Fire A Client Today

Fired_stamp

The more time I spend talking to people in the PR and marketing worlds, the more I think it is time to reconsider the way service providers find, vet and retain clients. Lately, with the state of business and the economy, agencies are holding on for dear life to any revenue they can get their hands on – without concern for the quality of the client, the product/offering they are representing and the long term impact of that work on their brand and team member reputation.

I know that much of the focus has been to stay afloat and avoid additional layoffs – and perhaps this is idealistic – but maybe as the economy begins to slowly head north again we should take this opportunity and get rid of some dead weight. Tom Foremski recently wrote a great post called Pedal to the Metal looking back to the shockwaves the Sequoia Capital presentation calling for a massive PR/marketing bloodbath sent through the Silicon Valley community. Foremski, in his forward-looking wisdom, calls for a new presentation encouraging companies to get back into the game now: “Surely it is better to have all your ducks in a row now. This is a great time to invest in people and services to make sure your startups are well positioned and well known.”

I couldn’t agree with Foremski more – and I’d like to put a call out to agencies and PR pros with the same idea in mind. You have lost a lot of clients – it hurt and required an intense reconsideration of how you managed your business. What would one more client loss mean at this point? Even if you have to not make a hire you were thinking about – or work that much harder to get another, better, client – or even make one more layoff – you should fire a client.

Get your ducks in a row – take the time now to build the right client base – stop taking anything that moves. Do the work of looking for companies that have a compelling business model, money to pay their bills and a story worth telling. Without taking these measures now, you may not be well positioned for the next wave of business that is sure to come your way – and, to Foremski’s point, you will certainly not be well known as being a savvy, smart, strategic resource that works with the right kinds of partners.

Ok, so maybe you REALLY can’t fire a client – so at least have the balls to tell a client what you really think. Why is their story so hard to tell? Is there a story there at all? Is the product just awful but you never felt able to give them the straight dirt? Do they spend way too much time worried about the wrong parts of their business making it impossible for you to do your job? Do they really not “get it” when it comes to what you do? Hell, if you tell them all this one of two things will happen: they’ll respect you more than any PR person they’ve ever met before, or they’ll fire you (in which case, you should be glad to see them go).

But I still think you should just fire the worst client you have – do it now.

Check out Mark Johnson’s counter-point on this post, The PR Blame Game. So right, Mark: “If you haven’t armed your PR firm with a great message about a killer product, you only have yourself to blame.”

Alternate Titles:

  • A hot steaming pile of crap in the hand, is not worth two in the proverbial bush
  • They would do it to you, in fact they already have

~ by Julie Crabill on October 2, 2009.

17 Responses to “Fire A Client Today”

  1. Amen, Julzie

  2. Absolutely spot on! When you first start consulting, it’s tempting to take on everything that comes your way because of the perceived ‘freefall’ of being on your own. But really, why? And it actually ADDS to your credibility when you’re choosy about who you work with. In interviewing with a current client, the interviewer asked me “So how do you pitch a client or product you don’t believe in?” My reply was “I don’t. I only work with companies I believe in. It’s insulting to a journalist for me to pitch them something I don’t even want to back up.”

    • Jo, I LOVE the answer of “I don’t” – if every PR person could say this we would have a more credible industry, happier media and, most importantly, companies with crap stories would quickly figure it out when no PR folks would touch them. Utopian, perhaps – but damn if a girl can’t dream.

  3. An interesting post and one that raises a lot of pertinent issues for the industry. If firms take business without doing the appropriate leg work they set the account team up for failure and ultimately the client-firm relationship as well. I can honestly say, I’ve had the positive experience of being in the room when a VP has asked the right questions to prospects during the pitch process. Questions that flat out make that prospect ask “am I really ready for PR?” and “is this a story that people will care about?” To your point, people do appreciate if you are trying to save them money versus just take it and hope for the best.

    Firing a client is a tighter line to walk. I’m of the school of thought that the action of firing an account should only be reserved for those occasions where a client is overly abusive to the account team. Outside of that, if you choose to engage you need do your best to produce results or communicate every step of the way to show why a program may not be moving forward.

    • Thanks, Matt – while I don’t agree re never ending a client relationship unless they are abusive, I do agree that PR firms that engage with a client need to work hard to produce great results and communicate roadblocks every step of the way. To me, never ending a client relationship unless they abuse the team is like never breaking up with a person unless they abuse you, let’s face, even good relationships sometimes run their course. And, a quick look at just about every PR agency out there (and other creative agencies as well), shows that they are happy to break up to trade up (revenue or brand name wise). So, again, this shows the cash-driven desperation of PR agencies. I know money is key to business but it seems like this business has blinders on to everything but cash.

  4. Love this post, JC. Most agencies only tell their (ex)clients what they really think once the relationship is severed. I’d say it’s too little too late. Alternative title No. 3 “It’s not me, it’s you and your shoddy product”

  5. You speak from experience, and you’re right. Build your brand with the right clients. Not just the big, sexy, names, but the ones that will challenge you in the ways your business needs to be challenged.

  6. I bet lots of PR people agree with this post, but who is really going to go out and fire a client? Or even be brutally honest, like Julie suggests in her final paragraph? I find that most PR peeps will tell you secrets behind closed doors, but put on the Happy Face in front of clients.

    If anyone does, we want you on our upcoming podcast, Bubbly & Banter.

    -Mark, Julie’s Partner in Blogging Crime

    • Not sure how many folks will talk publicly about wanting to fire a client but in the 24 hours after posting this I got at least 10 tweets, IMs, texts from folks telling me their dirty little secret of which client they wish they could send packing. We can’t always admit it but just about everyone knows the client they would say bye to if they could. Even an anonymous guest can join us for the podcast… right, Mark?

  7. Ditto Mark, I agree with Julie’s final thoughts as well. It’s probably not realistic to fire a client right now, but that doesn’t mean becoming a “yes-man” is OK. I think there’s always a tactful way to provide honest council. Otherwise, not only are clients being cheating out but the PR person is doing themselves a disfavor by stagnating their own potential. We need to prove that PR has a seat at the executive table and this can only be accomplished when we’re not holding back in the area WE have expertise in.

    • Thanks, Colleen – I guess my question comes up again when you have provided honest counsel and they just don’t take heed. At what point are you kinda a “yes-man” after you’ve tried to no avail?

  8. So easy to write….so hard to do….when it is your bottom line you have to think about. The harsh, but true, reality.

    • Jill, thanks for your comment (and thanks to everyone else too!). I completely agree it is a hard thing to do – and don’t mean to imply it is easy. But, in every other type of business, companies make tough cuts (sometimes even ones that cost them money short term) to be better focused on long term gains & vision. This is where I feel PR agencies fall down – penny wise, pound foolish – it’s a big part of what is ruining the profitability, credibillity and reputation of this business.

  9. Great post, Julie, and totally agree with everyone about the final thoughts. I consider myself a “consultant,” meaning I need to provide the counsel I truly believe in.

  10. Julie, I enjoy your blog a great deal. Truth is an important element in PR. In order to truly benefit the client and to make the PR story a great story – good clients usually are glad to learn how they can improve their business. They spend thousands of dollars to find out how the get ahead of the competition on market research. As a PR person you have a chance to hear quickly and first hand what questions you should be able to answer. I usually try to find out the questions that will invariably come up. Then the client has a chance to fix the various problems – before the company does the press release. It is more work and it makes for better and more well-rounded stories. Client’s who don’t want to effectively compete in their chosen market place aren’t going to be able to pay their bills for very long anyway. So your point is very well-taken.

  11. […] Halloween, Dress Like a Marketing Moron After my Fire a Client Today post, I got to thinking about the issue of “yes” people in the PR business, especially on the […]

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