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How to kill client relationships

Client meets agency. They get on. Things are going well. Then agency starts to take client for granted, annoying habits creep in – they’re just little things at first, but they add up until client can’t take it any more. They want to be free to meet other agencies. They do, then they’re gone. And the cycle starts again.

There are four ways to kill a client relationship faster than you can say AVE...

1. Use Lingo Bingo

We’ll work in syncopation with your marketing strategy. We have real synergy. We’ll be a delighted extension of your team. We will leverage the game changer to move the needle…


A great opportunity to play agency ‘lingo bingo’ aside (which clients are known to do too by the way) as an industry, PR still has a jargon problem. From disruptive to reaching out, PR is littered with buzzwords that mean nothing. Clients are busy. Managing their PR agency is just one thing on the day’s long to-do list and listening to chapter and verse of these terms before they actually find out what the results of your latest campaign are, is just deliberately testing their patience. Nothing switches a client off faster than a load of meaningless lingo.

2. Don’t listen

Clients don’t brief you only to have you do the opposite. Challenging a brief can be useful, it’s often the route to providing real value. But when a client is specifically warning you off a particular route, why continue? It’s plain disrespectful and a waste of their time.

Listen, question and evidence your thought process if you feel the brief or strategy needs to be changed. Don’t do your own thing because you just know better. You don’t.

3. Don’t own up when you screw up

Things go wrong, clients know that. Sometimes agencies mess up, they know that too. Sometimes that thing you told them was going to be a winner, well, it just isn’t.

Please don’t dress it up. You messed up. Tell them that, own it – and then explain how you’re going to fix it.

Honesty builds trust. Trust builds relationships. Try to keep trip-ups to minimum, but when they do happen, see them as the opportunity they are to do the right thing and actually talk to your client about what happened. Clients will judge you on the response to a slip-up rather than the mistake itself.

4. Don’t get to know your client

The impact of your work is what you’ll ultimately be judged on, but the understanding you have of your client and the relationship you build will go a long way to ensuring that work makes the impact they need it to.

Getting to know your client, their likes, dislikes, hopes, fears and ambitions makes for a more fulfilling and ultimately, successful relationship. Understanding what makes them tick, what their pressures are and what you can do to make it all easier will build a partnership. Don’t put the effort in and you’ll be a supplier – and suppliers can be replaced.

Like any long-term relationship, the agency/client partnership takes time. But swerve the jargon, listen, own your mistakes and understand the person behind client and you might just last the distance.

Article written by Amanda Lowe, managing director of PR agency Story Comms

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