3 signs it’s time to break up with your client

Here are three big client red flags to watch out for, tips on how to get ahead of potential challenges and how to know when it’s time to part ways from BAM’s Lauren Grassetti.

A lack of trust is the quickest way to erode your team’s morale, says Grassetti.

You’ve had an off feeling in your gut for weeks, if not months. The red flags are piling up: lack of trust, no forward momentum, long pauses in communication. If this sounds familiar, I’m here to tell you what you instinctively know. It’s time to break up…with your client. 

Client-agency relationships are dynamic. If a company isn’t seeing real value from their PR efforts, they need to evaluate if they’re working with the right agency. On the flip side, while retaining clients is paramount to any agency's success, a good communications partner will flag when it’s in the best interest of both companies to part ways. 

Below are three client red flags to watch out for, tips on how to get ahead of potential challenges and how to know when it’s time to part ways. 

Lack of trust

Trust in any relationship must be earned. From providing strategic guidance and scoring top-tier coverage, to having difficult conversations on when to pivot a campaign, a partnership-oriented agency establishes trust with its client on day one. 

Despite delivering consistent results that ladder up to your client’s business goals, your team is still being micromanaged and questioned at every turn. In this scenario, start with an open and direct conversation with your client. You might find out your client contact is only micromanaging because they need a quick way to gain insight to share with their internal team. In this case, something as easy as switching up the way your agency reports results could be a game changer. 

If you cannot get a direct response from your client, and it seems likely that trust won’t ever be established, it’s time to part ways. A lack of trust is the quickest way to erode your team’s morale and hinder your agency’s chances of delivering great results. 

Zero assets 

Company momentum is an important component of any strategic PR program. Milestones like corporate funding, customer wins and product upgrades can yield feature coverage in the tier-one outlets high on most CEO wishlists. 

But in some cases, news a client thought they’d have at the start of a PR engagement gets pushed out or canceled altogether. That alone is OK. Most PR professionals are experts at increasing a company’s share of voice in the absence of hard news through thought leadership, data-focused pitching and contributed content. But what happens when your client isn’t comfortable sharing a bold point of view on topics trending in their industry, when they are unable to mine their internal data for use in PR, and bandwidth constraints prevent them from reviewing any content you create on their behalf?  

Being a strategic partner means pausing when necessary to help your client build up a stable of assets that will support a strategic communications program. In this scenario, if results in the form of top-tier coverage are the PR program’s objective, it’s time to have an honest conversation with your client that they might not be ready for PR.   

Radio silence 

Two-way communication is critical for a successful agency-client relationship. As an agency, it’s your responsibility to keep your client in the loop on things like pitching efforts, industry trends and challenges you’re facing. For the client, acknowledging your PR team’s efforts, providing constructive feedback and responding to timely media opportunities are important.  

If communication with your client has dropped off, and you feel like you’re being ghosted, don’t just throw in the towel. Sometimes, something as simple as making sure you’re using the right channel to communicate can make all the difference. If email and texting aren’t working, try creating a group Slack channel. A quick response can make or break a media opportunity. 

If you’ve tried multiple methods of communication, and you’re still unable to get on your client’s radar, they might not have the time to commit to a PR program. If this is the case, suggest pausing the campaign until they can dedicate the resources needed to engage with an agency.  

The most successful agency-client relationships are built on a mutual foundation of respect and partnership. If you feel your relationship is veering off-course, or recognize one of the red flags above, work to proactively address it before it becomes insurmountable. Like all relationships, you’ll hit bumps in the road. The key is doing what you can to get back on track or knowing when it’s in the best interest of both parties to part ways. 

Lauren Grassetti is SVP at BAM, overseeing the firm’s PR and media relations account servicing teams.

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