Thursday, April 28, 2005

Firing a client

I fired a client last week. Never fun.

Well, let me re-phrase that. Firing a client is never fun - but the resulting approbation of a grateful staff, that's pretty fun.

In this case, the client had enjoyed a terrific program (despite the fact that the product was not quite ready for prime time), but when 1 little thing went wrong, the CEO went ballistic. He was belligerent and petty; all of the many moons' worth of great work was instantly and conveniently forgotten.

You know what? That's fine. The vitriol was directed at me, not the team, and I've grown a thick skin. Plus, I understand that a CEO shoulders a lot of responsibility and in their headlong rush to success must often willfully ignore a lot of the imperfections and inefficiencies that they detect within their organization. At some point they just blow up, and sometimes it's easier to take it out on a vendor than on their personal staff.

But, by lashing out at me in what was really an odd way, his outburst led me to probe the team about his treatment of them, and his bearing while engaged with the media. Turns out that he could be supercilious with the team (more red flags), but downright overbearing with the media. Deal-breaker!

In managing a PR firm (or team), I always remember that a Service industry like ours depends on the caliber and happiness of the people performing the Service. I tell our VPs that their chief job function is to guide, cultivate and encourage their junior staffers. So if a client is acting like an ass; if he/she demeans the agency staff, it needs to be addressed. And if they are jerks with the media, cut 'em loose. The agency's reputation among the media is critically important.

You want to be known as the PR firm with all the jerky clients? Me neither.

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