The Anchor: Prathap Suthan on 10 character indicators for an agency to dump a client

14 Oct,2011

Nothing is more rewarding than a client who sees the agency as its redeemer, partner, marketing dept., brand builder, wealth creator and undying fan. Most of us have had the pleasure to work with some fantastic and inspirational clients.

But there are also times when you are saddled with clients who aren’t worth your aching back. People so daft, you’d rather terminate them than self-destruct yourselves. I once worked for a global automobile client who turned out to be the worst kind, and I bayed for sending them a sack letter screen-printed on a jute sack. However, the agency bookkeepers were too bothered about pending bills and we eventually had to pitch a bigger automobile client, win the business, and then eject the client.

I am sure you can do without a couple of clients in your portfolio. Clients who don’t let you do great work, clients who have stopped contributing to your bottom line, clients who keep you on a diet of insults, and clients who don’t share your passion. You don’t need me to tell you what you need to do. But just in case, you missed the signs, here are some telltale client characteristics or characters you must look out for. There are more, but these are perhaps the more evident symptoms.


#1 When the client turns Scrooge

Here’s the client who changes stance all of a sudden. Every cost, expense, investment has to be borne by the agency. Almost like it’s the agency’s fault that the client has to spend money to advertise. This is a reflex to a cost cutting drive initiated by the CEO, and it’s a time when they’d like to evaluate all past spends. With supporting bills. From here on, you aren’t going for meetings on advertising and brand building. They will be all about haggling. Trust me, this relationship will lead you to Shylock.


#2 When the client turns Cinderella

This usually happens when the Lala’s young son or daughter takes over the business. Armed with a fancy MBA from hinterland USA, this zero advertising brain will never get the big picture. Do all you want, and waste all your adrenaline. Everything that you do will never be up to the mark, and everything you do will be incomprehensible. Criticism, blame, and threats are what you’d now hear. And if you are not an agency making names in the wine circles, your time was up yesterday. This pumpkin will implode.


#3 When the client turns Piyush

There comes a time when the CMO changes his role. Overtly. Instead of ensuring that the marketing team gets their briefs right, the head of marketing suddenly becomes the CD on the account. Once is a while, all CMOs will like their pet idea to bloom into life. We will even indulge them. There will be scripts thrown at you, plots suggested, headlines rattled off, references to Nike, ‘when I met Piyush’, etc. But when these become a daily affair, and when the regal curls of your agency’s moustache droop, pull the damn plug.


#4 When the client turns Titanic

All of sudden, you’d notice that your client has hit an iceberg. There’s been an inexplicable end to work. Even a little sticker is on its 9th iteration. And the discussions are all over the place with hints of sarcasm and remorse. Somewhere he or she has become unsure, rudderless, and powerless. He or she has lost clarity, focus, and is possibly on grace period. Your bills too have been on hold for a couple of months. This is a sinking ship, determined to take the agency down with it. Get the lifeboats out.


#5 When the client turns Jellyfish

This is a variation to the above. This is about the disappearance of the conviction bone. When major campaigns are presented to the Board,or when budgets are shared with the CEO, or when a piece of creative has to be defended, this variety will make its appearance. They will turn white, or pretend to take an urgent call, or look at you with a pleading sweetness. Beware, this is poison. Soon, everything you do will come back to you, everything is your mistake, as are the listless results of every campaign. When this becomes a habit, stand tall, show spine, and squash jelly.


#6 When the client turns Shakespeare

Ah, here is the drama queen or king. Nitpicking rajahs and ranis. This is when the smallest of mistakes take on the biggest of proportions. Imagine you haven’t delivered on a label, or a small proofing error gets noticed in the layout, and suddenly mobiles are whipped out and your holidaying CEO is hauled over coals. Every client is allowed this show of power to belittle the CD and the Account Head once in a while. But if every meeting gives you the feeling that you are no longer what you think you are, that you are redundant, and you are no longer capable of anything right, it’s high time you bring down the curtains.


#7 When the client turns Hitler

This is when the reign of the tyrant begins. This lady or gentleman is all about telling you and emphasizing where you stand or squat in the pecking order. Impossible deadlines. Impossible language. Impossible tasks. Just to ensure that the agency is always kept in a servile mode. Usually we revel in being challenged. When we go out and do things impossible. Pulling off magic, saving the day etc. But when this begins to happen day in and day out, time and respect are of no consequence or importance, and every piece of work is a struggle to sell, assassination is the only recourse.


#8 When the client turns SlimeBall

Some of these otherwise incorruptible gentlemen have a completely different face. Slowly and surely you will be made obvious of his penchant for the crooked. This is when you are deftly asked to keep a cut on the side for the films that he is approving, or the print run he has authorized. He is also pretty blatant about his appreciation of single malts, the next holiday destination he is contemplating, and his ‘I am so looking forward to some stimulating evening company during the film shoot.’ Most agencies would rather not accept severe morality breaches. But if I were you, I’d call in the mafia,


#9 When the client turns Unicorn

For a client who was always accessible, you’d notice that you don’t get to meet him or her anymore. Meetings are called, only to be postponed. Appointments are given, only to be cancelled. Calls aren’t put through, and the mobile is always ringing, never answered. Chances are the CMO is busy. But more often than not, he or she is talking to another agency behind your back. Or is gutless to tell you that the relationship is over. Or has been instructed by the MD that his friend’s agency will be taking over. A client who strangely transits to the mysterious and mythical side of life is more than enough warning for you to see the last of this beast.


#10 When a client turns SonofaPitch

I don’t know why they do this. But there are some clients who believe that ‘I will call for a pitch’ is enough to send their agency scurrying to get their brains back. Pity. Fear will only make an agency timid, and not cleverer. Ideally, call their bluff and tell them to go ahead and announce the pitch. Chances are they won’t. The pickings will be slim. Personally I love pitches. Because I believe that a pitch on an existing business is one more opportunity to show the client that I am better than anyone else. But then, if every second meeting is to keep cribbing and keep echoing the pitch intent, sack the moron. He or she doesn’t deserve you. Oh yes, change the P to a B.


Prathap Suthan is the Chief Creative Officer at iYogi.

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2 responses to “The Anchor: Prathap Suthan on 10 character indicators for an agency to dump a client”

  1. sardine girl says:

    Biju, of course this isn’t new. You can’t invent bad people. Dumpable clients have existed, exist, and will exist. They are prevalent everywhere. In villages, towns, cities, metros, across continents. They are also prevalent in small agencies and big agencies. (Even for a small agency, a small client is also a big client.) I think this article is a great read. Just a fresh engaging perspective.

  2. Biju Prabhakar says:

    1. Nothing new
    2. Its a big agency/city perspective
    3. Small agency/city perspective is very different
    4. Why are national media agencies screwing up local markets. Local clients find it convenient to save costs but definitely at loss which they don’t understand.
    5. Application of creativity is a lot regionalised in India, unlike 10 years back
    6. Client side is getting more knowledgeable in terms of technology and options. We the industry needs to be ready for that.
    7. Its an industry problem, not a client problem.