Aly Saxe

Seven Signs It’s Time to Fire Your Client

By: Aly Saxe | April 13, 2016 | 
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Seven Signs It’s Time to Fire Your Client

By Aly Saxe

Mistakes: We all make them.

We take the wrong job.

We embark on the wrong relationship.

We eat the second lunch.

(Just me?)

Some of these mistakes are easier to undo than others, with no more lingering repercussions than a faint sense of regret.

But when it comes to taking on the wrong PR client—and rectifying that decision—a few more considerations come into play.

It’s always a sinking feeling, the realization that an account just isn’t working out.

And I’m not talking about the experience of having a difficult relationship.

That’s a whole different ball game.

I’m talking about those accounts when you realize that the PR program will not be a success and that pulling the plug is the fairest and most productive decision.

The worst is when you fall in love with the client (we’ve all been there), but know in your heart they’re not heading for the results they, or you, were hoping for.

But it’s because you genuinely care about their success that you have to be honest.

Which brings me to this point: Don’t assume your client will always be the one to pull the plug.

As the PR firm of record, you have a responsibility to do what’s best for the client—even if it means letting them go.

Here are seven signs it’s time to go your separate ways.

Square Peg, Meet Round Hole. You’re Just Not the Right Fit

Sometimes the way a brand presents itself when you’re pitching their business is inaccurate.

Maybe their goals are different from what you originally agreed on.

Or they pivot on their value prop and as you begin working together, you realize your skills and connections aren’t a match with their PR needs.

It happens.

If you can’t help them, free up their budget to find someone who can.

The Client Isn’t Invested In the PR Program

They cancel meetings, never provide useful feedback, and don’t give you the information you need to craft winning PR campaigns and content.

They blow off media briefings and don’t keep you informed on new products and company developments.

This could mean they don’t respect the importance of PR; or it could mean they’re too busy.

Either way you’re fighting a losing battle.

Get out of there.

The Business Itself Is a Lost Cause

Maybe you enjoy the client on a personal level…but the business?

Not so much.

Now that you’ve gotten to see its product up close and engaged with some customers (which you’ve done, right?) you realize it’s still weak.

The “story” isn’t that interesting and the buyers seem permanently disengaged, as well.

This might actually be a “pause” client.

Meaning, you give them honest feedback and agree to pause the program while they work on the product, service, or customer relationships.

They Are a Moving Target

It’s not unheard of for the PR agency to outlast multiple regime changes on the inside.

You see executives come and go, each with their own ideas of where you should be focusing your efforts.

No sooner do you execute than a new CMO is sitting across from you at a meeting, asking to hit the reset button yet again.

Your team is run ragged and you’re changing tactics so often there’s no time for real effectiveness or momentum to build.

This is a waste of everyone’s time and has you down a path to failure, which isn’t good for your own brand reputation.

The Client Clings to Wild Expectations

If you’ve done your best to set realistic goals and expectations, using data of course, yet the client keeps demanding to become an overnight success story, you’re being set up for failure.

Most companies won’t skyrocket to the top of their field in a short time.

Nor will one pitch result in gushing, high-profile coverage.

It takes time to build an enduring and positive brand image, as well as loyal customer relationships.

If the client can’t accept this, the working relationship is doomed.

The Brand Hasn’t Invested In Other Areas of Marketing

Public relations works in tandem with other marketing strategies.

If the company website looks dated or amateur, if there’s no content and no social media happening, the PR program will be a struggle.

It’s possible the client is putting all of their eggs in one basket—yours.

Make an effort to find out if this is the case and then be a pro and talk them out of it.

You’re Getting Results, But At Too High a Cost

As far as the client’s concerned, the PR is great.

They’re getting media hits, winning awards, getting picked for speaking engagements, and publishing bylines.

But you know your team is desperately over-servicing to get there.

Their hours are insane, everyone is stressed, and it’s taking time away from profitable clients.

If you can’t get the client to increase their retainer (or whatever your payment structure is) then move on.

While it may be tempting to move heaven and earth to preserve a failing account, the reality is it’s counterproductive for both you and the client.

Release them to find a PR firm that can serve their interests better, and give them the feedback they need to strengthen their branding.

Then you’ll be free to sign that next client who really is the perfect fit for your team.

image credit: shutterstock

About Aly Saxe


Aly Saxe is the founder and CEO of Iris, software for agencies and in-house PR teams. She founded Ubiquity Public Relations, an agency representing high-growth B2B tech startups, in 2007.