Three Clients You Never Want To Work With

by · March 14, 20149 comments

I’m an account man; have been for most of my professional career. I’ve worked with numerous brands of all shapes, sizes and focuses, from national B2C clients to regional charity organizations. As Director of Client Services for SME Digital (the agency arm of Social Media Explorer), I’m able to continue working with great brands, and I love it.

But this post isn’t about all the great brands that we work with. No, this post is about the brands we would never choose to work with. The three types of companies any blossoming agency (or consultancy or freelancer) should avoid like the plague and jetpack away from the second the words, “Let me send you our thirty page RFP!” are uttered.

Company Type Never To Work With Number 1 – Companies That Don’t Make Money

Danger Keep OutIt seems pretty obvious. Only work with brands that are financially solvent. And yet, how many times has an agency taken on a client that they were pretty sure couldn’t pay them on-time for the chance at a big payday at some point down the road. Sure, sometimes the gamble would pay off, but rarely. Most often the company in question runs out of money, and you’re left holding unpaid invoices glaring at the stack of awesome work that your dedicated team has been pouring themselves into for months.

I’m sure we’ve all been here. Maybe your agency was swayed by a passionate CEO, or maybe they thought that they can get in early with the latest, sexiest startup, whatever the case, I’ve been in enough of these situations to learn that before you sign on that dotted line, you better be darn sure that bills will get paid (Obviously this rule has an exception with pro-bono charity work and non-profit support pricing). So what type of clients does this include? Startups that don’t have any serious funding yet, companies that try to talk you into a pay-for-performance model and, most of all, companies that are steps away from bankruptcy.  Which brings us to our next client type to avoid working with…

Company Type Never To Work With Number 2 – Companies That Are Failing

There is nothing worse than pinning your agency’s future and reputation on a sinking ship. If the company knocking on your door is moments away from bankruptcy, politely ignore the pounding.  Your brilliant marketing campaign is rarely going to be the white knight that saves their day.  In a failing company, marketing is hardly ever the sole cause of disaster.

We’ve all seen this; a client comes to the agency complaining about lagging sales and a market that seems to be getting softer. They very rarely realize that they have a company-wide problem, and instead feel that all they need is an awesome _______ (advertising campaign/website/mobile app). Just a simple little marketing magic, and all their woes will vanish.  Yet, somehow, despite your best efforts – efforts that would have killed in a company that wasn’t going under – the company still bleeds money.

Now however, instead of recognizing the problem, the client ends up blaming you and your agency, claiming that your work wasn’t good enough to save their company. This not only destroys internal moral, it can also irreversibly damage your agency’s reputation. Companies that are going down are like a black hole sucking everything up with them. You can pour the best marketing campaign in the world into them, but you’re not going to get anything back out.

Company Type Never To Work With Number 3 – Companies That Make You Compromise Your Values

By far, the absolute worst client type you can work for is one that makes you compromise your values as an individual and as an agency. Sure it’s not always easy to turn down a giant truckload of money as it’s backing up. But you know what else isn’t easy? Living with that slimy feeling that comes with selling out, that feeling that doesn’t wash off even after a hundred showers, that feeling that you’re not only working for a company that you don’t believe in, you’re actually improving their business so that they can do more of what you don’t believe in.

In our opinion, falling asleep with a clear conscious is worth far more than that pile of dirty money. Case in point, at a previous employer, I once had a client whose CEO was an absolute racist. Meetings with him were incredibly uncomfortable, but we kept going on with them because they paid us, a lot. For longer than I’m proud of, my agency kept him on the client roster. Eventually we finally reached our limit, and we fired them. While it was upsetting to lose that monthly revenue boost, the feeling of relief that we no longer had to rationalize working with a racist prick was pure gold to us. Team moral quickly improved, and we were able to replace them with a client we truly loved working with.

So what client types do you want to work with? That’s the easy part. You work for successful, growing brands whose mission you can get behind 100%. You do that, and you’ll never have to worry about the brands you work with again.

These are SME Digital’s rules of engagement, what are yours? What type of clients do you tend to avoid working with? Leave a note in the comments below and let’s share some wisdom!

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About Jason Spooner

Jason Spooner

Jason Spooner is the Director of Client Services for SME Digital, the digital marketing extension of Social Media Explorer. During his career as a digital strategist, Jason has worked with a variety of large and small companies including: NAPA AUTO PARTS, NASCAR, Kraft, Wal-Mart and Wrangler. His passion: creating powerful digital marketing strategies that drive results. Oh, and he does improv comedy. Follow his antics @jaspooner.

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Comments on Social Media Explorer are open to anyone. However, I will remove any comment that is disrespectful and not in the spirit of intelligent discourse. You are welcome to leave links to content relevant to the conversation, but I reserve the right to remove it if I don't see the relevancy. Be nice, have fun. Fair?

  • http://simplifilm.com/ Chris Johnson

    What you have to do is be good enough to attract the very best so you don’t have to tolerate this stuff.

    • Jason Spooner

      Exactly!

  • http://www.mikewilton.com/ Mike Wilton

    I love #3, and honestly I almost would put that at #1. Nothing good can come of compromising the things that matter most to you. I almost did this recently with a client. The amount of money I would have been phenomenal and there was a pretty solid chance that there was even greater opportunity further down the line, but their business model and what they were doing just felt sleazy and dishonest, so even after considering doing a proposal I kindly declined after sitting on it for a few days. I knew deep down inside that if I took the project I would love the money, but would feel terrible helping to promote something I didn’t morally believe in.

    • Jason Spooner

      That’s great Mike! It’s not the easiest decision to turn down a lot of money.

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  • http://www.brand.com/blog James R. Halloran

    The first two seem rather self-explanatory. But number three is definitely an important one. Just because you can make a good quick buck doesn’t mean they’re worth it. There’s always a reason why they ask you to compromise your value, and it doesn’t come without its price.

    Thanks for sharing! Very good thoughts.

  • http://www.believeintherun.com Thomas Neuberger

    Good stuff Jason.

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