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11 Signs Your Marketing Company is Scamming You

When it comes to advertising and marketing, how do you decipher what is best for you and who’s trying to take advantage of your ignorance on the topic?

Micki Woods is a marketing and business development specialist for the automotive industry. She used to own her own body shop and was on the management team of one of the largest auto body shops in Los Angeles County. She now speaks, teaches and emcees events across the country. Visit Micki’s website at mickiwoods.com or email her at [email protected]

As a body shop owner, you know how to manage and operate your shop. But when it comes to advertising and marketing, how do you decipher what is best for you and who’s trying to take advantage of your ignorance on the topic – a.k.a. scam you?

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I’ve been involved in the collision repair industry for 15 years working directly with other marketers, and now owning Micki Woods Marketing, I will tell you this: just as there are a lot of shady shops, there are a lot of shady marketing companies. Because of my experience, I can sniff them out a mile away, but how would you ever know you were being lied to or misled? Chances are you wouldn’t. You would go along with it in order to better your business because you were expecting the “experts” to assist you as you assist consumers each and every day in a process they know nothing to very little about.

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Just as there are a lot of shady shops, there are a lot of shady marketing companies.


So, how can you know if you’re being scammed? I’m here to give you 11 signs that will definitely tell you if your marketing company is playing a con game. Some of these are a little more advanced for those of you with more marketing knowledge, while others are basic, but all are very real. I recommend you print this article out and give it to your office staff so they can be aware of what to look out for.

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No. 1 – Ghosting

When you first get into any relationship, the beginning is always rainbows and unicorns. Everyone is on their best behavior and giving their all. But, as time goes on, you find out who the other party really is. If your marketing company knocks it out of the park but slowly fades into the distance, then you have a real problem on your hands. Typically, one of two things happened. They have a strategy to get people excited about their services. They do well enough to get you happy with their service. Then, they don’t focus on your account anymore and let that payment auto-deduct every month right into their account while providing little value. The other problem is when you get a lot of attention up front but then you see that the data they’re sending you starts to look worse and worse, so you try to reach out and get a vague response or no response. We see this happen a lot and, unfortunately, by the time they “ghost” you, they’ve gotten your money and have provided little benefit to your business except during that first period.

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No. 2 – If You Don’t Own Your Website

This is my absolute biggest pet peeve with some marketing companies out there. I’ve had clients try to hire me to make changes to their existing website or move away from their old marketing company, only to find that the marketing company owns their website and is holding it hostage! Can you imagine paying all that money to have a website created, but once you stop working with XYZ Marketing Firm your website gets shut down and you get locked out of any images, text, etc., that you want to move to a new site? Make sure you ask any marketing company that wants to build a site for you if you will own that site at all levels of creation and review your contract to make sure there’s no fine print stating otherwise. If there is, practice your NSYNC moves and say “Bye Bye Bye”!

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No. 3 – Not Sharing Data, Logins or Keywords

When working with a marketing company, many times the marketers have to create accounts for you and we have logins and a lot of data on our end. You, as the shop, are paying for the services but you also own those accounts that are being created on your behalf.


If the company you’re working with withholds any logins, keywords or data, that’s a huge red flag.


Make sure any logins and other information you would like to receive are passed along to you. If the company you’re working with withholds any logins, keywords or data, that’s a huge red flag that they have something to hide.

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No. 4 – They Don’t Have a Website

Welcome to the year 2021. If your marketing company is legit, they will have a website…and at least a decent one. Simple as that.

No. 5 – Not Providing Regular Reports

The marketers who want to keep you in the dark as much as possible are the ones to be leery of. Depending on the services your marketing company is providing, you should be receiving either weekly reports or at least a monthly report showing the fruits of their labor. It’s also ideal to have them talk you through those reports so you at least have a basic understanding of what’s going on. My shop owners will often ask questions or have input that helps my team tweak our efforts to make things even more effective. So don’t shy away from getting those reports, asking questions and having those conversations.

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No. 6 – Collecting Your Ad Spend Directly

For those of you doing Google, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn ads, you’ll have what is called your “ad spend.” That is the amount of money you’re paying Google, Facebook, etc., to push your ads out. That ad spend should be paid directly to the platform itself. What we’ve seen, however, is that you pay your marketing company a management fee to create those ads, tweak them, etc. In addition, you have another flat fee you’ve allotted for the ad spend. If you pay XYZ Marketing Firm a single lump sum, you’re not guaranteed that full ad spend allotment is going to your ads.

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Here’s an example: The marketing company says they’re putting $1,000 towards the ads themselves (ad spend) and will charge you a flat cost for management fees. In order to make more money for themselves, they’ll actually give themselves an extra $250 out of your ad spend. In this example, that additional $250 means you only end up getting $750 (versus the $1,000) in ads, which means you aren’t getting as much exposure as you should be getting – and you’re none the wiser. It’s a roundabout way of ripping you off, so don’t let them collect your ad spend directly!

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No. 7 – High Setup Fee for Small Monthly Projects

If you’ve ever done work with a contractor, you know that you should not pay all up front, right? Because you know the incentive to get the work done at a high level will go right out the window. They already have their money, so why bother working hard or keeping on schedule? I hear of companies doing this to unsuspecting business owners all the time.


If your upfront cost is double, triple or quadruple the cost of your monthly fee moving forward, alarm bells should be ringing!

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You may not know what a high setup fee would be or what a small project would entail, so know this: if your upfront cost is double, triple or quadruple the cost of your monthly fee moving forward, alarm bells should be ringing!

No. 8 – Spam Emails

We have shop owners forward us emails asking us if what the sender is claiming is real. The subject line might be “Your Google Ads account has been hacked” or “Sign up today and get a free business listing” or “You won the award for The Best Shop of Boston,” etc. The majority of it is garbage, unfortunately. Here are a couple ways you can identify whether these are real: first, if the email address of the sender doesn’t have the business name after the @ symbol ([email protected] instead of [email protected], for example) or it’s some other generic email like gmail or icloud, it’s probably a scam. Secondly, if you Google the company’s name (don’t click the website link in their email since it could be a phishing scam), you will often find Google results talking about how this so-called company is a scam. If it’s not a scam, you’ll see several regular websites that will validate this company along with a legitimate company website listed on Google that you can check out.

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No. 9 – Suggesting Spending More to See Results

Many marketing efforts such as Google Ads or geofencing are based on an amount you spend to push out ads to people. As you just learned, that’s the ad spend. We always recommend a minimum ad spend to make sure you get traction. If your ad spend isn’t getting good results, then increasing that can be beneficial. However, if a marketing company’s only answer for your ads or your geofencing not working is that you need to increase your spending, they do not know what the french toast they’re doing and you should probably abort the mission.

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No. 10 – Poorly Placed Conversion Tag on Website

If you’re savvy with websites or marketing, then go ahead and read this one. If not, skip to the last point!

When doing online/digital marketing, one of the things we do is put a “conversion tag” (code) on your website. This allows us to see if the site visitor actually did what we wanted them to do on that page. For instance, many marketers place a conversion tag to show when someone got to your contact page. That feels nice that someone visited the page you have your location and contact info on, but how do we know if they did anything with it? The correct place for a conversion tag would be once they’ve clicked to submit a contact form or submitted a form for an online estimate. That would be confirmation that they aren’t just looky-loos but real customers who are converting to a potential car in your lot – and also confirmation that our marketing efforts converted.

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Why is this a scam tactic? Think about if someone shows you how many visits they drove to your website if they’re doing a Google Ads campaign for you. That number is going to be very high, say 350. But what if a lot of those people were actually looking for a mechanic in your area or your website didn’t have what they wanted so they weren’t true customers for your business? You would never know. You would think, due to the marketer’s reports, that they were driving a lot of traffic to you and would not know that it wasn’t quality traffic. If the conversion tag is placed in a way to know if someone takes action on a site like filling out an online estimate, then we know exactly how many real customers they’re driving to you. Let’s say only two people out of those 350 filled out that form. Now, the picture is shifting. You would never have that info to know you were wasting your money if the marketing company placed the conversion tag in the wrong place.

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My team places the conversion tags in appropriate places so we know if we need to change up our ads, move the placement of things on the website, the verbiage, etc., to know if what we’re doing is working or not. Otherwise, we would just be shooting in the dark.

If your marketing company is doing online marketing for you, make sure you’re asking how they’re tracking conversions so you know the quality of the services and leads.

No. 11 – Falling Into the Lollapalooza Effect (Fads)

Salespeople know that business owners want to be on the cutting edge and don’t want to get left behind. So, they play on what we call the “Lollapalooza Effect” or the hype of something new. There are always new whoszits and whatszits coming onto our radar, but if a marketing company is always pushing you to jump on board the latest fad without offering significant metrics to prove it would give you a good return on investment, then they’re taking advantage of the excitement over simply doing something new and different.

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In the same vein, if our clients call us and ask if they should be doing Instagram ads or get on Clubhouse, then, after having a conversation about their business and goals, we can steer them in the direction that would get them the biggest bang for their buck. If your marketing company is full of “yes men” who are just looking to take your money and allow you to hype yourself up, then they’re simply taking advantage of you.

Summary

Hopefully these 11 tips will help you navigate the waters of marketing and see red flags before you’ve gotten too deep. And, if you ever have questions or want a second opinion, you know where to find me: [email protected].

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