Why Agencies Should Fire Bad Clients.


I received an email blast today from Advertising Age about Cramer-Krasselt resigning the Panera Bread Account.

The article leaked an internal memo saying that the Client Was Too Much even in this crazy business.  Enough is enough.

How many times have we all felt that and said those words in our heads and then to our fellow workers about a client?

What’s A Bad Client?

We have all had clients who churn and burn out people at a rate that in the end becomes too much.  Unfortunately we never do anything about it but complain and that doesn’t change much.

Even when agencies are running on the hamster wheel of needing revenue the situation can become overbearing.

In Country Music you can sing about bad relationships and sometimes make a career.  In advertising people mainly drink about it and bring the dysfunction home.  The stupidity is certainly replayed in our minds if we have one left on the drive home.

The agency business is a funny game in the way it evaluates which clients to keep and which not to keep.

We’ve all been in the meetings where Finance says we are not making enough money on this account.  Rarely does the agency resign it.  We rationalize it.  It contributes to overhead.  It gives us experience in this category.  We will resign them when we get another account.

It also rarely happens with bad clients because agencies are too busy working and handling the dysfunction of the account to pitch others. Oh they will resign it if another account comes walking in the door but how often does that happen?

Why Keep a Bad Client?

Because we are afraid of the revenue loss?  Losing our jobs? Changing the status quo?

Poor clients rarely do anything for your agency. They rarely attract better clients.

When you do get rid of them you never miss them.  A burden is lifted that is felt by all.

Money is the worst reason to keep them.  You can also lose money on good clients.  I know. I talk to agency principals and they often say that their people love working on a particular client.  Do you think that their employees’ bill every hour they spend on a great client?  Not a chance.

You see in the end we count money in two ways: financial currency and social currency.  Good clients compensate you in both ways.  The spiritual currency provides personal satisfaction and generally inspires good thinking and ideas.  Bad clients don’t inspire.  They mire.

I have visited many agencies during agency reviews or for other reasons.  The topic of agency culture often comes up in the discussion and the principals or even employees say this is a great place to work because there are no jerks here.  They don’t last.  Yet they often do if they have dysfunctional clients.

Working in an environment of quicksand where there are no measures, no common goals is not productive.

If you are working with clients that say I will know it when I see it, then they obviously don’t know much and shouldn’t be in their positions.

If you work with clients where nothing can get approved or no direction is clear because of internal client politics then it is time to move on. Congress shows us the dysfunction of Politics has no place in the advertising game. It doesn’t generate innovation or creativity.  It stifles progress.

Some may argue differently but in the end I want to work and live differently.

You can often spot bad clients right from the get go.  We all have received and responded to badly written RFP’s.  Presented to committees of people half of which shouldn’t even be there and who don’t even introduce themselves.  Yet we pursue them with a smile.  Maybe it is time to become a little bit more selective.

Clients fire agencies all the time.  Maybe if agencies did it more often the playing field would change and the RFP process will change.  It will at least make the drive home a little bit more enjoyable.

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Watch a Video Called When Is It Time to Fire Your Agency?

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