Friday, 11 March 2011

How To Lose A Client

So last week I blogged about PRs dumping difficult clients, but what happens when the client wants to dump YOU? Ouch... yup, we've all been there. It hurts. Sometimes it's your fault, and sometimes it's not. I spoke to people on both sides of the fence: PRs who've lost clients and clients who've dumped PRs, to come up with a core list of the reasons why.
Admit it, you fucked up.
Well this is the most obvious of course, with most stories already covered in my previous blog PR F@#k Ups. We all make mistakes, and sometimes they're doozies. Like when a PR hired actors for an ACA story for his client (he lost more than the client - he also lost his job and his reputation); or when a PR employee shagged a married client (again, not only did the agency lose the client, she lost her job). Sometimes it truly is all your fault. 

An easy FU to avoid is going over budget - it's a surefire way to cause the ire of even the friendliest of clients (most of whom brought it up by the way). Scope out your plans thoroughly before submitting your estimate. Get literally everything you can think of signed off. Get everything you haven't thought off signed off while you're at it. Allocate an overly generous buffer. I used to pride myself on telling the client there was actually money left over at the end of an event simply because I'd been so generous with my there's a little trick to ensure your client thinks you're the ants pants.

You over-promised & under-delivered

This is without question the MAIN reason people lose clients. Not for any major fuck-up, but more for consistently average work, laziness, lack of creativity, lack of results, blah blah blahdie blah. And obviously this scenario is quite subjective - you may not necessarily agree with your client on this one, in fact PRs rarely do. This detente is much like the "PRs vs Media" battle that will forever wage on - sometimes, we all just have to agree to disagree.

And the list of unfulfilled promises goes on. One client who has worked with several PR agencies over the years says: "My biggest gripe is that you get sucked in on being impressed with the boss or the person who sold the agency to you, and then get allocated a ditzy Account Manager!" Another PR states: "We took an agency on because of the girl on top. We wanted HER, and she promised she was the one who would manage our business. Once work got underway she never gave us any face-to-face time, and barely even returned our calls, leaving it all to an extremely junior staff member. See ya."

One way to avoid this scenario, is ALWAYS take the person/team who will be working on the account on a daily basis into the pitch with you. It makes good business sense anyway to show the potential new client the human face of your agency as well as to ensure there is good chemistry between client & Account Manager, but it will also mean you avoid the above accusation if things go sour. For this reason, naming your business after yourself may be asking for trouble. Let's face it, if a client comes to Sophie Smith PR because they've heard she's fabulous, well...chances are they'll expect Sophie Smith will be working on their business, daily.

Some other bug-bears from clients:
"Don't be afraid to think outside the square - just getting the who's who to an event isn't going to always generate the publicity a client needs (or cares about). Our PRs need to be one step ahead and more in the know than us the clients.  It can be embarrassing for both parties when they’re not and brands miss out on integral opportunities."

"I've worked with agencies who submit paint-by-numbers media releases. You know the ones where all they've done is *insert brand name here* and changed a few words around. Come on, can you even try to pretend you care about our business?? I understand how PRs work, and sometimes they are truly taking the piss."

Not enough ROI
This is bottom line stuff. If you can't prove a healthy Return On Investment to a client in the way of media clippings, hard results from activations, hits on websites, etc - then they are almost always going to question whether your work is worth the money. Yes, alot of PR is simply 'good will' and difficult to quantify, but a good agency has their valuation systems in place and can present tangible results to the best of their abilities. For some clients, this will be mandatory and the absence of proof a one way ticket to Dumpsville.

The client has an ulterior motive

Sometimes when you lose a client it truly is out of your hands. One PR told me: "I worked on a beauty client that myself and the agency just loved, and we'd had it for a few years. The Marketing Manager then left and was replaced by a woman that picked on us from day one. We couldn't understand why she wasn't happy, and were then suddenly dumped over a typo in a DRAFT media release! We soon found out she was best friends with a rival PR agency head who she immediately went with. While we were disappointed, we totally understood the personal relationship she had - how can you compete with that? We just would have preferred her to have been honest and not make us feel inadequate to cover up for the fact she wanted to go with her mate."

The client is poached by another PR
*UGH* this one makes my skin crawl. I am ethical to the core of my being and don't believe in stealing clients, boyfriends, money, anything. I truly believe if you are excellent at your job success will surely come to you - and not at the detriment of another. (On a philosophical level it's akin to the difference between a hedonist and an epicurean - both pursue pleasure in all its forms but the epicurean does so without hurting others.)

Ruthless business people would disagree with me here, and most likely have more money than I do - but I want to sleep at night, be a good person, and have the respect of my peers. It really upsets me when I see this behaviour amongst the industry, and luckily only a handful of PRs are guilty of it. The funny thing is everyone knows exactly who they are, and as a result go out of their way not to work alongside them or do them any favours. And as Social Diary proves, there are a myriad of ways that rival PRs can work together to benefit everyone, on a daily basis, with a wonderfully friendly spirit. And on the flipside, imagine being reviled by everyone in your own industry. I ask you: whose shoes would you rather be in?

A PR friend says: "A new agency once went on a major poach-fest, targeting a number of my clients and offering them a retainer at half the price of mine. Some didn't flinch and stayed with us, but others couldn't resist the lure of a cheaper deal and left, albeit apologetically. (I stood by my rates and quality of service and wouldn't match the fee). Not suprisingly they returned one by one when they suffered unsatisfactory results, and I happily took them back without the temptation to say 'I told you so'. This type of behaviour in our tiny industry is reputation suicide to say the least. EVERYBODY talks."

The client runs out of money

Well this is an obvious one, and we all know that the PR/Marketing is the first thing to get the chop when a company is tightening its belt. However, one PR friend has noticed a trend recently: "There are brands who dazzle a PR with their positioning...but off-set this by saying they can only pay $X to start with. The PR takes them on for the cachet of looking after a top brand, but as soon as it's time to put the fee up to a fair level the client moves on to a new agency and repeats the scenario." In short, they're being cheap and reneging on the original deal - watch out for this.

An additional and worrying trend is the 'on-off tap' approach to PR, which is currently hugely popular - almost the norm - in the US. The PR says: "You work on them for 3 months, then put it on hold for the same period, then they want it back on for 3 months etc. Obviously if you work on category exclusivity this really stuffs you around." But if a client threatens to leave unless you offer this arrangement, what are you supposed to do?

Old Cow, New Cow.
Sorry to say this but sometimes, you've just been around for too long. It's the case of The 7 Year Itch or Old Cow, New Cow - which is short for the sad, sorry theory that men leave women and never come back because all they really want is New Cow. Sometimes a client will just want a fresh set of eyes on their biz. That, and the invariable fact that most agencies will become lazy once they've had a client for a long time - literally every client that I spoke to for this blog agreed with this. So most of the time you'll just have to wear this one on the chin. I have to say, I agree with some major international brands who require their agencies to re-pitch every single year (what a pain in the arse! I hear you scream) but let's face it, there's nothing like the threat of losing a client to make you create, innovate, and work your butt off to keep them.

The client goes out of business
They're out of business, you lose them, and all you can do is hope that it had nothing to do with you...

So my dear reader, I truly hope you don't lose a client any time soon. And if you do? Just say you were gonna get rid of them anyway...everybody does. ;)

xxx Tiff


  1. LOVED this Tiff. Great insights from both sides in response to last weeks! More please! xxx

  2. Can I just say how much I adore/love/worship this blog. Perfectly written and bang on the head PR situations. Keep it coming!

    Love Love,