How to Decide If You Need to Fire or Say No to Working with a Client

October 19, 2017

By: Irene Lo

The recent scandal to come out of Hollywood continues to unfold with new bombshells unleashed everyday. Outstanding investigative journalism from the New York Times to the New Yorker has prompted public figures to speak out, including civil-rights attorney, Gloria Allred who publicly expressed disappointment in her daughter, Lisa Bloom, for her initial decision to represent Harvey Weinstein as an advisory attorney, going so far to say that she would represent anyone who accused Weinstein, even if it meant going up against her own daughter.

Defining ethical lines before embarking on work with a new and potentially controversial client is an important lesson for a PR agency.

In our neck of the woods here in beautiful BC, we experienced similar reverberations of shock when news broke of a former client in the tech space that had allegedly mishandled funds. As a marketing communications agency, we are known for our  B2B PR programs and many businesses including but not limited to the finance and tech sector seek our help in getting media traction. Many organizations we speak to are known in their respective industry networks but lack an effective message to the public. And sometimes, we come into contact with companies that need guidance on how to overcome negative press.

For agencies, it may seem as though you can never say no to new work but your reputation is your main differentiator. Taking on even one bad client can be enough to tarnish your standing among contacts in the media that may not trust the quality of goods you’re peddling in the future, and can also signal to potential clients that your promiscuity in working with everybody may not fit in with their corporate values.

We were faced with a similar situation a few months back with a company that badly needed to change their narrative. We did our research, read up about them and consulted trusted allies in our circle to give us their honest perspectives. We held internal discussions balancing the pros and the cons and in the end we made the decision that was right for us at the time. However, there were a few warning signs that set our Spidey sense tingling.

Here are three warning signs for knowing when to drop bad clients:

1. Consistently Inconsistent Communications

We get it. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry but clients whose word cannot be taken at face-value will  cost you when it comes time for invoicing – and the time in between all that.

2. Respect and Negotiations Go Hand-in-hand

Everyone wants a fair price and if they can get a discount, even better but contract negotiations that devolve into power games show the lack of respect that you can expect to characterize your working relationship moving forward.

3. Expectations Ungrounded in Reality

We do our due diligence in managing client expectations from the beginning of each project. Yet unrealistic expectations occur when communications deteriorate and power moves are put in motion. We once had a request to write a press release and distribute it for the next day!

We eventually parted ways with the client well before the scandal broke out. We were thankful to walk away when we did in retrospect. Knowing when to drop bad clients, or avoiding them in the first place is one of the most valuable lessons a marketing and PR agency has.