Feeling the burn: when your advertising budget and efforts go up in smoke


It’s not uncommon when meeting new clients interested in digital media strategies to hear they’ve been burned by digital media companies. Perhaps you’re one of them.

Have you been let down by poorly performing individuals or staff turnover? How about campaigns for Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Google +, Twitter and LinkedIn that cost a lot but don’t deliver results? Have you dealt with web developers who are well meaning but still overcharge and under-deliver? Sadly, these scenarios are all too common in digital marketing.

I have heard of many companies that have tried to back out of their contracts because they feel ripped off: all that outlay for no measurable result. However, they still know they have to ‘do digital’, so they end up re-signing, re-trusting and then get re-burned all over again.

Digital marketing money pit

Often, business owners and managers get frustrated and emotional when discussing what hasn’t worked. Sometimes there are tears. I can reassure, offer reliable contacts and my condolences, but it’s hard to get business people who have been badly burned to trust.

You know the most common thing I notice? They should have been more cautious – especially with signing contracts.

Recently, a man and his wife with a medium-sized business showed me an email they sent to an Australian media giant detailing the impact the stress of advertising as a “cost with no return” had on them.

Both husband and wife had been diagnosed with cancer, yet they were locked into a contract where their dollars may as well be thrown on a bonfire. To say they were emotionally, financially and physically compromised is an understatement.

Digital marketing results? What are they?

I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve looked at reports from other media providers that are simply meaningless. With my experience and training, I am able to make some sense of them. Most customers have no idea what they’re looking at. The agencies giving them reports bank on that ignorance.

At Mash Media, we do everything we can to help you understand why and how what we do gives you value. It’s why our reports include a glossary of the measures we agree upon, especially:

  • CPC – Cost Per Click – The amount each click on your paid ad in the search results deducts from your AdWords budget.
  • CPM – Cost Per Thousand impressions – Instead of paying per click, you can pay per 1000 impressions. An impression is each instance when your ad was displayed in search results, whether there was a click or not. (The M stands for ‘mille’, the Latin term for thousand.)
  • CPA – Cost Per Acquisition – The budget of a campaign divided by the number of acquisitions it achieved. (Yes, it’s possible to create digital ad campaigns where you are only billed when you score a new customer or make a sale, not for clicks or views).

Your confusion helps their bottom line

It’s a well-known saying in advertising: It’s easy to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. Here are some common digital deceptions that some marketers foist on clients:

  • Burn and churn models where the agency extracts an upfront fee but has no intention of actually doing a good job of your advertising. This works for big media companies as they play a pure numbers game: they can afford to lose your thousands because they make millions elsewhere.
  • Salespeople who lack morals and push the wrong products and packages because they’re focused on filling their own targets rather than what’s best for your business.
  • Overpromising and under-delivering, which is either intentional because the marketing provider thinks they can get away with making you crazy promises, or unintentional because they’re inexperienced and don’t even know they’re making crazy promises.
  • Leaving you in the dark about what you have really been sold, so you end up with strategies that don’t deliver the results you expect (especially in SEO).
  • Social media campaigns that are not set up correctly or tested before you’re pressed to invest a major spend.
  • SEM (AdWords, etc.) campaigns that are poorly managed through ‘set and forget’ systems. Instead of being a Premier Partner with a proven track record who beavers away making your paid ads cost-effective, these marketers let the automated features of their SEM platform do everything. Instead of proactive communication, you only hear from them when an invoice is due.

How can I get accountability from a digital marketer?

Firstly, if you’re like many SMEs, you don’t have anyone on staff with technical digital marketing knowledge. You also probably won’t have the budget for a dedicated marketing manager, nor the time to study up yourself. It takes 300-plus hours to stay on top of Facebook Blueprint, Google AdWords certifications, SEO tools and all the other things you need to know.

Even marketing managers with shiny new degrees often have no practical knowledge on how to:

  • Increase a business website’s digital footprint
  • Improve on-page SEO
  • Boost overall ranking for your selected keywords
  • Write blogs effectively
  • Keep up with various social media platforms
  • Understand Google Analytics
  • Refine your pay per click (PPC) campaigns.

What should my digital advertising cost?

Honestly? Nothing, because digital advertising should not be a “cost”. Advertising campaigns should provide a clear, transparent and positive return on investment (ROI). While you might have to spend money on SEO to improve your organic search result, you should actually derive a greater benefit from appearing on relevant searches in a better position.

Good SEO means referral clients should find you easily and potential new customers who search for your products and services in your elected region should regard your website as relevant.

Advertising partnerships should be enjoyable and profitable

Have you thought about engaging a consultant? When I work with companies, we agree together on actions and monthly budgets. Together, we agree on how to best use their budget. Together, we agree on strategies that use the full resources at Mash Media in Australia and New Zealand.

Even though your campaign might not need it all, through Mash Media I have access to everything your business needs to deliver a great digital campaign:

  • Graphic designers
  • SEO managers and analysts
  • Copy and content writers
  • Google SEM campaign managers
  • Social media experts
  • Project managers
  • Web developers
  • Technical advisors
  • Brainstorming team sessions
  • Budget controllers.

These and more are what a full-service digital agency should provide. It’s all here to help you.

Honest and upfront digital marketing advice

We will work within your budget guidelines. If we can’t improve what you’re doing with your budget, we will tell you upfront. A case in point, the couple I mentioned earlier now face such severe financial constraints (including binding contracts) that I had to break it to them that the scant funds left in their advertising kitty weren’t enough to make the difference they need.

Even when I can’t make an effective difference directly, I give advice freely, send emails proactively and follow up on people who are on the verge of giving up. Why? It’s the right thing to do. Someone has to help. I believe what goes around comes around. I know people have referred friends and colleagues to me for reliable advice and integrity in business.

Don’t give up on digital marketing

Please, do your homework. Don’t just look at online reviews. Don’t just look at what worked for someone else. Those people could have worked with a different salesperson, a different campaign manager, or been from a different industry.

When you are thinking of doing digital marketing, I want to you really think it over. Don’t be pressured into signing if you have a ‘glitch’ anywhere in your body, or you feel any discomfort in the meeting. Your instincts are probably right. You are well within your rights to ask for verbal assurances in writing. Remember, your marketing agency needs you more than you need them. Beware if they try to make it seem the other way around.

Instead, treat your advertisers and marketers the same as if you were hiring an employee:

  • Speak to their previous clients
  • Look for experience
  • Ask for examples and case studies of their work in your industry or region
  • Get more than one quote
  • Try before you buy
  • Speak to staff in the company
  • Get a feel for how the working relationship will go
  • Ask for things to be broken down for you in language you understand.

You must be able to trust your digital marketing agency

Even though I travel all over the place, I actually live on the South Island of New Zealand. There is a saying among we Southlanders that’s been used for over 100 years to reinforce a done deal:

“You’re only as good as your word, so a handshake’s as good as a contract.”

Those agreements made verbally and sealed with a handshake should mean something. They do to me. If you or I can’t trust that, then it doesn’t matter how ironclad the written contracts are. We still feel the burn.

As Digital Media Manager Australasia, I consult on and create effective digital marketing strategies for clients like you in Australia and New Zealand.
My diverse career in digital technology, business management, print production and advertising means I am a uniquely powerful voice at the table.