How to avoid the smoke and mirrors and hire the right agency
What is "smoke and mirrors"?
"Smoke and mirrors" is a metaphor for fraudulent, deceptive, or description without substance. The source of the name originates from magicians' illusions, where they make objects appear or disappear by extending or retracting mirrors surrounded by a burst of smoke intended to distract you. In short, "smoke and mirrors" may refer to any sort of presentation by which the audience is intended to be deceived, such as an attempt to fool a prospective client into thinking that one has capabilities necessary to deliver a product in question.
how to find out if you're being tricked
Now that we have defined what smoke and mirrors are, how do we tell when we are being tricked? Here are a few ways that you can sniff out when someone is pulling a smoke and mirrors stunt on you during their pitch.
Follow your gut
Many agencies these days are polished. Really polished. They could have fancy business cards, even send you a little present. They do a little research on your and your company and put together a heartwarming pitch. Their goal is to build a rapport with you and create an emotional connection between you and their brand.
Now that isn’t a bad tactic, we work to build rapport and relationships all the time. But if there seems to be a time during a project pitch that you say to yourself: “Can they really handle this or are they just saying the right things?” Follow your gut. If it seems like a lot of fluff or they are dancing around your questions, dig deeper or move on. You’ll thank yourself later.
Any firm can say the right thing. “We built the website for ABC company." “We have a huge staff." “We are a top firm in this CMS." Okay, that sounds good. But, what if you found out that the project for ABC company went well past the deadline and the project cost went way up? What if the large staff was made up of outsourced talent, people with little experience, or even the management of that staff was poor? What if the company attended one event and wrote one blog post regarding that CMS? These things matter folks. So, rather than just looking at a portfolio, ask to speak to a client of reference. If they boast about the size of their staff, does that really help your situation? Ask them what hiring standards they have? What really makes their staff stand out? It never hurts to dig a little.
Be upfront and honest
It may sound weird, but it could be a big decision for you. If at any point during or after a meeting you feel like all you’ve been dealt is smoke and mirrors, and nothing of too much substance, just be honest and say something. You’re not being mean or condescending, actually, you're helping them out if anything. It’s a good thing to start any relationship with open communication right out of the gates. The thing is, I only see two things happening from you bringing this up with a prospective vendor:
The firm or agency rep stops, thinks about what you’ve said and why you’ve said it, and gets to the bottom of it. Best case scenario is that they may be able to pull up some solid references or case studies and put some substance behind their talk. Otherwise, you could find out that they might not actually have all of the right answers.
Even better, you’ve uncovered a snake in the grass. Now you don’t run the chance of working with a subpar agency. Some agencies don’t like being called out, which is a precursor to working with them. They’ll want to stay with the upper hand and make sure that the smoke and mirrors will keep you disguised from the fact that they aren’t confident about their work or just that their work isn’t up to snuff. By asking them about it, and they can’t provide any of the right answers, you could have saved your company potentially lots of headaches and money.
Use social to your advantage, carefully
Since these agencies are good at what they do, the smoke and mirror type even will use social media to their advantage. To protect against one of these agencies you should investigate their social media pages. Check out their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. Interestingly, don’t be too alarmed by a low count of followers or fans. It should just raise an eyebrow at the most.
What you do have to look for is the quality of their posts. Do they provide helpful information? Do they have a personality? Do you feel like you can connect? If so, they are probably worth looking into. If it's just promotional content and sales posts, they are probably just looking to take your money.
This may have been a lot to take in. In essence, by doing just a few things, you can be certain that your next decision on hiring a custom website development or website marketing firm (or any service related profession for that matter) is a solid choice. Follow your gut. Ask the right questions. Dig deeper. Be upfront and honest. Do a little homework. Follow it back up with your gut. You’ll be glad you did.
Have you had to deal with a “smoke and mirrors” type of agency? Were you able to sniff them out? Let us know about your situation in the comments.