With Judgment Day now less than 36 hours away, I thought I'd come clean and relate THE most egregious example of client abuse in my firm's 16-year-history.
The incident occurred quite some time ago at a long-forgotten PR Week awards banquet. We had 'bought' a table that was shared by a few clients and their respective Peppercom account managers. One of the clients happened to be our largest billing account and all three of the top three corporate communications honchos were in attendance.
The trio reveled in their power and expected us to be dutifully reverential in their presence. Two of them were actually decent human beings. But, the third, who served as the senior person's henchwoman, was an absolute horror show. She'd routinely yell, scream and demean (and was later unanimously inducted into our client hall of shame).
Anyway, fast forward to the PR Week dinner. We had nominated the most senior client for the prestigious PR professional of the year award and, mercifully, he'd been named one of four finalists. As a side note, Peppercom itself was nominated for several awards that night, including best midsized agency of the year.
As the dinner ended and the awards presentation began, the henchwoman waited for the top dog to make a quick trip to use the facilities. As soon as he was gone, the henchwoman leaned across the table, looked me in the eyes and hissed, 'You better hope he wins.' She wasn't kidding. My life flashed before my eyes. I looked at my colleagues, who responded with looks of shock and horror. How could we possibly control the judges' decision? And, would we really lose the business if the top dog wasn't named PR professional of the year? (which, based upon the subordinate's behavior, was rather ironic).
The big moment finally came and, sure enough, our client did win the award. Everyone smiled and hugged, and the team breathed a huge collective sigh of relief. Then came the kicker. The categories in which we, Peppercom, had been nominated were still to come. But, the client trio grabbed their award, sipped the final dregs of their wine and said, 'Thanks for treating tonight, but we've got to run.'
I still recall one of our 'lesser' clients leaning over to me and whispering, 'That may be the rudest professional behavior I've ever witnessed.'
Needless to say, the PR professional of the year and his entourage are history, and we've moved on to represent bigger, better and much nicer clients.
But, Judgment Day has a way of dredging up past slights, real or imagined. And, this one was very real and very painful. If there is a god and tomorrow is judgment day, I do hope He was watching those industry awards. If so, there will most assuredly be no rapture for the PR professional of the year or his henchwoman. In fact, I have a parting message for the latter: 'You better hope He doesn't come.'
Thanks Prinpink. I agree that awards can warp a client’s or agency’s perspective. That’s clearly what’s happened to advertising. Too many creative directors have gotten caught up in winning the Gold Lion at Cannes instead of paying attention to creating advertising that sells products. Talk about sowing the seeds of your own destruction.
Oh my word, that is a horrendous story! I worked for a few years in the PR agency world and loathed entering for awards, maybe because I am midwestern and modest.
But I think awards makes clients and agencies focus on the wrong aspect of their work. I had an experience where a particular unpleasant client saw it fit to design campaigns with awards in the strategy and wrote the amount of awards won into our agency’s evaluation. It’s when awards overtake the core objective of a campaign that it gets sickening. There’s nothing wrong with giving credit where credit is due, but to expect you deserve it because you designed a campaign as such is a little egotistical.