Advertising / The state of the economy

Recession Brings Out the Worst in Clients

Ad Age just had an article called Bad Client Behavior on the Rise that talked about how “Tough economic times tend to bring out the dark side in perfectly civilized professionals.”

For example:

  • Individuals (client contacts) you’ve been accustomed to doing business with for years now behave in erratic ways, making unusual demands of your agency.
  • Sometimes a client is pushing your agency so low on fees that making a profit is out of the question; just keeping the client becomes the rationale.
  • Asking the agency to make unethical decisions.
  • Not paying invoices until your accounting department escalates the situation, and then challenging the invoices.
  • Demanding that you negotiate unreasonably low prices from your vendors — or else the client will seek its own vendors and get it done directly, even if the quality of execution is at stake.
  • A daily flow of tersely worded emails that convey impatience and disrespect.
  • The CEO overriding the marketing director on creative execution, giving the agency a case of revision whiplash.
  • Taking the agency’s advice on strategy and creative, then abruptly doing an about-face and dictating both. Or else.
  • Demanding greater transparency on timesheets, all estimates and invoices.
  • Ignoring standard agency timelines and demanding turnaround at a breathless pace, which often leads to mistakes.

The recession is doing a lot of things to clients and marketers in every industry. But I don’t think it’s creating demons from perfectly nice people. It’s just makes them more of what they are.

Clients who are demanding in good times are nearly impossible in bad times. I say “nearly” because in a recession it’s hard for agencies to admit their clients are awful. If they admit it, then it reflects on them, because good agencies are an extension of their clients. So if they’re clients are x, y, and z, it reflects back on them. You know, like in a relationship: You can get out of a relationship and tell all your friends and strangers what a jerk your ex is, but you were the one who chose him/her, so what does that say about you? You know?

This article really bothered me. Here’s why: of course these companies are stressing. Recessions are stressful. Money is tight, sales are down and they’ve got to maximize dollars like crazy. So they’re going to ride us hard. But instead of sitting around whining about it, why aren’t we 1) delivering results 2) putting our foot down about the behavior we won’t tolerate? and 3) working with our clients on establishing a relationship of mutual respect instead of slave and master?

Advertisers need to stop acting like auxiliary partners. Like we’re expendable. Like we’re a budget that they could and should cut. Like clients would be anything without us. Marketing and advertising is directly linked to success. But in a recession?  Marketing and advertising is vital in a recession.  So why do agencies and marketers tip toe around like they could be cut at any time? Because they could be! But who’s fault is that? Clearly we’re not expressing our value enough. We’re letting the CEO’s and Presidents believe that the great branding ideas we’re doing for them are their idea. And that’s part of managing an account. Decision makers don’t want to hear what you say, they’re egos want you to confirm what they’re saying. But there has got to be a balance because the more clients think we’re dispensable, the more they’re going to suffer and get screwed in this recession. But it starts with us. Agencies and marketing consultants need to start walking around with a swagger again.


2 thoughts on “Recession Brings Out the Worst in Clients

  1. Interesting. I don’t know much about advertising . . . but I have read that the companies which survived the last big recession were the ones who did heavy advertising.

  2. Hi! Found your blog from your comment on ABDPBT. So interesting. We are finding with our small law practice that the recession is definitely bringing out HORRIBLE behavior in many clients.

    It really irks me when people do not pay professional bills, and especially when they do so because (after the service is rendered) they start to question the value of the services, whether it really was or was not worth it, maybe it should be less, etc etc. Of course AFTER the crisis is averted, it’s easy to think, “Gee, $XXX seems like an awful lot of money for that. He probably only spent, what, two hours on my case?”

    This doesn’t factor into account the element of risk in taking on a client — some that you can only charge a small amount end up taking tons of time, and others that you can charge a lot are quick & easy. Experience, education, the value of having an attorney who has handled hundreds or even thousands of your particular type of case before: all of these things have value.

    I find myself mentally doing the same thing, though, like with an accountant bill, or a dentist bill: What did he DO, really? That type of thing. But I’d never go to the professional and start trying to negotiate a bill after it’s all over.

    Funny how in a recession economy we aren’t seeing people trying to negotiate in a smart or savvy way beforehand, either. We’re seeing people behave very irrationally. Either there are folks who don’t use needed services at all (justified by cost), or want to question it later. We really aren’t seeing people making more cost-effective choices in things like flat-fee vs hourly billing, even when we flat-out explain, “This one is the better choice if you are cost-conscious.”

    Bottom line is that people are not rational when it comes to money, and even more so in tough times, or perceived tough times.

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