Four Reasons Auto Dealers Fire Digital Marketing Agencies

A consultant tells how to run great campaigns, keep dealership advocacy high, and most importantly avoid getting axed.

George Nenni

September 4, 2018

4 Min Read
Hired and fired
The general consensus is dealerships keep agencies around for about 18 months.

Every successful dealership needs a strong digital marketing agency. Most dealerships are not staffed to provide these services internally, so providers can help drive results. 

I work with many great agencies that know how to run successful marketing campaigns, keep the dealership advocacy high and most importantly keep from being fired. 

For automotive, the general consensus is dealerships keep agencies around for about 18 months. My goal in working with dealerships is not to replace agencies, but to help make them better.

Here are four of the biggest reasons I see agencies getting fired, and if addressed they could keep their dealership customers much longer:

1. Focusing on clicks instead of engagement and conversion. 

Many digital agencies are racing to drive more clicks, more traffic, to boost the top line numbers.

Dealers and businesses don’t need clicks, they need shoppers and buyers. Only focusing on clicks can be a great way to waste the dealers’ money.

I sit through agency calls every week where they talk about impression share, cost per click and moving more budget to keywords or campaigns to win more clicks.  Instead agencies should be following these clicks downstream to the website, measuring not only phone calls but also lead forms, chats and texts, and determining if these clicks were worth paying for.

2.  Only using ad platforms, and not using website analytics.

This is directly related to point No.1, where the agency simply spends time showing the dealership how they are spending the money vs. getting the results.  Ad agencies should require their staffs to learn Google Analytics (the free tool offered by Google) and make sure they have a View installed for every website they are providing marketing services for.

By incorporating Google Analytics into their monthly presentations and success metrics, they are able to show the dealership the end result of their work.

They can show the dealer when their clicks resulted in shoppers and leads, as well as show when the campaign was a bust.

The dealership will trust the data since it lives on their website, and they will appreciate the agency taking the process from advertisement to end result.

3. Failing to be transparent when campaigns both win and lose. 

Much of what I do for dealers is create transparency around their digital marketing.  This means showing the winners and the losers.

I advise dealers to take risks. Be willing to put 10 bets on the table knowing that 2 or 3 of those bets may fail.

It is OK to have a few campaigns not do well, just make sure you eliminate those losing bets within a 30-day window. Then, take those dollars and make a few different bets.

Each month we take a transparent look at the results. We keep the winners, punt the losers and then look for different areas to invest in.

But agencies often will sugarcoat the losers by rolling up all campaign results into top line metrics that dilute the poor results.

They are not willing to critique themselves, a huge mistake. By not pointing out the experiments that didn’t work for the store, agencies lose credibility. Then a new vendor or consultant points out areas of weakness, the agency gets defensive and the dealership moves in a different direction.

Be transparent from the beginning and you’ll earn long-lasting trust.

4.  A lack of high-touch.

If a business is spending thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars with an agency, they want to feel they are in good hands. This includes not only monthly or bi-weekly video calls but also the occasional on-site visit, a thorough and timely written recap email and quick follow up on any outstanding items.


It’s amazing how few agencies will send a written recap email after a review call, and it amazes me even more how many will not follow up on outstanding deliverables. (Left, George Nenni, author of this WardsAuto Industry Voices column.)

This comes down to leadership at the agency. The leaders need to hire great people, pay them a competitive wage, train them thoroughly and continuously and surround these people with the right process to ensure accountability and customer retention.

When I hear and see a great monthly review call, I know there is a strong manager who hired, trained and leads this individual.

There are other reasons and circumstances agencies get fired, and let’s face it, the traditional agency model can be a tough business.

Many advertising products offer low margins and there are armies of new vendors calling on customers. However, by focusing on these four areas, agencies can differentiate themselves and create strong customer advocacy that can last for years.

George Nenni is a speaker, author and Principal Consultant at Generations Digital. He can be reached at [email protected]

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