Having been burned one too many times by one too many prospects/clients who hire us to just turn around and fire us, we've buttoned up our new business screening process. I won't bore you with the details, but it's based on Six Sigma and actually produces a score telling us whether to proceed with the search.
One of the key criteria is 'agency churn.' We ask the prospect how many agencies she's retained in the last three years. If the number exceeds two, we politely decline.
Clients who churn agencies are toxic, and we've had more than our share. For example:
– The technology company CEO who loved our big idea so much that he offered to buy it in the middle of the pitch. He changed his mind, hired us instead, spent a month having us create the infrastructure necessary to implement the idea, and then fired us. Sayonara, Sam.
– The I.T. company marketing executive who hired us in the morning and fired us in the afternoon after learning he didn't have the budget he thought he'd had. Although it happened nearly a decade ago, the account still holds the agency record for 'briefest relationship.'
– The Fortune 500 company PR director who said he was looking for a true strategic partner, turned us into order takers for 15 months and then fired us because 'we were great with ideas, but weak on execution.' It turned out we were his third agency in three years.
Back in the early 1990s, I worked for the now defunct Earle Palmer Brown. We were desperately seeking business at the time and accepted an invitation to pitch Weight Watchers, a company that put the 'C' in churn. We won the business and, sure enough, were fired six months later (that was a matter of making a pact with the devil. We knew WW had a terrible reputation).
Walking away from new business is always difficult, especially in this economy. But, one of our key New Year's resolutions is to make sure the prospect is buying what we're selling. And, if they're notorious for repeatedly blowing up agency relationships, we'll walk away.
One would hope the image and reputations of these churn and burn clients would go up in smoke, but somehow they survive and keep on baiting the latest, unsuspecting agency. I'd love to see the Council of PR Firms survey its membership and publish a top 10 list of the most egregious churners. Talk about providing a value add. Kathy/Matt: how about it?