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Identify these 4 red flags for better agency-client relations

A guest post from business coach and consultant Ilise Benun

Today's post is brought to you by the founder of Marketing Mentor Ilise Benun. We recently caught Ilise's presentation at Ad Age's Small Agency Conference in Austin where she gave all kinds of great tips and helpful information for agencies. So, we asked her if she'd be willing to stop by the Emma blog and share some of that good stuff with our agency audience. And if you're looking for some agency resources of the email variety, we've got you covered.

There was a lot of talk about “problem clients” at Ad Age’s Small Agency Conference last month in Austin.

Rick Webb, co-founder of the Barbarian Group and author of the forthcoming book, Agency: Starting a Creative Firm That Succeeds in the Age of Digital Marketing, referred to the “sociopathically grumpy people” we sometimes have to work with.

And in my session, “Problem Clients: How to Spot Them and Turn Them Into Good Ones,” I made the point that sometimes we creative types are not so easy to deal with.

Plus, in most challenging situations, the “problem clients” are not bad or evil people. Rather, due to extenuating circumstances, factors beyond their control and the high pressure most people are under these days, they are simply “behaving badly.”

The biggest problem, as I see it, is that we allow it!

So the first step in addressing these issues involves stopping before you react and putting yourself in their shoes.

In my presentation, I identified 4 red flags to watch out for -- chaos, no budget, cluelessness and disrespect – and some possibilities of what’s going on for clients in each of those situations.

Red Flag #1: Chaos

Illustrations by @lainKeith

If you’re getting last minute requests with unreasonable deadlines, it could be:

•  They have a chaotic corporate culture and your contact is doing their best, to little avail!

•  They have no self discipline and are in reaction mode at all times.

•  No one (including you) has called them on this bad behavior, so they have no reason to change.

Red Flag #2: No Budget

If you hear, “We have no budget,” it doesn’t usually mean, “the sky’s the limit.” It could be:

•  They’re under pressure to do more with less.

•  They don’t understand what’s involved in the project and can’t justify the price – to themselves or their superiors.

•  They don’t trust that you’ll quote a fair price based on their budget.

Red Flag #3: Cluelessness

If you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t understand what a project requires, it could be:

•  A young “marketing coordinator” who doesn’t have the experience to understand.

•  An older marketing director who is burnt out and hasn’t kept up with the modern marketing world.

•  A new “marketing director” who suddenly has marketing responsibilities but knows next to nothing about marketing.

Red Flag #4: Disrespect

If your contact is unresponsive or not providing the feedback you need to meet their deadline, it could be:

•  They lack the power to make the decisions or don’t know what to do.

•  They are the victim of office politics and other job frustrations.

•  You are getting the brunt of personal problems.

For more about these situations and suggestions for how to handle them: 

       •  Download the complimentary 3-page “Cheat Sheet for Problem Clients.”

Print it out and tack it up on your wall so you have at handy when the tension starts to rise. Share it with your team too!

       •  Watch the video of the live presentation on YouTube.

Ilise Benun is a business coach and consultant to creative agencies and professionals. She is the author of 7 books, including, The Creative Professional’s Guide to Money and The Designer’s Guide to Marketing and Pricing. She is a national speaker, the founder of and host/programming partner for the Creative Business track of HOW Design Live. Have a special situation you need coaching on? Take advantage of her complimentary 30-minute chat and sign up to receive Marketing Mentor’s Quick Tips every other week plus special discounts in the Marketing Mentor Toolbox.