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Find A Way To Love Your Clients, Or Learn To Let Them Go


by Dave Marinaccio, CCO and Co-Founder of LMO Agency, and author of Admen, Mad Men, and the Real World of Advertising: Essential Lessons for Business and Life

Business Meeting

“It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

How many times have you heard someone say that and thought to yourself, “what a load of crap”?

All business is personal because all business takes place between persons. The human element is the only element that conducts business. It is impossible to separate humans from commerce.

Think about the best business relationships of your career. People you liked and respected surrounded you. Moreover, you were working with people you trusted. Those are qualities found in humans, not on spreadsheets.

The importance of “the human factor” in business makes positive client relationships all the more crucial to the success of an organization. In my long career working in advertising, I have learned quite a bit about how to foster long-term successful client relationships – and when to know if it’s time to get rid of a client.

When it comes to giving clients your best work, the only thing a company can do is make recommendations. We can advise, suggest, cajole, even sit on the floor and beg like a dog, but we do not make the final decisions. If a client won’t buy your good stuff, there isn’t much you can do about it. It is their money, after all.

In the world of advertising, great work usually reflects more on the client than the agency. Take a great account like IKEA. When I worked on the account for the Swedish furniture manufacturer and outlet, we produced fun and creative ads. Give the same account to almost any agency in America, and wonderfully creative IKEA ads will suddenly start coming out of that shop.

Good clients get good work. Bad clients get bad work. There are exceptions but fewer than you think. This produces a great dilemma in the advertising business, and in most other industries. Many profitable accounts are very bad clients.

The dilemma is not whether your company should pursue these profitable bad boys. The problem is how to delude ourselves into thinking we will change them into good accounts. After all, working on a crappy account is better than walking the street looking for a job.

One of the great myths in business is that you can turn a bad client into a good client. The reason we believe this myth is twofold. First is the fact that all companies hold to an unshakable belief that they are better than their competitor down the street. That they have understanding and talent that no one else does. They believe they are special.

The second reason is M-O-N-E-Y. The more profitable an account, the greater the willingness there is to look past obvious flaws. Money blinds us to the fact that an account is terrible to work on.

Denial and greed are a potent combination.

Alas, your company will not change the bad client. More likely, the bad client will change the company. But it will all come down to the same thing. The client will get exactly the work they deserve.

A relationship with a client has to be nurtured. You are either growing closer or further apart. If it is not becoming more harmonious, it is becoming more dissonant. I know the direction I want the relationship to take with my clients.

I’ll go a step further. Your company should love its clients. L-O-V-E, love its clients. They are the very reason for our existence. Without them we are nothing. We have no purpose, no income, no anything.

Incomprehensively, I have worked at ad agencies that openly expressed their hatred for certain accounts.

It is impossible to produce great work on an account you hate. Why stay late at night? Why deploy more resources? Why go the extra mile? Professionalism demands you do a good job. Professionalism doesn’t demand you miss dinner with your wife to work on a client you hate. If you find yourself hating a client, that is a very good sign that it may be time to let them go – regardless of how much money they’re bringing in.

At LMO Advertising, I demand that our employees find something they like about every client. You might have to dig to discover it, but there is something to like about everyone. I promise you, it’s there.

Not only is this critical in motivating employees, but clients know when they are not liked. It’s impossible to hate a client and pretend you like him or her. William Shakespeare said that thoughts have wings. Your thoughts will be revealed. If you dislike a client, something will give you away, and that something may cost you the account.

All business is personal, whether you are picking up dry cleaning, signing expense checks or giving the most important new business presentation of your life. It will always come back to people.



Dave Marinaccio is an international bestselling author and successful marketing business entrepreneur. His bestselling book, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek“, and his newest title, “Admen, Mad Men, and the Real World of Advertising: Essential Lessons for Business and Life” are drawn from his long career in the advertising business. He is co-founder and SVP, CCO of Laughlin Marinaccio & Owens in Arlington, VA, which is now the largest shop in the Washington area with over $100 million in billings.