Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Secrets Revealed! The REAL Reason Why Agencies Fire Clients

I fired a handful of clients these past few weeks.

It was a bizarre experience.

Each client was genuinely surprised. In fact, uncommon words like "astonished" and "flabbergasted" were not so uncommon.

Why did we fire these clients? Why were they so surprised?

Every situation is a snowflake, of course, but generally speaking, in each case we were significantly over-working the account, by up to 3X in some rare cases - with no end in sight. And, we felt that our team members were not getting the respect that they richly deserved from these clients.

In no case did we make the tough call because we had a bigger/competitive opportunity. (Although, happily, bigger/competitive opportunities did arise as a result of the freed-up bandwidth, after-the-fact.)

Agencies do not fire clients very often. Especially since the Internet Bubble burst, it has been very rare. That is certainly one reason for the clients' surprised reactions.

Here's the thing...

Business is getting better, yes. Yes, there are more opportunities to replace "bad" business with "good" business. Thus, most of these newly-fired clients assumed that they are getting axed because the agency had a better opportunity queued up.

But here is where the agency/client disconnect lies: clients think that agencies fire them in a good business environment because the agency can afford to do so; but, that's not it at all (we are trying to grow, after all, and any newbiz opportunity sucks up precious resources). No, the fact is, that agencies fire clients in a good business environment because we CAN'T afford to lose our people.

A good business environment creates new opportunities for the talented members of a service industry to pick-and-choose their workplace. So, if the agency does not occasionally support its teams by letting go of accounts that routinely abuse them, we might (deservedly) lose the people. If we lose good people, we lose our ability to offer excellent service to the good clients.

Very often, clients engaged in an agency review discount the importance of "chemistry." The fact is, all things being equal (as far as credentials go), people enjoy working with people that they like and respect. No one minds working extra-hard for respectful, gracious clients.

Similarly, no one enjoys busting their hump for someone who can only offer up a curt thank-you and asks, not 5 minutes later, "What have you done for me lately?"

Think about your own client/agency relationships.
  • If you are a client, keep in mind that your competitors would love to work with your PR team: it is as much in your best interest as the agency's to keep these PR stars motivated.
  • If you are an agency principal, do yourself the favor of having some very tough conversations with the top 5 "most difficult" accounts, and be ready to cut the cord: your PR stars will appreciate the gesture and work that much harder for you and your good clients.
  • If you are a PR star: we're hiring. ;)

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