THE BIG PITCH: What's the toughest advice you've ever had to give one of your clients?

Frederick Hoar

Miller/Shandwick Technologies

San Mateo, CA

In 1980, Syntex was in the midst of a crisis involving the finding that its infant feeding formula was deficient in chloride and had been blamed for illnesses. That night, '20/20' aired a scathing expose. No infant died and Syntex removed the product from all stores and distributors it could pinpoint. It reformulated the product with added chloride. My advice was for the CEO to go public with a candid explanation and apology, and for Syntex to reissue the baby formula under a different name. He decided not to issue a message to the public and the reissued product retained its original identity. It ultimately was doomed as a brand and withdrawn.

Susan Butenhoff

Access Communications

San Francisco

South Korean LG Electronics planned to announce its acquisition of Zenith Electronics, the last US television manufacturer and a trusted brand name in America. LG believed the 'Koreanization' of an American company would positively showcase the economic power of Korea. Access thought differently.

We had to inform them that LG would not be seen as a 'white knight' but as a foreign raider. Access insisted that LG take a back-seat to the Zenith CEO as the lead spokesperson. At the final hour, LG agreed to follow Access' advice. The result was that coverage portrayed LG as a partner bringing much-needed infusions of capital, technology and manufacturing to Zenith.

Joseph Riser

GCI Group

Los Angeles

A client was certain they were the 'only game in town' to the point that they would not even acknowledge that they had any direct competitors.

We let them know that we wouldn't be able to represent the product as a 'one of a kind' and would resign the account if we couldn't all come to terms with some market realities. We worked to help carve out what could be a reasonably profitable, although smaller, vertical market niche.

After I changed jobs, I noticed they had shifted back to the old verbiage.

Trade media laced each write-up with rebuttals to the 'first and only' rhetoric, and then later stopped writing about the product at all.

Dean Bender

Bender/Helper Impact

Los Angeles

'I once had to advise a client, the CEO of a major corporation, to examine the qualifications and abilities of his in-house corporate communications person. It was an extremely sensitive issue. Our agency was very proactive in developing hard-hitting campaign programs on behalf of the client but these programs always seemed to stall once it reached the desk of the corporate communications person. I explained the situation to the CEO and provided my advice to consider making a change in personnel. After carefully assessing the situation, the CEO made a personnel change and restructured the way in which public relations was done on behalf of his company

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