Digital Marketing Blog

4 Things To Never Compromise On When Vetting an Agency

Andrew McLellan
September 2, 2022

Vetting an agency can be challenging. There are a million of them, and they each promise something different. While one works in hours billed, another might work on retainer. You're generally having to get locked into a long-term contract and hoping you'll get the results you need to justify the cost.

I have worked in agencies for almost 15 years and know the behind-the-scenes secrets of what you can expect. If I was vetting an agency, here are the four things I would never compromise on:

Don't Sign Until You Have Met Your Team

Once you reach the final stage of choosing between two agencies, you must meet with the team that will work on your account. You don't want to ask for this too early as it will be hard to maintain that person's bandwidth, but once you get to final selections, you want to ensure that you're not getting someone with little experience or who isn't capable. You can also run into issues with personality clashes, and it's better to figure that out before starting. Some other reasons for this:

  • The quality you get in the sales process might not be the same as what you get on the services side. Many companies have grown not because they provide the best work but because their sales team is good at selling. By meeting the team, you can see if there is a disconnect. Suppose they refuse to let you; this could also be a good indicator.
  • If the salesperson is good, they will do what they can to close the deal. By getting this objection, they will want to ensure the service team puts its best foot forward. You'll likely guarantee you're not getting someone in the bottom half of the group.
  • Once the agency starts working, your main point of contact will make or break how the campaign goes. If you can kick off the relationship by saying, "I was choosing between multiple agencies, and the reason I went with yours is because of you," that can help build rapport and get the person invested in the account. It can also give that employee more leverage in salary/position negotiations, which can mean they stick around longer. Having to re-explain your business to a new person can majorly set back progress.

Quick tip: It can be worth trying to negotiate that if your point of contact leaves, there is an out clause if the new person isn't meeting your needs. By negotiating, you can save yourself from a bait and switch for your point of contact.

Get References

This one might seem obvious, but you would be surprised to find out how many people do not follow through with this step. While getting references in a similar industry is excellent, I would focus more on people utilizing the same services you will be. If you use the SEO and PPC teams but the reference is from someone using marketing automation, this won't be as telling. Once you talk to the connection, I would ask:

  • What services are you using? 
  • What has the impact been on your revenue? 
  • What have you found to not live up to what you expected from the sales process? 
  • How long have you been working with this agency? 
  • In that time, how many different points of contact have you had? 
  • What keeps you here as a client? 
  • When was the last time someone from leadership checked in with you? 
  • How much has your investment with this agency grown over time? 
  • If it hasn't, why not?

Quick tip: Dig in when discussing with references. You want to ensure you understand what makes the person a happy customer and will match up with what success looks like to you. If what you care about is revenue growth, but the reference only talks about brand building, it might not be the best fit.

Make Sure You Understand Exactly Where Your Fees Are Going

Once you get to the proposal and contract stage, start digging through what you are receiving for your investment. What to look for can be unclear if you don't have much experience with digital, or the channel you're working with, so make sure to ask many questions. In some cases, it may require analysis to fully understand what you're paying for; however, they should still be able to give you an idea.

How often will there be communication? Is reporting once a month or once a week? What frequency will someone be in your account? How many pieces of content can you expect? These are all reasonable questions that should help set the right expectations for the campaign. If all you get are vague answers and nothing definitive, I would be worried about either the process they use or there is a disconnect between sales and service. These could be good questions to ask your point of contact when you talk to them.

When you get answers, it's essential to try to get them into the contract. For example, if you are supposed to receive a report monthly by the 5th, I would get that in writing. Getting everything in writing could go for any deliverable or expectation. If they are unwilling to put it in the contract, I would not trust the action to happen consistently.

Quick tip: If they make promises about what you will receive, ensure you get them in writing. Don't let a conversation pass without being documented in the contract or an email. Make sure someone is recording everything. It will save you many headaches down the road.

Read The Contract Terms Carefully

Contract terms can be confusing; however, it's worth digging through to ensure you understand what you are signing and what flexibility there is. Sometimes people can get locked into agreements that are way outside what they expected, and fair or not, they signed the contract. As a quick note, I am not a lawyer; you should consult a lawyer when reviewing legal terms in a contract. With that in mind, some things to look out for include:

  • Where is the jurisdiction if there are any disputes? The jurisdiction is vital to understand and potentially try to adjust to local laws.
  • What is the contract term? Are there any out clauses? If not, can you negotiate any? 
  • What are the payment terms and late fees? If you have specific times of the month where payment will be more manageable due to cash flow, potentially look to change these.
  • Is the company asking for the use of your logo, and are you comfortable with that? Potentially ask for written approval before posting any logos or case studies.
  • Is there an arbitration clause, and do you prefer this? Arbitration is not necessarily bad, but it's worth understanding the legal ramifications here.
  • Is there a non-disparagement or review clause? This type of clause is rare, but it would make me wary if you were basing your choice on positive reviews.

Quick Tip: Understanding the contract you are signing is incredibly important; hiring a lawyer to review it is worth the money if you are unsure.


There is a lot to know and review when vetting an agency. While it's important to never compromise on the above, many factors and inputs can make the difference between getting your money's worth and blowing 10's of thousand of dollars not to see a return. If you feel overwhelmed with the prospect of vetting agencies or want some help, Trellis Consulting can provide agency review services to help you. Let us know below if we can support your growth.