freaked out and said, “We can’t do that! No way.” Thus proving my point.


So, I’m posting the original article here. It’s an excerpt from my book Fire Them Now. Check it out and if it moves the needle for you, let me know.


Three Ways Your Digital Marketing Agency is Bullshitting You

Phillip Stutts is the author of Fire Them Now — The 7 Lies Digital Marketers Sell (and the Truth about Political Strategies That Help Businesses Win), available for purchase on February 22nd.


CEOs and entrepreneurs everywhere are exasperated, wondering where the money they pay their digital marketing firm actually goes. This frustration has become alarmingly normalized and the rift between digital marketing agencies and the companies that hire them is nearly ubiquitous.


And it’s bullshit.


“Standard” practices in the world of corporate marketing have entrenched a business model and behavior that leads to client frustration, derision and a need for disruption.


And that disruption will take place in a parallel marketplace that’s in plain sight but rarely looked upon to save the day: politics. Political marketing firms work with fewer resources and time than their corporate marketing counterparts — with a massively large ROI. The political digital marketplace has exposed three common deceptions demonstrating that corporate marketing firms are bullshiting their clients.


1. You Must Sign a Long-Term Contract


Companies and CEOs hiring corporate digital marketers sign unbreakable, long-term contracts. No matter what, the client pays the firm for their work over a six to eighteen month period. And after the contract is signed, many agencies even charge hourly fees, like a law firm — per phone call, email, or memo. These fees inhibit businesses and can even halt communication altogether because every time the client wishes to engage their marketing firm they think: “Ugh, this question will cost me $500.”


For these agencies, this is how it’s always been done. And it leads to foot-dragging, generic creative content, and few or underwhelming results.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Long-term contracts don’t exist for political marketing firms. Instead, they start with a probationary trial period of a few weeks or months, and only if the client is satisfied do they continue to work together. Even then the firm still works under a month-to-month contract; they can get fired at any time.


Political marketing firms work for a flat monthly fee, allowing the client to maximize the agency’s time at one consistent price. If a political candidate wants to utilize 1,000 hours of their time per month, the firm has to fulfill that obligation. And because the agency can get fired at any time, the incentive to innovate and deliver is relentless.


2. Your Success is Their Number One Goal


Corporate digital marketers are certainly talented, but their mindset does not and cannot focus on results for the client above all else. Why? Well, their focus is on landing the contract; getting clients to sign on the dotted line to guarantee payment (and sometimes, even a “signing bonus” for the privilege of working with them!) before any work begins at all. This creates a security that kills any incentive for innovation and results throughout the life of the contract.


When the contract, and thus the payday, is secured up-front, the marketing agency wins before the client wins (and regardless of if the client wins). If their strategy fails , the agency still got paid, and it’s on to the next pitch. In this front-loaded mindset, the daily drive to innovate and produce results for clients evaporates.


Yet, the political marketer and the client instantly become a team with the same interests, because a win for the firm occurs only when the candidate wins. Thus, the goal of the client winning on the inescapable deadline of Election Day is the agency’s number one outcome from the outset. Political marketers don’t receive signing bonuses, only win bonuses — and this helps to maintain the drive to win throughout the candidate/agency relationship.


Because bringing in new clients for political marketing firms is based 100% on reputation and referral, these agencies are out of business fast if they don’t win for their clients. If the candidate doesn’t win, the firm doesn’t either.


3. There’s A ‘Get Rich Quick’ Solution


Many digital marketing firms often pitch potential clients on a trend that appeals to the client’s ego. Take developing an app, for instance — it’s stunning and impressive and everyone who is succeeding is doing it, so should they. Anything to get the sale. Not to mention, the marketing firm is perceived to possess “digital trade secrets,” a too-tough-to-replicate special sauce that a prospective client feels they need to make their own business succeed.


Boom — contract signed. Once that app is developed, the marketing firm fulfilled its contractual obligation and then focuses on how they can sell it. Another deposit into their account before the client sees any kind of ROI.


But in politics, there’s a real, (not self-imposed) deadline to win: Election Day. No political digital marketing firm can escape it. This ultimate deadline for winning makes the firm accountable on a daily basis. Agencies have to test and refine their strategy day in and day out to work towards that win. To take it one step further, political marketers face extreme accountability because everyone in the industry (or in the case of high-profile elections, the country or the world) knows when they win or lose.


Working for the Win


The nature of the political marketing landscape makes these agencies’ financial and reputational success dependent on the candidate’s outcome: winning, aligning goals and motivation between clients and agencies in a way that just does not exist for corporate marketers.


CEOs and entrepreneurs should ask themselves, “Has our digital marketing firm worked for our win before their own?” And if the answer is no, demand they employ a political mindset.


And if the marketing firm says they can’t change their mindset — they’re bullshitting. Fire them now.

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