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On the Fourth Day of Christmas, HMG Gave to Me: Four Calling Clients

Posted on Dec 16, 2012 by

The Client List: 4 Types of Clients, Pain Points and How to Deal

At HMG, we love our wonderful family of clients and customers. But, like any large family, there are a few that can, well, drive you a little crazy. Throughout my time working at PR, advertising and creative agencies I have noticed a distinctive trend in some of the “problem child” clients that take extra time, energy and effort to work with. While there are dozens of categories and sub-categories like law of attraction (I can’t wait to read the comments!), I have done my best to narrow down the 4 most common, and troublesome, types of clients that make Account Managers across the country face-palm almost every day.


1.     The Defensive Line
Think 260+ lbs., Texas born and bred defensive players.  Their goal? To keep the offense from proceeding down the field, of course.  And this is exactly how most of us feel when faced with a Defensive Line client. These clients or individuals tend to halt any forward progress you and your agency tries to make on their behalf. But they hired you, right? Last you checked you were the expert on hand to provide guidance on communications and lead the company to new, exciting territory. Well, not always.  Frustrations and confusion almost always accompany this type of client as agencies feel they are working against, not with your efforts.

Telling Signs:  Emails including the phrases: “This looks great, but..” “This is a little too much change for us.” Or “Let’s stick with what we already have in place.”

Symptoms: Stillborn campaigns, Account Executive migraines from beating on desk, drained agency hours with nothing to show, bi-polar or apathetic creative team

Remedy: Remember that you are on the same team. Try to understand and communicate with the client on intentions when creating a new strategy or creative direction. The client either wants the assurance of your capabilities (should they finally commit to change), is appeasing a task from higher up for new ideas or at the end of the day is protecting a brand that they built and a shift will be incremental, if any.  If the client appreciates and likes your work, congrats. They know your value. I guess the questions for the agency would be: Is having a solid offense strategy enough or are you tired of standing on the sidelines in this game?  Regardless, identifying and understanding this client is key to a stress-free relationship.

2.     The Client Who Knew Too Much
My goodness, this one can be a doozy. And I am pretty sure needs no introduction. From too many cooks in the kitchen to assuming an Account Executive or Creative Director Title, this client always knows best.  (Makes you wonder why they aren’t running every company based on their assurance in the matter.)

Telling Signs: Client orders agency around,  uses words like “pop,” suggests edits and color changes in complete disregard to brand, massive CCing to entire company, favorite things are starbursts typically in yellow or reds

Symptoms: Watered-down concepts, loss of white space, hijacking of creative intentions, that “stalker” feeling

Remedy: The reality is — this person doesn’t have a clue. I say person, because typically this is an individual personality complex for one of the following reasons:  Micromanaging or controlling by nature/ego, defensive and scared to lose their internal role to your company, or they are simply focused on selling and afraid to waste budget or be reprimanded if ROI isn’t there. Bottom line: this person is uneducated in the industry and needs you to change that.  Try to empower these people by showing proof of what works, stepping up and earning their trust to be confident in your talents. Giving control of parts of a company away can be a scary thing, have empathy, albeit difficult at times. Note: If you have an owner or a boss who always bows down to these clients in panic or for fear of losing them, reevaluate what kind of company you are with. Is this a creative team or a team delegated to, satisfied with mediocrity?

3.     The Invisible Client
Hello? Did you review the proofs I sent over? …. Are you getting my emails?…. Is this thing working? Did we break up? Yes, this client is nowhere to be found most of the time, which can be a nice change of pace to be productive, but very hard to actually get approval on items in the queue and can lead to big changes with very little time to execute.

Telling Signs:  Typically unorganized or gives the appearance of being “too busy,” only responds to emails with “URGENT” or “NEEDS APPROVAL” in subject line, makes decisions last minute, often quick to launch or abort projects

Symptoms: Stressed-out coordinators trying to communicate, that feeling of spamming or harassing your own client, cancelled conference calls, copy writers creating new meaning to the phrase “pulling teeth”

Remedy: Is your check invisible? Good, we can proceed. This client obviously trusts your company, but doesn’t understand the work flow and communication needed to progress through projects smoothly. As an agency we have to peek behind the curtain of our clients. Try to decide upfront best times to speak, how they want their information sent and to whom.  But you must also lead this client as the internal organization may be awry.  Give them hard deadlines to submit changes and timelines upfront. If it makes sense, ask for objections not for approval to keep the workflow in place. Every invisible client is different but finding a common agreement on how to work together is a necessity.

4.     The Yesterday/Tomorrow /This is an Emergency Client:
You know the type —you request files and get them a day late and they want everything completed a day early.  And let’s be honest, it’s actually days late and they want work days early. Almost instant turnaround requested in many cases. This client doesn’t provide the resources or feedback to achieve creative deadlines yet lights a fire under everyone else to get work-in-hand.

Telling Signs: Thinks they are your only client, uses words like “emergency” and “disaster” when sending requests at 2am, loves using ALL CAPS, more massive CCIng, and no concept of creative’s time or the phrase, “rush fee”

Symptoms: Anxiety ridden account managers and/or creative, packed inboxes and voicemail, 20-somethings with high-blood pressure, overall loathing of agency environment

Remedy:  Xanax for all! Just kidding. Take control, set boundaries with this one. Yes, there are emergencies and last minute requests with everyone; and extra time and priority costs more than normal hours. This should be understood and respected by your client. And due to planned projects, meetings, etc. sometimes you just can’t “jump” when they ask. We want all clients to be happy, but we cannot let them carelessly delegate our internal process, organization or our staff members.  This leads to everyone being on edge and most likely, it wasn’t a real emergency anyhow. This client is projecting their disorganization or procrastination on you, to save their own.  When you take the lead and set expectations and deadlines for content, this client will not only trust and respect you, but will have a more realistic perspective. Note: Again, if your owner or boss is creating a crazy and unhealthy workplace by appeasing every hectic request instead of fixing the matter, you may need to have a discussion with them or one with yourself on the future with the agency.

At the end of the day, we do business with people. It takes time and communication for a relationship to grow and be prosperous. The responsibility lies with both parties. The more we understand our clients and the more they understand our industry, the better off we all will be. And sometimes, we have to know when it is best to walk away. Educating clients, inquiring about their process and assuming our advisor role is the best bet to speak the same language and have a successful partnership. After all, you have to ask to receive.

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