Aly Saxe

Getting Fired By a Client: Six Lessons from Lost Accounts

By: Aly Saxe | January 19, 2016 | 

Getting Fired By a Client: Six Lessons from Lost Accounts

By Aly Saxe

Lost accounts and getting fired by a client suck, and it’s unfortunately something every agency-side PR pro has experienced.

Most type-A PR pros obsess a little whenever this happens.

While it’s healthy to reflect, the worst thing you can do is decide that there’s nothing you could have done to prevent it.

I’m not saying that every firing is just, but I will suggest there is always a lesson in PR management to take away from when you are fired by a client.

Remember, the PR role is always evolving. There isn’t an all-encompassing guidebook that tells us the perfect move to make at every given moment.

We listen to our clients and leadership, create the best work we can, measure its performance, and try again. We evaluate, benchmark and strategize, and do our best.

Even so, not every account will be a raging success. And sometimes even the successful ones end in flames.

According to our customers at Iris, and our own experiences from PR agency life, here are the top reasons accounts go astray and the lessons PR pros can learn.

Measurement…or Lack Thereof

I wish this wasn’t the case, but some PR teams are still using advertising equivalencies, circulation numbers, or turning in static lists of media wins and calling it a report.

That just doesn’t cut the mustard these days.

Clients want data. Meaningful data. They want metrics that tell them how your performance affected their business and shows how efficient you were with their budget.

How else can they know if you’re worth your retainer?

Lesson: Don’t just offer numbers out of context; connect your work to the clients’ business objectives.

That means taking the time upfront to ask what those are and measuring up to them along the way.

Don’t wait until the end of the year, the contract, or even end of the quarter. Your performance is evaluated every time the client receives your invoice.

Don’t Have the Right Skill Set or Relationships

Maybe the client wanted a team with stronger media relationships in a certain industry.

Maybe they needed help with content development and social listening, and your team isn’t experienced in those areas.

PR responsibilities spill into many areas and there’s no one-size-fits-all laundry list for clients.

Lesson: This could indicate you need to do a better job vetting clients early on to make sure they’re a good fit, but it could also indicate your team needs to acquire new skills.

Take a look at your talent bench and evaluate where your team needs training or even outside help to offer the right services to future clients.

Contractors can be really helpful here and a great option for small agencies.

Your Account Management Style Didn’t Jive

It’s surprising how often PR teams will assume accounts are going well until they get an angry call from the client.

This can be avoided with clear communication, but that’s a tricky thing, isn’t it? Every client wants to be communicated with differently. The hard part is figuring that out.

Lesson: Establish standards of communication that span every single client. Then build their personal communication preferences on top of it.

For instance, your standards might include monthly statements of work and status repots, bi-weekly meetings, and one “check-in” call every week. You clearly communicate to every client that they can expect this.

On top of this, you learn how they want to be managed.

This may take some trial and error. The goal here should be zero surprises—for both you and them.

When something goes haywire you should know immediately, not after the owner of your agency gets the call, or worse, when you are fired by the client.

Clear, consistent, and personalized account management can virtually eliminate this challenge.

You Weren’t Set Up for Success

Maybe you weren’t given enough budget to execute the way you needed to.

Maybe the client tasked you with writing content, but wouldn’t share enough information to let you create something valuable.

Effectively, your hands were tied.

Lesson: Be very clear with future clients on what you’ll need from them and remind them often.

When you find yourself in a pickle, be honest and let them know you don’t foresee a grand outcome based on the lack of resources.

Whenever possible, use data to back up the expectation you’re setting, such as outcomes from previous campaigns with similar challenges.

Bonus lesson: If it looks like you’re not going to get what you need to be successful, be brave enough to walk away from the account.

Your Team Needs Better Managing or Coaching

There’s no soft way to say this: Sometimes it’s your fault. The team screwed up. They missed too many deadlines, pitched poorly, were sloppy, not strategic, or otherwise mismanaged the client.

A lost account could be a red flag that an individual needs one-to-one coaching, or a sign that the entire team needs more guidance and supervision.

Lesson: Measure and monitor the team’s performance as much as you manage and measure the client outcomes.

Modern tools will show you performance per team member in different areas.

Time tracking is helpful, but it only shows you where they’re spending their time, not how strategically they’re spending it. Don’t be afraid to go deeper.

Some folks are afraid of this level of accountability, but that’s a good thing. Your A-players will embrace it, and you’ll know who your C-players are really fast.

Your System Needs an Overhaul

One of the most perplexing situations is when a top-notch, hardworking PR team keeps turning in mediocre results.

So I’ll clue you in on a common invisible culprit here: The system.

The agency or team is using inefficient workflows, processes that eat up hours in manual maintenance, too many systems that don’t work together and communication methods where documents and deadlines fall through the cracks.

We also call this “spreadsheet hell.”

Lesson: Efficient processes are the key to productivity and high performance.

Getting Fired By a Client isn’t the End

Embrace PR technology. It will pay out in dividends.

The thing about great systems and technology is, when they are used correctly, you always get what you need when you need it.

Yes, getting fired by a client can sting. But here’s something positive about failure: It always offers a lesson.

And how boring would public relations be without a good challenge?

Take a look at when you’ve been fired by a client and turn them into lessons learned. This way you can have a PR team any client would want to hire.

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.