Rude and Disrespectful Clients

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MARC BROWNSTEIN: We’ve fielded many pitches in the last several months but none have been as frustrating as the three we lost. I’m discussing them here because I suspect they may be part of an underlying trend and wanted to get your take on it.

Here's what happened: the three pitches involved clients at three different levels. One, a global giant. The second, a mid-market consumer packaged goods company. The third, a small, regional company. Very different companies in size, scope and scale. Yet all three treated and impacted our agency the same way.

Being completely objective, we had killer presentations for each of these. And the client responded accordingly. We went from a wide group of agencies to a handful to just us. We were on the one-yard line in each of the cases. All we had to do was put the ball over the goal line. Which, I might add, we’re usually pretty adept at.

Here’s where it gets strange. We were told by all three clients that we were their choice. Two clients asked us to prepare Letters of Agreement. The third initiated compensation discussions with us.

Now, in our 42 years in business, we’ve been pretty good at managing our own expectations before popping the bubbly. (Fortunately we didn’t have it on ice.) But when a client gives us all of the affirmative “buy” signals that these three did, you can start writing the new business press release in your head.

Yet, in all three cases, we didn’t win. One made no decision at all, after a lengthy and costly review. The second awarded it to a firm that sprung out of nowhere at the wire. And the third hired a firm that did the same scope of work for half the fee. (In the last case, we were notified by email!!)

I can tell you this pattern has never happened to our agency before.

After emotions settled down, I gathered my team to study why this happened. To quote one of my senior executives, “many clients today have an astounding lack of professionalism.” We didn’t lose; we were burned. And taken advantage of.

I’m concerned that clients increasingly are playing a supremely good game of poker -- allowing agencies to jump through hoops, misleading them with the carrot of being their favorite agency. And then making sudden choices which lack process, sound judgment, and proper communication.

Moving forward, we are going to be much more careful about who we pitch. And we have put a new steps in our vetting process to help us waste less time with rude and disrespectful clients, especially when we’re on the one-yard line. My only hope is that our experience was a coincidence of bad things happening in threes... and not an unprofessional trend.
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