How to fire a client

Illustration by David Sparshott

There’s a nice piece in the latest Creative Review about how to fire a client. Every PR agency I know has had to fire a client at some point and there’s lots of ways to do it and plenty of good (and bad) reasons for doing so.

What’s more common for PR agencies is declining the opportunity to work with a client.

PR agencies get bombarded with all kinds of people demanding advice. Picking the right clients to work with, even in these austere times, is a lifelong learning process but here’s some pointers on some of the criteria I use when considering whether to represent a client:

1)      Ethical – if something just doesn’t sit well with your own values and that of your team then it’s wise to steer clear. If you don’ t believe in the very thing you’re supposed to be pitching then you’ll never do a good job.

2)      Conflict of interest – it’s true that agencies have specialisms and often a bias towards one type of client or another. It’s this agency experience that attracts competitive clients in the first place. So how can agencies act in a PR capacity for rival clients?  Transparency is the key here. Being transparent and open with all your clients is essential. Some conflicts are obvious (Coke v Pepsi) but others may not appear as obvious to agencies so that’s why alerting all your clients to every new client you pick up is sensible.

3)      Budget – a major bug bear for agencies is the sheer number of timewasters out there. We’ve all been there. You’re excited about a brief and the ideas are flowing in the agency and the chemistry meeting has gone well but when it comes down to it the client won’t put his money where his mouth is.

4)      Cumbersome pitch processes – most agencies are happy to pitch. Hell, some of us even love it. Asking ten agencies to pitch though isn’t the way to do it. If a client is seeing more than three agencies for a pitch then we’ll politely decline. I even know of some agencies who refuse to pitch altogether. Others demand a fee up front.

5)      Promiscuity –  agencies are switched on to the clients that shift their business every twelve months. PR is a small community and we all know who works on what account. There are bucket loads of accounts out there that have done the rounds. There are some good reasons for this – fresh ideas, fresh people, can’t retain their marketing director. Most PR guys prefer long term relationships though.

6)      Specialism – no PR agency can do every job asked of them. We’re always happy to refer people to other agencies if we think their needs are better served by others. What goes around comes around baby.

7)      Mad clients – some clients are simply as mad as hatters. Down the years I’ve been ‘briefed’ by the following nutters: a man from Chorley who developed the “British version of Facebook” . . .  a company that got me to sign a NDA on a project that was so secret that he couldn’t tell me what sector they operated in, what the project was or what the business model was . . . a company that had invented the world’s first ‘tampon box’. . . and my personal favourite the man who invented a ‘new pair of scissors’ and demonstrated them in our office on his business partner’s hair.


About Peter Davies

I'm a Manchester PR agency man. I work at RMS, the UK-based independent PR and marketing agency, I'm also a daddy and a football referee. Call me on 07779 033 016.
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