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Breaking up is hard to do.

February, 2018

Everyone at one time or another has had to break off a relationship. It is gut-wrenching.

Our business, advertising, has always relied on relationships. Relationships are central to a successful agency. We know new business is the life’s blood of any agency, but getting new clients is more difficult than ever, and the cost to acquire new clients continues to escalate. So the decision to resign an account, to “break-up” is tortuous. However, to not resign a bad client can be, not to be overly dramatic, disastrous.

Searching for creative solutions is, for most of us, a 24-hour proposition. Creativity is iterative and cannot be turned on and off at will. It is often likened to giving birth. It is sweating blood kind of stuff. However, what happens when a client is never happy, always confrontational, always the adversary on the other side of the table? Worse, some clients will sit across the table staring with hollow eyes and not respond, not engage, not interact.

It doesn’t take long for the toll on the agency’s people to become apparent. There is the frustration of course, but soon there is a lack of belief in the agency or worse themselves. Conversations that were once lively and excited and productive become angry, confrontational and full of veiled blame. Body language is one of defeat, or “where’s the nearest exit” and trust within the agency is lost.

Big, holding companies can weather a bad client for a long time. They can move people around, change teams and keep the internal damage to a minimum. Smaller agencies do not have that luxury, and they tend to take any business that comes their way. The problem they face is once a great team begins to deteriorate because of a lousy client it is tough to save. An old phrase, “good people attract good people – bad people drive out good people” is equally valid when it comes to clients.

Of course, this holds true for clients as well. If there is no relationship, no trust, no striving for excellence from your agency, it’s time to break-up. Great clients make great agencies; bad clients can destroy them. Do great work, protect your ideas, your people, and your agency - break-up before you break up.


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