‘Creative differences’ – five signs it might be time to sack your client

Much is written about why clients sack their creative agencies. But what about the other way around – are there circumstances when a creative agency might consider sacking a client?

It goes without saying that clients are the lifeblood of your agency. They are often hard-won, the costs of acquiring new business can be high, and it takes time to see positive returns on that investment. Retaining your clients (and their fees) is always going to be a top priority. Having said that, the following warning signs may indicate it’s time to rethink a client relationship.

  1. The finances aren’t stacking up. Either the client is a bad debtor or the costs to service them are high in comparison with the fees you’re earning. If it’s the former, there are many effective strategies for recovering your money without losing the client (if that’s what you want). And if the client isn’t proving profitable, ask yourself whether poor service is the reason (in which case, fix this first). Otherwise, you may be better served by moving on – cutting the bottom 10% of your client base can be an effective way to increase profit – or simply raising your prices.
  2. Your reputation is in danger of being damaged. As Warren Buffett once said, it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If continuing to work with a client is jeopardising your reputation, directly or by association, put distance between you quickly and professionally. If you don’t, it may impact your other clients or put off potential new clients.
  3. You just don’t work well together. You can try moving the team around to rectify the personality clash if you want to keep the client, but at the same time a priority is to look after your creative team. In any business you can encounter ‘that client’, the one no-one wants to work with. If this is genuinely the case, it may be time to call it quits.
  4. You’re not adding value to your client. If the client hasn’t raised an issue, you might be tempted to keep your head down and keep taking the fees. But ultimately, “it’s okay because they’re still paying” isn’t a strong moral position. That kind of mindset may even undermine the very heart of your company’s proposition.
  5. One of you has outgrown the other, or the business has changed. Businesses grow at different rates, move into different markets or change location. What once might have been a perfect creative match becomes a mis-match, meaning the client may be better served by a bigger, different or more specialised agency.

The need to ‘sack’ a client should be a very rare occurrence. But if any of these issues do arise, it’s far better that you take the initiative and address it. Try having an open conversation about the relationship, the value that you’re adding and the potential future direction. This will often lead to a mutual agreement either to ‘re-set’ the relationship to ensure it works for both parties or to move on.

If that sounds like a daunting conversation, or you’re concerned it may lead to conflict, you’re not alone. A good business adviser can help you make objective decisions and manage tricky situations with clients. Get the advice you need to maximise your client relationships.