When Is The Right Time To Fire a Client?

Yes, I said it. Firing a client. Sounds completely crazy, especially in this economic environment, right? Shouldn’t agencies cling on to any piece of business they have and take anything and everything that comes through the door? Not really, and I’ll explain why.

First, this isn’t an easy topic to tackle, and for many reasons. The first thing that popped into my head is that we – people who are a part of advertising, marketing, public relations, branding agencies – are often the ones who are lined up in front of the firing squad and are the ones being fired. Agree? With that said, there are also many intricate details and different scenarios involved with individual accounts that we could write an entire book on the topic. For simplicity purposes, as well as some food for starting a conversation, I’m keeing things simple.

To get started, it’s also worth prefacing all of this by saying that I recently had the experience of letting go of a client. After being involved in this industry for close to ten years I felt weird after the experience. Those of you who have been through this probably have shared some of the same mixed emotions I had. Was it the right thing to do? What if this particular client becomes the next mega-brand? Will it come back to haunt me, my colleagues and my company? Will they talk bad about us?  It’s doubtful, but those possibilities do exist and it really doesn’t make the decision or the experience any easier. I googled this topic to death and found all sorts of interesting things. To keep it short, I whittled it down, reinterpreted it and am sharing my personal three reasons. Let’s get to it.

Abusive clients

These are hands down the worst to deal with and are probably the easiest to let go of. There’s nothing worse than a client who is rude, condescending and insulting. More importantly, there’s no excuse to put up with it. It’s demoralizing for your staff and in the end, isn’t worth it. Save yourself the pain and suffering and part ways. You’ll be glad you did.

The bully

We’ve all been there and have experienced this type of client at one time or another. You know the type – the client who sits there and tells you how to do your job. Creativity is central to our world. What’s creative to one may not be to another, and a big surprise here for you, that’s quite alright. I’ve always believed that collaboration leads to the greatest ideas and campaigns. We’re all after the same thing.

Having a bully for a client is dangerous territory to live in. What this person really needs is an assistant who will do everything they say. Falling into this trap results in satiating a person who just doesn’t know any better. Remember this — you hire a mechanic to fix your car because they have the expertise. The same rules apply here. Taking orders from the bully client is no different than working the front lines of a fast-food joint. Do you want to make it a king size meal for just a quarter more, sir?

Maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

The cheapskate who will never see the value

This is a real tricky one because it ultimately leads to the question “why did you bother to hire us?” It’s very difficult to work with a client who just doesn’t see the value in it and, at the same time, wants it all for the lowest price possible. It can be exhausting and frustrating.

As crazy as this may sound, it’s often times the agency’s fault, especially with fee clients. What clients don’t know is that it takes time to learn the client’s particular business, train the staff, learn the process, build the relationship and so forth. More often than not, the agency over-services the client and, again, the client doesn’t see this. That leads to a client who will seek more and more work from you. In this situation, it’s imperative that agencies estimate retainers (or project fees) as close as possible and communicate on a regular basis regarding the amount of time going into the account. If this doesn’t happen, what ensues is a dangerous client-agency relationship involving doing the work for rock bottom prices. Not good.

As I mentioned earlier, it can be exhausting. Going round and round with ideas and wasting everyone’s time is no fun. It’s even less fun when the client thinks it should be free, steals the idea and does it on their own. Shame on them.

If your client still doesn’t “get it”, then it needs to be asked: Why did you hire us in the first place?

So with all of this said, I hope it leads to some insight for you as a professional and maybe something you can share with your own agency staff. I’ve also included a video that I blogged about earlier in the year but it’s worth watching again. Enjoy the show, but for now, let’s start the talk:  When is it time to part ways with a client?

Telling a story beyond the product

Sometimes it’s just a company’s inherent brand philosophy that leads to telling great stories and connecting people with the brand.  The fact is brands struggle to find their niche, their voice and more importantly, a way to be relevant and truly connect with people that goes beyond the product or service they offer.  That connection can, and does happen, in lots of different ways, ranging from corporate philanthropy to social responsibility.

One brand that’s a good example of this is Chipotle. Yep, you read it right- Chipotle, the fast-casual Mexican restaurant chain. I’ve always been a fan of theirs and whenever I find myself in one I can’t resist a delicious taco filled with that spicy, hot barbacoa. Yum! Back to the point. Chipotle is a great example of  a brand that’s built on more than just great food. They’ve built their business around the philosophy of “Food Integrity“, which basically centers around the idea that they only use organic, natural, fresh ingredients. They use unprocessed, seasonal, family-farmed vegetables as well as natural, farm-raised, hormone-free meats. You get the idea. They’ve built their brand on a philosophy of social responsibly that doesn’t offer their guests processed, chemically-ridden garbage food.

However, as we go beyond the menu, Chipotle is connecting with people in a whole new way and is reaching out to those who are environmentally conscious and, at the same time, is reminding those of us who aren’t that we should be.  Case and point- the chain is installing solar panels on 75 of its store locations. How cool is that? Talk about leading by example. According to the Denver Business Journal article, Chipotle is seeking to reduce its energy consumption during peak hours, which is generally from 11:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Not only will this be good for Chipotle’s energy bills and their bottom line, but it also is a great example of a brand that’s doing good for their community and the environment as a whole.

As a PR professional, I love brand like this. They have a great story to tell and the marketing, branding, public relations, social media, you-name-it possibilities are endless.  But more importantly, as a person, I’ll keep them on my list of places I like to eat, not only because the food is good, but because they’ve got their act together.  Now I only wish they had one closer to the Hartford / New Haven area…

Old Man Winter Is Knockin’

I am a true New “Englander” at heart and enjoy the four seasons Connecticut has to offer. We really get the best of it here. Personally, autumn is my favorite time of year. The humidity is gone, the trees radiate beautiful, bright leaves and there’s nothing like the cool, crisp smell in the air.

As the leaves start to change, I am reminded that Old Man Winter is not far behind and that means it’s time to bundle up not only with sweaters and warmer jackets, but also ensuring that my home is ready as well.

Below is a clip from the Fox 61 Morning News where a client of ours, The United Illuminating Company, was featured. The segment offers viewers some simple “do-it-yourself” tips and methods on how to properly weatherize your home for the upcoming winter months. There’s also some great energy efficiency tips in here too – changing your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs and ensuring your refrigerator is the proper temperature.

Enjoy the segment and stay warm this winter!

NBC, Meet the Mason Inc. Team!

Our office and some clients recently had the pleasure of touring the new NBC studios here in Connecticut. Unless you’ve been living under a rock lately, or just don’t watch TV, you may have heard that they built a new facility that is the first high definition (HD) studio here in Connecticut.

I could describe it with all sorts of jargon that we tend to avoid like the plague, but I thought I would just for fun. Simply put, the new studio is “state-of-the-art, cutting edge, leading technology, and really is a true solutions provider.” In other words, it’s impressive.

In all seriousness, the tour was informative and an eye opener to how broadcast media is changing and how they’re also utilizing online and social media much more these days, including Twitter. NBC showed off all of its new capabilities, but what was really extraordinary is that the entire building is a studio in itself. There are no walls separating the newsroom from the news studio like the old building and there are also several areas throughout the building that allow for cameras and feeds to go live from, such as the front lobby area.

Truly a great time, but what I enjoyed most was that our clients were able to experience this as well! Here are some pictures capturing the fun! Enjoy.

WVIT News Director Mike St. Peter shows off the new studio set.

It’s not NORAD. It’s the new control room at the new NBC WVIT studio. Impressive!

NBC General Manager Don Doebler explaining the technology and capabilities of the new studio.

Getting miked-up and ready for our big moment. Myself (Derek Beere) and one of our clients, Susan Gates from the Hospital for Special Care, getting some last minute coaching tips from NBC political correspondent Tom Monahan.

A small crowd gathers and waits in anticipation for Susan Gates and Derek Beere to record their promotional segment teaser.

There we go! Recording our first segment teaser and nailing it after (ahem), three or four attempts!

Hey Kermit! It’s Easy Being Green!

Kermit the Frog said it’s not easy being green. Well, according to kids in the greater Bridgeport area, it can be easy (and fun) being green.

One of the rewards of the public relations profession is seeing your hard work and events come to life. The client meetings, conference calls, concept sessions, brainstorms, media pitching and creative energy that go into it is hard work.

Then the big day happens. Event day. You’ve made your final calls to remind the media of the event and are confident, but still hope it will be covered. Such was the case for a recent client event, “Discover Green Expo“, that involved The United Illuminating Company (our client), The Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund, and the Discovery Museum in Bridgeport. When all was said and done, we received coverage from WTNH (ABC), WFSB (CBS), News 12 Connecticut and half a dozen print and online outlets, including the Connecticut Post, Bridgeport News, Stamford Advocate, Danbury News-Times, and others.

It feels good when it all comes together. Clients are happy. The team here is happy and we congratulate one another on a job well done and move onto the next project and continue doing what we do.

However, the real reason I am sharing this story is that its got a great message about how we can all do our part in helping out a bigger client – our planet Earth. Who’s going to help the most? The kids and future leaders of tomorrow. Below is a news clip from Channel 8 (WTNH) and it really captures the story in a heartfelt way. Enjoy the show!

Can Ink Be Saved?

President Barack Obama, who is a self-proclaimed “newspaper junkie”, has taken an interest in the health of newspapers. Could this be the next big federal bailout?

In a story recently published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Obama met with editors from the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo to discuss the current health of the newspaper industry. What’s pretty interesting to me is his take on journalistic integrity:

“I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context,” he said, “that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding.”

What are your thoughts? Get the full story here.

Interns Rule!

Interns are always a great asset to any work environment. I personally enjoy their enthusiasm, willingness to learn and ability to make a darn good coffee. Ok, everything but the latter. None of our interns make coffee here at Mason Onofrio. We teach them the skills they need to survive in the “real world”.

Our interns participate in client meetings, conference calls, brainstorms, and more. They do tons of research, contact the media and write press releases, media pitches, advisories and so on.

Our interns rock. Meet Stephen Murray, our summer intern who is a veteran here at M&O. He interned the summer of 2008 and he’s back for more action!

Q: Who are you and where do you go to school?

My name is Steve Murray and I am a senior at Elon University in North Carolina.

Q: For anyone enrolling in college, what advice would you give them?

Be careful what you post to social media sites. Someone (probably someone you don’t want) is always watching.

Q: What do you like most about public relations?

I enjoy the variety of work in public relations. On any given day, I could be asked to help respond to a client crisis, explore a new business opportunity, plan an event, or communicate client news to the media.

Q: You interned with us last summer. How would you explain your experience to someone who’s never heard of public relations?

I helped pitch client news to local and national media outlets, drafted releases for the news to be pitched, and conducted research to support the agency’s current clients and new business proposals.

Q: What did you learn?

A few things:

1) The myth that most reporters are mean and nasty people is just that, a myth.

2) With a range of clients, you need to be able to switch quickly from one to another throughout the day. Each client has its own specific needs.

3) Be open to critique. Your work will improve because of it.

Q: What do you dislike about public relations?

Along with just about everyone else in the PR business, my top gripe is with timesheets, though I recognize they are a necessary evil in the world of PR.

Q: Pepsi or Coke?

Whichever is on sale-I’m still in college!

Q: Any special talents we should know about?

I play both the saxophone and bass guitar.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

If you’re ever offered a free meal, take it.

Q: Lastly, where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?

Ideally, I’d like to be working somewhere as s senior executive with a public relations agency in the Northeast.