OK, You're About to Lose Your Big Client. Now What?

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I got a call from a local newspaper reporter the other day, asking me to comment on an open wound in our industry: the firing of two, local shops by a client that has outgrown them.

Every agency which lands a plumb client that is growing faster than the agency is vulnerable. With a few exceptions (Nike and Weiden and Kennedy; Deutsch and Ikea; Ogilvy and American Express come to mind), eventually, the client is going to bring in new management from outside the market, and the countdown to the firing of the agency will begin.

Happened to Brownstein Group. Happens to most shops. And it hurts like hell, because you know your people have given it all they got to service your prized client. Countless nights and weekends, cancelled vacations, and missed sporting events with the kids, so that you could continue to fuel your clients' rapid growth.

If agencies got credit for passion, maybe the political scenario would be different. But it ain't.

So, one day, the new marketing director at your client, informs you he is thinking about seeing what else is out there. And it's the beginning of the end.

What can we do?

A few things:

1. Ask the new marketing director what you can do to earn his confidence.

2. If he/she gives you an answer that doesn't give YOU much confidence, leverage your relationship with senior management. Sometimes you can buy time and a pardon from your death sentence from the CEO, who likely hired you way back when they were a smaller company.

3. If neither of the first two work, then step on the new business gas pedal, and reach out to your client's competitors, to see if your expertise in the category can now be put to work for them.

In the end, while we must all try to grow at the pace of our fastest-growing clients, we should never fool ourselves into thinking that -- even if we do -- the ax won't fall on us for a larger, global shop.

And when it does, have plenty of bandages around to salve the wounds.

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