The Good, Bad, and Honest Sides of Marketing Agency Life

No matter where you fall in the ecommerce or marketing world, you’ve likely had some sort of experience with a digital marketing agency. If you haven’t, you probably will in the future. There are a lot of connotations (good and bad) that come with the word “agency” and we’re here to provide our insight based on experience.

To clarify, at Metacake we do not consider ourselves a marketing agency. In fact we prefer to call ourselves the “unagency” because we strive to be a company that operates a little untraditionally. We’re more of a hybrid ecommerce growth team and while we provide some services similar to what marketing or digital agencies may provide, we have a different reason for why we exist and a different take on how we work with clients and brands. Unfortunately the word “agency” carries a lot of baggage, negative connotations and misconceptions for a lot of folks. For us, our mission is to Grow Brands That Matter. We believe healthy businesses can be an extremely positive influence on our world as a whole. Everything we do is put through that filter, and so we work with brands who fit that model and we help them hit massive scale in healthy ways. While we provide services to select brands similar to what an agency would provide – our most valuable service is our experience in growing highly influential brands. We also create free and paid educational content like books, guides, videos, talks, workshops, and more (our books and “growth” guides are linked below), and we work with capital partners to bring products and brands to market that may otherwise not make it there.

The point here is that challenging the traditional model and addressing common issues is important to us, and we’ve learned a lot over the years about how to create successful relationships with service partners whether you’re the service partner or the client brand.

Keep in mind that as we talk about the good, bad and honest sides of digital agency life, we’re referring to agencies in the traditional sense. Not every group fits inside a box, but many experience similar types of challenges that are important for all of us to learn from.

What’s great about digital agencies?

One of the best parts about working for a digital agency is that you get to work with a variety of interesting and cool brands. Working with a wide range of businesses means you have the opportunity to meet all kinds of passionate people and get the first look at innovation behind the scenes. You have the chance to partner with these brands to help them break new ground, innovate in new spaces, and reach their fullest potential.

Working for an agency also promotes your personal growth and development in a few ways. The variety of clients you work for helps you stay current, as opposed to being siloed with just one brand day in and day out. You’ll also learn a lot from each company you work with, and the knowledge that comes from that experience boosts your value for each brand you partner with in the future.

What about the honest challenges of agency life?

As mentioned, traditional agencies come with some challenges. These are challenges we’ve experienced or seen firsthand that affect the relationship between the agency and the brand. As an “unagency” we actively fight against these issues and may have some insight to help you do the same.

1. Lack of mutual respect

Traditionally, the agency/client relationship can feel imbalanced, as opposed to a true partnership built on mutual respect. Often referred to as “brand and vendor” relationships, they appear transactional since the vendor (agency) is providing a paid service for the client.

At Metacake, we actively fight against this mentality. It’s important to work with people that respect us and the partnership we have. Without that, we don’t have the necessary foundation to create great, effective work together.

If you work for an agency and want to develop these respectful partnerships, start with making sure that you are excellent at what you do. Be confident in your abilities and the value you provide in your niche. From there, you will be able to enforce that attitude of respect and make sure your value is appreciated.

2. Need for discipline

This one is simple but crucial. At an agency, you’re working on various projects for multiple brands on any given day. This can get challenging to manage, so good time management and the ability to balance all of these different projects are important. The only way to achieve that is to enforce discipline and organization in your life. It’s critical to your success!

3. Importance of leadership

Another challenge in the agency world is that a client’s emergency will always feel like your emergency. However, your clients’ fires are not always yours to fight at the drop of a hat. You must learn how to evaluate the situation and discern whether it truly needs immediate attention.

If these emergencies become a trend for your client, take a leadership role, teaching your team and the client about how to plan ahead and avoid these situations. If your client is volatile, you’ll be living in stress or fear alongside the client. Planning ahead will be beneficial to both sides!

4. Relational issues with clients

When working for an agency, you’ll have a direct contact (maybe more than one) on the client side to work closely with. Your relationship and stress level are often at the mercy of his or her temperament.

To avoid stressful situations, Metacake works to foster a relationship with our clients at the beginning. It’s smart to meet with them early on in the sales process to help discern whether they’re a good fit. However, keep in mind that everyone has up and down days. It’s your job to communicate with the client, understand their needs, and help manage them. If you don’t have this ability, you’ll either find yourself a servant to the client, or approach a situation without tact and damage the relationship.

5. Volatility

The agency world is volatile because many agencies have only 2 to 3 clients that make up 80% of their income. While it’s awesome to land these partnerships, relying on massive contracts is dangerous because it means your business is only as stable as theirs.

The best way to combat this volatility is to find a way to diversify. Establish a rule where you don’t allow any of your clients to account for more than X% of our revenue. Agencies shouldn’t need to have a thousand clients and figure out how to serve them all. But balance is important for the health and longevity of your company.

6. False perception of value

In the agency world, the value of your work is often simplified to a narrow equation; you’re exchanging your time for money, which is not a good trade. While this can’t always be avoided, your value should run a little deeper than merely your time.

We encourage you to be as profitable as possible, or you can’t help anyone. If you can become excellent at what you do, you will become truly valuable to your clients. Then you will be able to charge based on that value, and the profit side will take care of itself.

7. Potential deception

No one would like to own up to this particular challenge in the agency setting, but it is an issue that is easy to fall into if you’re not careful. It starts with a lot of fear on the agency side, feeling as if they can’t be transparent with the client for fear that they may appear inexperienced or unsure about certain tasks. As a result, agencies tend to be generalists. They say yes to everything and overcommit with the intention of figuring it out later, all because they’re nervous to lose a client.

We highly recommend fighting that temptation to hide behind a curtain. Spend time becoming a true specialist in your area so you can handle your tasks with confidence. It might not be relevant or smart to show the client everything that goes on in your office, but you shouldn’t have to be a generalist or an over-committer if you take ownership of your work.

Why do we do what we do?

With these challenges at hand, many agencies are at risk for a toxic environment with a revolving door of employees. However, as we mentioned, Metacake works every day to be a different type of team.

Why do we push to rise above the stereotypes and work outside the box? It’s simple. We’re driven by our mission, which is to partner with awesome teams and brands to help companies that are changing the world for good. Whether that’s through great products, strong values, innovative concepts or amazing customer care, we love helping people that are making the world a better place.

That may sound a little idealistic to all you cynics out there, but if you meet us or our clients, you’ll see that’s truly what we love to do. We’re passionate about commerce, entrepreneurship, innovation, marketing, and technology and we use those interests to drive massive growth for businesses we believe in.

Our Books

Our Growth Guides


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