OPINION: Leader - No winners in AOL and Freuds debacle

Any consultant that has ever pulled out all the stops to secure a major piece of business from a sexy global client, only to see the relationship evolve in such a manner that a review is called within months of the win being announced, will feel for Freud Communications this week.

As recently as last June, AOL's corporate comms team was proud to announce the firm's link-up with one of the most high-profile names in UK PR. While this was a relationship that may have had its origin in the bond between AOL chief Jonathan Miller and Freuds's eponymous founder, there was clearly more to be done than simply taking a few trans-Atlantic flights to brief the CEO.

A one-year contract (which should still have four months to run) to promote AOL's broadband and narrowband offer was confirmed. Corporate and consumer PR were spoken of, perhaps some tie-ins with other Freuds clients - the overarching plan being to turn AOL into a fully-fledged 'media brand'.

Presumably that process is now complete. Either that, or there has been a change of heart on the client's side as to the likelihood of it ever being so. It's hard to tell which, since the verbal outpouring of eight months ago has dried up to little more than a trickle this week.

From Freuds itself, nothing at all. From AOL, an honest acknowledgement that the process of change is underway, but that they 'would prefer to call it a review rather than a pitch'. They can call it what they like, to be honest, but I'd call replacing £500,000 of annualised fee income at short notice a bit of a bind.

Eight months, of course, is not a record. Everyone on the consultancy side has a horror story about investing heavily in a pitch, then staffing up to service the business, only for the client to quit, a new broom to arrive and the whole rigmarole to start over. To be fair, every client has a rival tale about outlandish promises made at pitch stage that proved ridiculously unfulfillable.

After such fanfare about their cosy new alliance, it is both Freuds and AOL with egg on their faces this week.

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