Here is an interesting topic that will no doubt cause a spirited debate among digital marketers – but hey, who doesn’t like a little bit of controversy; right? So here we go! In a recent poll we asked our audience this (anonymous) question: Do you ever change/falsify the stats you report to clients?
Now, this is a controversial subject right off the bat. What you report to clients is a bit of a taboo topic for some. But before we get too far into that, here are the results of our poll. We had 683 participants take part in our anonymous poll and the results were surprising:
A whopping 97% of people said they have never changed statistics/data in a client report. Now, I have worked the agency side for some time, and I know many other high-level agency executives very well. My own experience (and what I gather from talking to others in agency roles) leads me to believe that with the best will in the world, these stats are wrong. Before I prepare to face the disgruntled faces of agency owners and SEO professionals everywhere, let me explain myself and my thinking behind this conclusion.
I’m not accusing a portion of our audience of being liars, it’s more a case of how you interpret the question. To the creative, problem-solving human mind, the interpretation of changing/falsifying and ‘selectively sharing’ is a fine line.
How much creative license is fine before falsifying reports becomes a reality?
Let me give you a loose example based on something that may or may not have happened to me at some point when creating client reports. (I’m in CYA mode, people.) Let’s say you have a display campaign set to go live on a specific date. Due to whatever reason (think integration delays or other real-life interruptions and distractions!) your campaign goes live three days late. When reporting the total number of impressions delivered over the campaign period, is it falsifying the data if you tell the client that the number of impressions was delivered during the original timeframe they thought it was going to run – is that falsifying data? Or have you displayed the impressions while creatively neglecting to include (or mention) the upfront delay?
Let’s face it, it’s common for agencies to be a little ‘selective’ when it comes to digital marketing client reports. When you’ve had a particularly average performing campaign for sales but the click-through rate or engagement rate is high, it’s only normal to pick out and highlight the areas you want your client to pay attention to. You wouldn’t be the first agency to remind a client about the value of producing lots of unique impressions with your ads and the significance this has on their long-term branding during a large campaign that didn’t quite deliver on the core KPIs – and you certainly won’t be the last.
The potential for damage
Essentially we’re talking about being selective — and maybe being a little crafty — about how we present statics and metrics to clients. With modern day data visualization, lots can be done to either highlight (or cover up) specific data in client reports. Of course, we must mention the risk involved in doing this and the peril in outright falsifying results.
There is something to be said for honesty and transparency. With increasingly more freelance consultants and small agencies popping up, your clients will want to get a true picture of the performance of your campaigns. They have expectations and to those expectations they have assigned value and agreed to pay for your services. If these expectations are not met, there will be friction.