Jason Falls

A Client Can Be Wrong; Help Set Them Straight

By: Jason Falls | June 4, 2014 | 

clientBy Jason Falls

In 2009, I had a very cool client.

The company had a cool product and a neat story, but not much of an online presence.

Building an audience and exciting that audience around the company and its product wasn’t going to be incredibly hard, but the CEO of the company thought the key to social success was the number of Facebook fans they had.

Every Friday at noon, he would call and ask me what the new fan tally was. He wasn’t the type who would look it up himself, so I humored him.

Eventually, I learned that he called that time every week because he had a Friday afternoon golf outing with two or three fellow executive types and he liked to brag about the brand’s Facebook growth.

The project got to the point that I needed more support for measurement tools and some landing page development work, but the CEO was happy with the rate of fan growth and didn’t want to spend more money. So I had to find a way to illustrate that his thinking was wrong.

The next Friday at noon, he called and asked how many fans he had now.

I answered, “I don’t really know and don’t have time to look it up. I’m too busy trying to figure out how to make them buy from you.”

The CEO immediately got it. He stopped asking about how many fans he had and started approving more resources to build out a more sophisticated approach to Facebook marketing.

Certainly, this is a softball compared to most confrontations with a client that doesn’t get it, is mistaken in his or her thinking, or is flat-out wrong. But it offers a good idea in dealing with them. 

Never Assume the Client Knows What is Best

Or that they understand the point of social media, public relations, or your field of focus. 

For this example, the CEO didn’t realize you could monetize Facebook audiences. Of course, you could deal with a client who wants to do nothing but monetize Facebook audiences and doesn’t want to invest the time and energy to lay that organic foundation and brand presence.

For him or her, I’d find a way to illustrate the fact that fed cows produce more milk. Or fat pigs make better bacon. Or how you (usually) ask a woman on a date before asking her to marry you. Or {insert your own lather them up first analogy here}.

The same philosophy applies to public relations or even more broad marketing communications.

If your client is hyper-focused on one outcome to the detriment of others, your job becomes part execution, part education. How can the client know what they can accomplish through your efforts if he or she don’t clearly understand what the possibilities are?

You will deal with clients who are wrong. Some you will educate. Others won’t let go of an outdated perspective. For those clients, all you can do is provide counsel and document your advice and objections. Eventually, the client will see what’s wrong. 

Of course, how the client swallows that pill? Your experiences may vary.

About Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a public relations professional by trade, a writer by craft, and a smart butt by calling. He leads digital strategy for Cafepress, one of the world’s top Internet retailers, is the co-author of two books on the social and digital space, and the founder of Social Media Explorer.

  • “For those clients, all you can do is provide counsel and document your advice and objections.” < Yes. The documentation process can also be helpful if they don’t end up taking your advice, and the strategy fails. You can then (carefully) say, “Well, this is actually the strategy we recommended.” And hopefully you’ll have a chance to try it again the right way.

  • “For those clients, all you can do is provide counsel and document your advice and objections.” < Yes. The documentation process can also be helpful if they don’t end up taking your advice, and the strategy fails. You can then (carefully) say, “Well, this is actually the strategy we recommended.” And hopefully you’ll have a chance to try it again the right way.

  • Great post. Been there. But there is another problem. So many of our peers are frauds. From research firms like forrester putting out shoddy information, to the Mashables who reprint biased Press Releases to even supposedly honest trade pubs like Media Post who just now put out a completely worthless article on mobile ordering for food that someone will read and say ‘Wow I better jump on that’.To others like AdWeek that I have caught publishing false infographic data. To whole fraudulent cottage industries like the current social business or not to long ago social scoring. Where books and key notes and ‘rockstars’ get created.

    It is a big tide we face. Seriously think it is easier for the Mets and Bucs to play for the NL pennant than to fix this.

    That has been my biggest obstacle. Clients reading and listening to the frauds and then when I give them the truth they get upset. I even lost a client to a fraudster and while now they are paying the price I don’t want them back.

  • also meant to ask you JasonFalls there are Facebook brand pages that have successfully monetized those communities?

  • Love, love, love how you dealt with that client, Jason. It’s difficult, as you’re generally not in an equal relationship – but any CEO worth a pinch should value that kind of feedback. And as Gini talk about frequently – if they don’t, sometimes you need to move on.

  • bigteethvideo

    Very relatable post for my company too but possibly even from a different perspective. As a company who works directly with the end client but also works as a vendor to agencies we’ll oftentimes have to do the same thing with the agency who is reselling our service. 

    It’s easy to say we want or need a video(s) but knowing why, and then how and where to push it out to the audience is another story.

    Good advice JasonFalls

  • Nicely said Jason.
    I am rarely vindictive but I will admit to occasionally using the “do you want this to work or do you want it to do something else?” line with a bit of glee. And as you pointed out, particularly when dealing with metrics the relevance and specificity of a question makes all the difference. I doubt that the skill of asking great questions will ever go out of style.

  • Gawed

    Do you ever get to a point where you leave a client who just won’t understand? 

    I mean i keep wondering if it is not enough to sit, wait and see if we can change the world … ‘Cause it feels like we just keep validating the wrong actions and ideas to cash the money and actually helping the frauds, experts and shenanigans out there.

  • Apparently I have failed you as an editor. Someone on Twitter said you should never have a fat cow, a fat pig, and a woman in the same paragraph. As a woman, I didn’t even notice that, but I guess some people are far more sensitive than I.

  • ginidietrich That’s a disturbing tweet.

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  • KateNolan

    JoeCardillo ginidietrich Funny… I don’t recall seeing that rule in Strunk & White, but it’s been a while since I checked it.

  • KateNolan JoeCardillo ginidietrich Saw an interesting example this morning, similar bent. Will shoot you an email separately.

  • bslawton

    Well said, Jason. Great article. 
    I’ve always found asking the right question so that they have the “lightbulb moment” by themselves is the best way to set them straight. S’all about framing the question in a way that’ll push their buttons. 

    But if all else fails, and the client really won’t budge … there’s always switching off the laptop and screaming violently into a pillow. It helps. 

    — Ben @Yamshout.com

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  • philipshaun

    thinking to do the same thing again and again , i am very thankful that i
    found this one.. http://www.jarrowpomhealth.com