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?


What do you tell “PR101” students today?

As I look over my past presentation as I prepare to talk with a local college class today, I have to make some major revisions.  It’s kind of nice to see predictions come true.  Amazing what a year or two will do.

While the Cutlip definition of public relations still holds up, and what is under the public relations umbrella is still relevant, a focus on brand and brand development rises to the top of the list.

A public relations professional’s job today is to help an organization first realize what is true and authentic to its brand, and second, ensure that the organization is aligned internally and externally to deliver the proper brand experience, and third, communicate or deliver the brand message using the best channels.

Which brings me to my final point:  what is the best channel today?  More and more, it is not through earned media.  While media relations will continue to be a valuable tactic for public relations pros to spread company news, it’s not the best channel to reach an organization’s diverse stakeholder base especially if your goal is to communicate organizational values and long-term goals.

Of course, the best solution is an integrated approach that blends direct communication with paid and earned media.  And, at the heart of direct communication is social networking and the opportunities it offers for us to listen, learn and interact as we “establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between our client organizations and the publics on whom our/their success and failure depends.”

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!

Want to create a viral marketing campaign? Get brand evangelists.

Brand evangelists have been around forever. Think back to the paper boys in the early part of the 20th century standing on the corner shouting headlines in order to sell the local periodical. They were out there building brand awareness, while using the headlines as the hook. Times have changed a bit and instead of the kids standing on the corner, people are now using social networks to share information on brands and products.

The paper companies hired a set number of these kids, but do you know how many people are online promoting your brand? If your answer is no, try doing a Google Blog search or a Twitter search to see how often your brand comes up. If you are fortunate to come across conversations about your brand online then look at the value of them, and how many people they are reaching. Is it @johnsmith with 10 followers mentioning that he stopped by your restaurant, or is it @janedoe with 10,000 followers talking about the great sandwich she had at your restaurant, and how everyone should try it! Most likely it is John…

John has 10 followers for one of two reasons; either he has his updates protected and is wasting time using Twitter, or he has nothing of value to say and people could care less about following him. Either way, go back to Jane’s profile, and you will see that she is constantly saying things of value, and is always reaching out to her following through @ replies and re-tweets.

Here is another way to look at it, John is the guy from high school playing Dungeons and Dragons, and Jane is the Class President and captain of the cheerleading team.

Now that you have realized your position online and who is representing you, it is your job to control it as much as possible.

There are a few ways to do that, so in preparation begin with a few preliminary steps including; identifying the influencers, reaching out to them, getting them to care about who you are, and then convincing them to represent your brand to their following.

When you have done that, the next thing you can do is offer them something. You can give them some sort of promotional code or some free product and ask them to write about you in return. This may work, but most likely they care as much about their personal brand as you do about your company’s brand, so they aren’t going to sell out that easy.

The second and more plausible option is to connect with them. Go to their blog, get involved in the conversations they are creating, and give them a reason (outside of bribery) to put your name out there.

Brand evangelists are a necessary part of a successful social media strategy. They are not easy to find, but you can define them based on age, gender, and location, helping you to target a specific customer instead of just anyone.

It is kind of a waste of time to get someone in Miami to promote your restaurant that just happens to be located in Seattle…Right?

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!

No Time to Waste in PR

Mason Inc., along with Mason Onofrio PR is a very successful and established advertising and public relations firm in Bethany, CT. The experience and success they have is unique and very diverse. I made this realization the first time I walked into the office. I walked through the visitor’s door and saw a Bruegger’s Bagels sign right away. As I made my way up the stairs I noticed a campaign that Yale New Haven Hospital put on, and on my way to my new office I see an ad for Copenhagen.

For the men and women that worked on those projects they must have a sense of pride on the way to their desks every morning. Me however, I had no part of these campaigns, so the walk to my desk is more motivational then it is nostalgic.

It is my first week here at Mason Inc. I flew in from Wisconsin on Sunday. I Brought a suitcase and my cat with me (not a fun flight), and started work Monday. I was a little hesitant to come in to the office. My experience prior to this has been in start-up companies that I owned, or was one of the first employees for. Mason Inc. was the first opportunity I accepted that would provide me with a “real-world” experience, or so I thought.

Half expecting my first day to be some paper work and introductions while getting acquainted with my new environment, I was thrilled when after about 45 minutes of getting my computer hooked up and on the network I was free to work. “What?” I thought to myself. “That’s it, I am here, and I am part of the team, so now I… work?” Apparently, yea, that is exactly right. I was in at 8:30, and by 9:30 I was working at full speed. I just started doing what I thought I should be, and when I let my boss know what I was up to, he was happy about it.

Sitting in on my first client meeting I realized immediately that my skill set would be beneficial here. For the last year and a half I was working at Brazen Careerist. While there, I worked with companies to develop their social media strategies, and then implement them. I was initially working with them to attract young potential employees, but as less jobs were available we shifted our thought process, and instead of recruitment, we focused on retention and branding. Helping big brands get their blogs started, and building content plans was my specialty.

When I decided to make the transition to PR, my reason was pretty simple. I believe in the power of social media, I believe in conversation, and I believe in the benefits of having an online presence. However, I do not think you can put together a few profiles and cross your fingers. Instead I think that combining a social media plan with a traditional advertising and pr plan is the best way to reach your audience.

Yes, social media marketing has its benefits. We can identify and target demographics, we can answer customers publicly, and with the right strategy, we can place ourselves wherever we need to be in order to increase sales, and show ROI. However, without that offline connection, we are missing so many potential clients or customers.

Mason Onofrio has given me this opportunity. The opportunity to take my skill set, and work with their experts to provide our clients with the best of both worlds. This will be a great experience, and I know the people that are really benefiting are the companies we work with, and just saying that gives me a sense of pride…

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.