Internet Marketing

Bad Monkeys (Part 1): Getting the Most Out of Your Agency

Bad Monkey
Everyone who has worked in internet marketing for more than 5 minutes has encountered the following situation: Someone, somewhere says something like, “I notice that the first chart on page 7 shows our bounce rate on the Press page jumped by 10% in February.”

It sounds like a reasonable enough question. Why is your bounce rate increasing, anyway? There is a great urge in this situation to dive deep into the stats and let no one within six degrees of Kevin Bacon rest until the question is answered.
And this is wrong. Questions like this fall into a category of activities I call Bad Monkeys. Let me explain…

Internet marketing is inherently complicated—much more complicated than print, radio, or TV. The scope of knowledge required, the rapidity of change, and the elusive but sometimes achievable goal of measuring what you do with precision are simply “bigger” than in any other marketing medium.

And everything done online generates reams of data. (Note I said “data”, which are simply numbers, as opposed to “information” which I define as data-driven actionable conclusions). One side effect of this avalanche of data is that no matter how successful a project or campaign appears to be, if one is inclined, there is always a way to take a particular slant or angle that poses a question.

That’s just the nature of any business that generates so many numbers. Asking those questions is very easy. Answering them is also fairly easy, but takes time.

A lot of time.

These facts make a big impact on the life of an internet marketing agency. Given that clients want to keep their spend efficient, you can quickly run into a situation where either a) results suffer, or b) the agency loses money on the account. Neither a) nor b) lead to a long-term relationship, so any superfluous activity should be avoided like the Bad Monkeys they are.
The antidote for Bad Monkeys can be summed up in two concepts: overall results and trust.

Overall Results
Given that your agency needs to be profitable on your account and that you do not want to pay for a dozen extra hours a week for marginally important activities, you should work with your agency to pick a handful of meaningful goals, and spend the vast majority of your time working towards and measuring against this limited number of key outcomes. Phrased another way, your agency should spend every possible minute doing the things that give you the biggest return on your investment.

This does not mean everything else just goes into a black box and you should never ask questions. Your agency should provide details of what they do as part of the natural discussion about what has worked, what didn’t, and how to maximize results. But all evaluation should be with an eye to the top line results. Second or third tier questions without immediately obvious answers should be investigated only if the answer is highly likely to lead to significantly improved overall results. This means some questions will be left unanswered–and that’s ok!

In short: Your internet marketing agency probably could answer every question that could be posed, but you don’t want to pay them enough to do that, which leads me to…

Given the complexity, there has to be a high level of trust that what your internet marketing agency is doing is in your best interest and that they are competent, capable, etc. There’s not a lot of discussion necessary here: if you don’t trust your agency, stop working with them. Without trust, there is simply no way to make an internet marketing agency relationship work, no matter the results. Someone, somewhere, can always find another question.

The Way Forward
So the next time you feel yourself wanting to let a Bad Monkey in the room, stop and ask yourself these two questions: 1) Is this agency delivering against the overall goals we set? And 2) Do I trust them?
If the answer to both questions is “Yes”, then throw a banana over your shoulder to stop the Bad Monkey and run. This will give both you and your agency more time to do the things that give your firm the maximum benefit. In part II of this post, I’ll discuss how to handle a situation where your boss is the one who brings a whole posse of Bad Monkeys to every meeting.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Ahh…the temptation by internal marketing people (and others) to justify their roles at their companies by nitpicking on the Internet marketer’s results.
    Last year I had a project fail because of a terrible internal marketing director. He actually started to cite his old 1970s college design courses and question typographical choices. He got so caught up in stupid, irrelevant details that the big picture got lost, the proposed direction for both the site’s design and its Internet marketing got thrown out, and today? The company is bankrupt.
    You bring up two important points about big picture and trust. Currently, I’m dealing with another internal marketing director who, again, is resistant to change and nitpicking the wrong things. He has been with his company for a shorter time than they’ve commissioned me to be both their designer and ongoing SEO. Any suggestions on how to handle these sorts of people in a diplomatic fashion? I don’t want to nail the guy to a cross because I have to continue to work with him (and he’s pretty nice) but the changes he’s suggesting do nothing to advance the client forward as they requested of me when I was originally hired.

  2. Reese, thanks for the thoughtful comment. Three keys to dealing with the situation you describe. The first two are empathy and education.
    First, empathy. You made an important point–this is a nice guy who’s trying to make it work. That means a lot. In your communication, stress what you have in common: You care about total revenue? So do I, you can say, so let’s focus on that. Gently steer towards common ground at every opportunity, making the differences feel smaller until they are smaller.
    Second, education. Often the person in charge of the internet agency does that job simply because they were the best computer person in the marketing department. (True fact: I got my start managing an agency for “that whole internet thing” simply because everyone came to me when they had Excel questions. That was my only qualification). So the level of personal knowledge may be low. And I can almost gaurantee that the level of institutional knowledge about measuring internet results is low. So use your empathy for what they are going through and explain things slowly, carefully, and repeatedly. This is our mission, our mantra as internet marketers!
    The final way is the subject of my next post: How to Manage Your Boss. Check back next week for that entry, and thanks for the great segue.

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