The parallels between a love lost and a client lost can be strikingly similar. I was reminded of this as I working out to the lyrics of an old Stones song called ‘Stealing My Heart.’ Some of the lines reminded me of the upcoming anniversary of our termination by what was, at the time, our second largest account. It had been a troubled, roller coaster-like relationship from day one (think Burton/Taylor, Brad/Jennifer or Tiger/Elin, if you prefer). It was also one of those relationships where, to paraphrase a Fleetwood Mac lyric, we were over our heads, but it sure felt nice.
Aside from money, prestige and the opportunity to play on a larger stage, I’m not sure why we engaged with this particular client. They’d had a history of churning agencies, were in the midst of a hostile takeover attempt and invited us into the pitch at the last second. But, the call of the siren was too strong and we succumbed, turning the agency upside down to develop smart creative, schedule the requisite rehearsals and prepare our various leave-behinds. The rehearsals were a disaster and I can distinctly remember Ed shaking his head the night before the presentation and predicting it would be a train wreck. But, aside from one member of our pitch team showing a competitor’s product in the midst of our presentation, the entire meeting was flawlessly executed.
Just like one does on a very special first date, we immediately felt the chemistry. There was love in the air. We knew we’d connected in a big way. And, sure enough, the call came asking for references (they were very concerned about a bait-and-switch since a large agency had just done that to them). Once we cleared the reference check, we were good to go and, just like that, we’d added $1 million to our billings (which is a big deal when your annual billings are $14 million).
And, as is the case with almost every relationship, the first few months were a love fest. We adored them. They thought we walked on water. The birds were chirping. And, the sun was shining. But, then came the storm clouds. The CMO who’d hired us left. A new global head of public relations was hired and refused to meet with us for months. And, a pit bull of a direct report was switched to our part of the business. His mission in life seemed to be to berate and belittle our team. If the first six months had resembled ‘Romeo & Juliet,’ the final six felt more like ‘Kramer v. Kramer’.
I was eventually summoned to the client’s Manhattan office and told he wanted “to dial down the relationship.” I need to try that line sometime. It’s so vague that I wasn’t 100 percent sure we were being fired. But, we were. And the million dollar sweetheart left just as quickly and unexpectedly as it had arrived.
Mick and Keith nailed the whole relationship thing when they wrote, “I thought you were dinner, but you were the shark.” Man, this particular client was a Great White shark, and it left us bloodied and battered for quite some time.
Older, and hopefully a little wiser when it comes to mega accounts that suddenly want to start dating, I’d like to think we’d follow another bit of advice from ‘Stealing My Heart’: “When love’s on the menu, I don’t drink so deep.” Some more due diligence would have saved us a lot of pain and suffering.