When Cramer-Krasselt decided to publicly break up with client Panera Bread last week, they were quite definitive about labeling the client as difficult. I saw two reactions to this: “Good for C-K,” and “They’re just doing this as a PR stunt, who’d want to hire them?”
Frankly, many clients have rightfully earned a reputation for being difficult. Just like people in business have a reputation for being a-holes or some agencies have reputation for being sweatshops or prima donnas. Clients put their accounts in review faster than ever and public comments are often made. These days, reputations aren’t secret, and there are even websites where you can rate agencies, corporations, even people. So for both agencies and clients, reputation management is needed both proactively and for CYA purposes if something goes south.
Rarely, though, do ad agencies willingly walk away from accounts and usually there are only a handful of senior managers at an agency willing or empowered to make that call. More often than not, rank-and-file people — the account executives, project managers, and creatives — have to suck it up and do the work even if the clients is unreasonably difficult and demanding. Incidentally, they’re the ones in the agency who often know what is working, and not working, in the agency/client relationship long before senior management knows. Being closer to the day-to-day work makes the red flags all the more apparent.
It’s the subject of my latest column on Talent Zoo.