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Carl Hopkins Feature England

Agency Agony Uncle

By The Drum | Administrator

March 4, 2008 | 7 min read

Uncle Carl answers your questions

Dear Uncle Carl,

Is it ever acceptable to sack a client and what’s the best way of going about it?

Hell yeah! In fact most of the agencies I work with now should sack the bottom 20 per cent of their client base as they have either outgrown them, or their charging structure or their project demands no longer suit the agency. Also, if a client is a nightmare and damaging the agency, then again it can be just cause and can be great for bringing the agency together.

Don’t rush to fire them though, talk to them first to warn them. Perhaps restructure their retainers to force their hand - they will either say no and walk away or pay you more! We are in a service industry not a slave industry. You should be able to choose who you work with and on what terms to suit your business. Agencies do not say “No” or “No More” often enough. Strap a pair on and see what happens.

Dear Uncle Carl,

One of our account directors is leaving to start his own agency in three months. Our initial instinct was to send him on gardening leave, but next month is a key time for a key client and I fear replacing him on the account would harm the agency-client relationship. What course of action do you suggest I take?

You have to play the cards you are dealt. You have to replace him as he is leaving so don’t dick about, tell the client ASAP and give yourself as much time as possible to replace him while managing the client’s expectations and laying the TLC on thick.

You can tell the client he will be around during the crucial time if you wish but that may put you at risk if the person is a little ‘de-mob’ happy. Also at a suitable juncture, let the individual know he is bound contractually to stay away from the account once he has left. If the client truly bought into the agency it will be a bumpy but do-able transition. If the client leaves as a result of the individual going then they were never your client and you didn’t do your job properly in the first place - learn from it, get over it and move on.

I know of an MD who took a head of dept (HOD) to a client knowing the HOD had resigned and was due to leave. They won the project but once the client discovered the HOD had gone the agency lost the client - stupid game to play and you’re not stupid. Are you?

Dear Uncle Carl,

We’re a small agency that has been invited to pitch for an account that, if won, would dramatically change the company. While it’s a great opportunity, I’m concerned we’d become over-reliant on just one piece of business. Is it worth the risk?

F**k it, go for it! Where’s the risk? You haven’t yet won it but it sounds like if you go through the process you will learn a lot about your agency and the people you employ. In order to be a big agency, which I am guessing you want to be, you have to win big business and there has to be a ‘first one’- this could be it.

Once you have it, as long as you haven’t over-promised, under-sold or lied about your abilities, then what a fantastic problem to have. You can re-structure your agency a little, give staff a big rewarding piece of work to work on. You can PR it to death and I hope make money. This account will then give you the confidence and believability to go on and get other similar sized accounts. You are right to be concerned over it dominating you but that will only happen if you stop and sit there simply looking after what you have got and that’s not your game plan, is it? Good luck.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I’ve been offered a job at an agency that has been winning some good business of late, but I’ve also heard rumours that the morale there is pretty bad. What do you think I should do?

Stop listening to rumours? I f*****g hate gossips. A rumour is an unsubstantiated story at best, it is not confirmed by the central person or party and it is usually told second hand by someone who doesn’t really know the whole story to someone who doesn’t really care and probably didn’t ask for the ‘information’ in the first place! If you have been offered the job then you must at some point have attended some sort of interview. At that point you should have asked them what the ‘morale’ is like.

An interview is an opportunity for you to interview your prospective employer too. You could have asked them how they would respond to the view held by some that their morale is low. This then breaks the rumour mill and allows you to make your own decision. Also an agency is simply a collection of people and if the morale is low surely that can only be the responsibility of the incumbent staff. It is not the MD’s or FD’s job to be corporate-clown.

Dear Uncle Carl,

Is an agency blog a waste of precious time or a useful tool for promoting the agency and bringing the team together?

I would go with the ‘waste of time’ option. I know it’s old-fashioned but isn’t it easier to talk to your staff? Wouldn’t that also physically bring them together? Surely a blog requires you and your staff to sit on remote PCs - hardly cosy. And is it just me that finds blogs a little, well dull? It’s like reading a diary of someone you wouldn’t want to spend time with!

Also wouldn’t it be viewed with some suspicion from agency staff who I find to be inherently cynical and suspicious. A blog strikes me as a censored, sterile corporate message board if it is run by ‘the management’ and if it’s run by the staff it will end up an anonymous ‘bitch’ not a ‘blog’.

I do think there is a role for staff-based intranets if they are used as a common point of communication - almost like a virtual staff room. Although I know of one agency intranet that, if you type in .com as opposed to .co.uk, takes you to a porn site - so do your research. By the way check out my Toby jugs blog on www.welovebigjugs.com!

Dear Uncle Carl,

Our agency five-a-side team is rubbish. Is it ever acceptable to bring in ringers for the sake of avoiding further embarrassment for the company?

It’s okay to field your team of Jan Molbys if you are out to play your clients as it wouldn’t look good to beat your paying clients, so stick with your agency fabulous footballing five.

As for bringing in ‘ringers’ to beat other agencies i.e. your competition, then f**k it - that’s okay. Think of it akin to bringing in freelancers to kick their asses in a pitch, now you are kicking their asses on a pitch - no difference.

Troubled? send your questions for The Drum’s agony uncle to dear.carl@carnyx.com Or, If you wish to meet with Carl to talk about your business, then email him on ch@kloog.ch

Carl Hopkins Feature England

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