The clients that agencies hate

  • Previous
  • 1 of 2
  • View as single page

There are jerks in every industry, and thus there is something unifying about sharing your war stories. That said, we've often had a hard time convincing people to go the next step and share those tales of horror with an online trade publication. Fortunately, I found a few generous agency people willing to tell me their worst client sagas under the veil of anonymity.

After collecting my stories I noticed specific personas emerging, so I gathered the worst offenders and sorted them by type. Use these stories as tales of caution and commit these personality types to memory. If you recognize one in your next meeting, you might want to save yourself from some inevitable misery. 

The absolute waste of time

A media technology and analytics specialist at a Midwestern agency
We spent a year trying to get a contact into a rather large financial firm, and eventually, we were able to set up a meeting with the CMO. We had a great call and discovered that the CMO had been recently thinking exactly what we were trying to do for them, so there was a really fascinating opportunity for us so he agreed to an in-person meeting. This would be an agency-changing deal if it went through, so we "put all hands on deck." In the weeks leading up to our pitch, we spent countless hours on research and building a fantastic "big idea" for them... we were still polishing up the deck the day before we flew out to where they were located.

We spent the night rehearsing over and over and drove over to their headquarters the next day. When we got there, we ended up waiting for over an hour. Finally someone came to awkwardly break the news to us that the CMO had been fired the day before. After all of the time, effort, and expense we had thrown into this meeting, we asked if we could talk to someone else. A half an hour later, we were told that the COO (who was the interim CMO) was across town but would come and honor the commitment made to us by his company. We set up in their conference room and waited at least another hour for him to show up.

Needless to say, as congenial as the COO was, he had zero context into the meeting nor the understanding of what his prior colleague was working on to have any impact. A complete waste of time. Not only that, but it was late in the day and the busy guy was starving. I'll never forget him eating his bag lunch at the conference table and using our beautiful presentation folder as his placemat.

The potty mouth

A media innovation and analytics specialist at an agency specializing in the pharma industry
We had a client who had a product for... um... let's just say it's a testosterone cream for men. The client told us that our female account executive who was working with them could use some of the cream because she didn't have enough balls to service their business.

Founder of a digital agency specializing in reaching the Hispanic market
After a group of account executives came to me and said that a big movie studio client had repeatedly thrown "f-bombs" on conference calls, I got in touch to tell him that we weren't going to be able to work with them. After explaining that I couldn't have him using that language with my team, he responded, "Well, I'm sorry that your team can't take hard-nosed negotiations."

The scrooge

CEO of a West Coast interactive agency
We had a client who was a startup. We were developing a whole effort for these guys -- building the brand and launching the company. Then the client shows up in my office and says, "I have good news, and I have bad news. The good is that we are very happy with the work. We look forward to a long relationship with you and want you to be our agency for a long time. The bad news: I cannot pay you."

Basically, he had run out of money at his startup. He was prioritizing someone else ahead of me, and didn't want to spend the money on our agency. I told him that if he wanted to get more funding, he was going to have to make sure that he didn't have any lawsuits against him. A lawsuit like the one I was going to file if he didn't tell me exactly when he was going to pay me and show up with the check of a third of the money that was due. That worked pretty well.

Founder of a digital agency specializing in reaching the Hispanic market
We had a client for several years who wasn't paying us when they were supposed to. Of course, they were aware that they weren't paying us on time, but they represented a huge amount of cash flow for our industry, so we kept servicing them.

In the end, we got into financial trouble because of them. While we were restricting our company, they left for another agency, which they paid what they were supposed to pay us. We almost didn't make it. It just shows that an overzealous negotiation from the client side can almost destroy a valuable partner.

On their end, they ended up paying more money [to the other agency] for a much lower quality of work.



Katelyn Watson
Katelyn Watson November 15, 2011 at 10:21 PM

Ok, I won't worry, I will wait for that one!!

Lucia Davis
Lucia Davis November 15, 2011 at 10:12 PM

Hi Katelyn!

I'm planning on doing a follow up from the brand side as well. Don't worry -- I know there are jerks on all sides of the equation :)

Thanks for reading!

PS: "Don't be stupid" is a rule to live by

Katelyn Watson
Katelyn Watson November 15, 2011 at 10:08 PM

...and pardon my typo, I am a busy CLIENT!:)

Katelyn Watson
Katelyn Watson November 15, 2011 at 10:07 PM

This article covers horror stories about people who have made bad mistakes and who are inconsiderate and not smart. But the concept has nothing to do with whether they were an agency, a brand or a service provider, so I don't really get the point of the article other than to cause negative views of "clients". People on all sides of business do silly things like what has been listed here. I guess the moral of the story is "Don't be stupid?". I bet anyone could write a long article about people they have worked with who did silly things or worked with jerks, but why would we? Ok yes, I am a I am being a bit defensive, but I imagine if I posted on here all the stupid things agencies did I'dd get a few comments too:)

Colin X
Colin X November 15, 2011 at 6:25 PM

I require at least 35% of our service fee before starting work and final payment before delivering the finished product.

The time wasters disappear quickly and I never have to chase people to get paid.

I am in a high-demand business (iPhone app development). It may not be so easy for everyone to get the money upfront but, if you can, it saves a lot of time and headaches.

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis November 15, 2011 at 3:32 PM

The horror, the horror! If you ever need to feel a little bit better about your own client situation, is always good for a pick-me-up. It feels good to know you're not alone.

Alex Romanovich
Alex Romanovich November 15, 2011 at 1:04 PM

As much as I empathize with a lot of the stories and people in them, I cannot stress enough how important it is to qualify opportunities. This is where the experience of a sales tema comes in and the most experienced need to lead the way. Clearly, unexpected things happen, but, for example, when you are working with start-ups, the first question should be - 'how will this get funded' and ask for some money upfront... yes, in our tough economic conditions, we need to stay flexible, but we also need to be diligent.