The Truth About Agency Transparency

The topic of agency transparency is nothing new, but it usually concerns the scruples of big media agencies when it comes to media buying and the kickbacks they receive on your behalf.

But there are other areas that are subject to less-than-optimal clarity too, and in 2021 there are fewer and fewer reasons why you, as the client, shouldn’t expect full transparency – across strategy, task-planning and, critically, results.

While many clients may have a super-open relationship with their agency and know inside-out what’s going on, it feels like the majority still aren’t asking the right questions, which leaves them open to getting less value for money for their monthly retainer, and a lower chance of hitting their business goals to boot. Insult, meet injury.

Questions to Ask

The truth is that if you don’t demand to know what your agency is up to and how they’re committing to tackling your marketing challenges then it’s all too easy for them to hide behind a wall of jargon, technology, or spurious insights, and ultimately take even more profit from your hard-earned cash, while only delivering a fraction of your business’s potential results.

Take the test for yourself – if you can’t answer all of the following questions right now (or find the information easily in your emails) then there’s a chance you need to crack the whip with your agency a little more:

  • What is their mid-long term strategy for delivering results?
  • What tasks are they working on this month to drive results?
  • What results did they drive last month, and how did these compare to their expectations?
  • How are they reaching your audience and why have they selected these channels to deliver against your objectives?

These agencies are relying on you being too busy with other priorities to concern yourself with what they’re doing each and every day. And if they can hide behind not-bad results, (or even quite good results) then why should they try any harder? Of course, the reason is that they could increase your traffic/conversions/revenue and help you hit or smash your targets, but as long as they’re being paid the same amount – that’s not really a strong enough incentive to push for better.

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Reporting

Let’s look a little deeper at the most important area where agencies often come up short in my opinion: reporting.

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For many agencies, the reporting process consists of pulling out a sheet of which numbers make them look best each month and trying to direct your attention towards those. Whether or not they’re worth anything to your business is a different question. There’s rarely an indication of WHY we’ve seen these results, or how these results compared to the expectations they set.

You don’t have to settle for this though – challenge them to do better. As an absolute minimum, you should be getting both qualitative and quantitative analysis of each channel’s performance every single month without fail.

I know if I were a client, a bad month of results wouldn’t bother me too much if there was a clear indication of what had caused it and what was going to be done about it. Really all you want is to know is that someone has thought about what’s best for you rather than sleep-walking through the same old actions as the week before.

Task Planning Transparency

You should also be able to request a similar level of transparency on task planning – a critical yet often under-valued process that will ensure your agency is adhering to the strategy they set rather than just wandering aimlessly through the digital wilderness each month.

For any agency worth their salt this is a standard activity that they’ll undertake as a matter of course, so the info will be readily available within minutes. But if they huff and puff around and it takes a few days to come back, you can assume that the strategy is only considered when the retainer is up for renewal.

A decent task plan should include time estimates too. This will help you understand if they’re hiding behind ambiguous phrases with your budget: “optimisations” is a classic one – depending on the amount of activity you have going on this shouldn’t account for more than a fraction of the monthly allowance.

What to Do

My recommendation isn’t to suddenly demand every iota of detail from your agency – that would be a waste of your time and theirs. But make sure you’re asking the right questions and being given the right answers that indicate they’ve got their finger firmly on the pulse of your marketing: are they focused on the right tasks, pointing in the right direction and striving for the right results to take your business to the next level. And if you don’t know that they are, then they probably aren’t.

Incidentally, perhaps we should encourage the same level of transparency from the aforementioned big media agencies when it comes to their media buying. A friend of mine that works for one of the big boys has admitted he has never (not once!) planned a media campaign based on what would suit his client best, so much as what inventory they have to get rid of, and will therefore look best on their own bottom line.


At Hallam we pride ourselves on the open relationship with all of our clients, it’s not just one way though. We challenge our clients as much as we expect them to challenge us. It’s what makes us better.

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