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Creative Business Leadership Client Relationships

This Halloween, what are agency leaders’ client horror stories?


By Sam Anderson | Network Editor

October 31, 2022 | 8 min read

In commemoration of spooky season, we asked agency leaders from The Drum Network for their moments of marketing terror.

A spooky skeleton

Agency leaders share their client relationship horror stories / Sabina Music Rich via Unsplash

Jim de Zoete, executive creative director, Across the Pond

A tale of two pitches: it was 2016 and we were working on pitches for two different clients, both sponsoring the British Olympic and Paralympic teams. One was a global car manufacturer, the other a British furniture company.

The weeks leading up to the presentations were intense: late nights, furious strategic discussions, last-minute rewrites. We were wired.

The first presentation was to the global car manufacturer. We nailed it.

The second, the next day, was to the British furniture company. By now we were spangled; exhaustion from the previous pitch was kicking in. I presented the hero spot for the campaign. A deeply emotional piece about British athletes being hewn from the land, shaped by their environment.

Much like their cars.

I couldn’t compute the blank faces. Until a loud cough from our new business director contained the words “wrong brand”. We lost the pitch.

Simon Derungs, client services director, The Maverick Group

There have been so many horrors, but one that I can never forget (believe me I’ve tried). I had recently taken over the account of a leading pet food brand and as part of our induction, the agency team was invited to their factory up in the UK’s Midlands. A fascinating tour followed, with our guide walking us along the production line so we could witness the very colorful process of turning huge amounts of cow lung and other assorted organs into delicious cans of pet food. Delicious indeed.

As we all reached the end of the line, our client proceeded to open a can of product (one with tubes and other awful things in it) and handed out forks. Everyone was ‘encouraged’ to taste the food, the client insisting that all their food was “fit for human consumption”. I assure you it wasn’t.

Hannah Turner, senior influencer account manager, Disrupt

You’d think a four-day trip to France would be the ideal working week, only focusing on one client while surrounded by stunning scenery. Perfect, right? Well, not exactly. Who knew that a free trip to a beautiful destination would result in so much trauma. From bad organization client side to upset influencers, the trip was doomed from the start. With just one team member sent (slightly our bad, we will admit), there was pressure from all sides and a feeling of everything going wrong at once.

Thankfully, there was one night of pure euphoria and enjoyment, however it was quickly masked by ongoing dread and more mishaps in the trip's logistics. It’s safe to say there was a very tense meeting when we returned, but thankfully the resulting content, we can all agree, was worth it (at least that’s what I tell myself).

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Mihir Haria-Shah, head of media, Anything is Possible

My first industry panel. With a head full of bold and brilliant ideas (or so I thought) I strode on stage, promptly forgot to introduce myself, and went in with my big, burning hot take:

"Everything that is consumed on a TV screen should be considered TV content. Apart from TikTok, as it is vertical video as opposed to horizontal, and so is different both in how it is produced, how it is consumed, and in how interoperable it is with other platforms." Not bad, I thought.

An hour or two later, on the same stage, some guy called Sir Martin Sorrell stepped up and said, pretty unequivocally, that TikTok should be seen as TV content too. So I was directly contradicted by one of the true industry greats, on my first time out.

Having had a long time to think of a decent comeback, I would now like to publicly set my past self (and Sir Martin) straight: in the way that TikTok allows personalization at scale, effectively narrowcasting to the biggest audience in the whole world, TikTok should be seen as the vanguard channel redefining what broadcast media is...

Charli Edwards, creative director, LoveThat

This happened a few years ago at another company, but nothing sends shivers down my spine like a last-minute change to the showcased talent the day before a huge televised, pay-per-view event and expo that cost millions to produce.

What really gave this particular incident the terror factor was the fact that I learned about the change on a news broadcast in a bar. What ensued were frantic calls to senior teams across the globe, a new replacement for the talent that had been dropped, and hundreds of digital and print and merchandise assets needing to be amended, reprinted, and redistributed.

The hero of the story? International creative agencies we had on our books: while we slept, they worked and vice versa (I personally stayed up so I could catch contacts as soon as they were heading to the office for the day), taking full advantage of the digital world long before the pandemic.

Did we get it resolved? Yes, but only after one of the most stressful experiences I've ever had. The pressure it put on colleagues was incredibly grueling. But it was a great example of teamwork in a crisis, if you need a silver lining.

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