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Friday Poll: How Do You Handle a Client Who Won't Listen?

    • 1146 posts
    April 13, 2017 9:44 PM PDT

    Happy Friday, everyone!

    This week's poll question was prompted by a recent blog post written by our friend and sales trainer Phil Bernstein, How to Handle a Client Who Won't Listen. Phil notes, "You’re held accountable for results — if the advertising doesn’t deliver, you [are] blamed. But you’re also on commission — if the client doesn’t run with you, you don’t get paid." He goes on to say, "I would sometimes find myself sitting across the desk from a business owner who was determined to write his own laundry-list commercial and run it on my competitor if I didn’t like it" - and thus, his choices were 1) refuse the business or 2) give the best advice he could and take the money. Phil explains the approach he settled on; you can read the entire post here.

    So here is this week's poll question:

    Have you ever dealt with a client who rejected your advice for his or her ad campaign? How did you handle the situation?

    Looking forward to reading your replies!




    • 39 posts
    April 14, 2017 12:24 AM PDT

    I took the money. I'd bring them ideas trying to get in the door creatively. I was lucky to be successful with this 50% of the time. I found, however, the client doing it their way always produced the results they wanted because they believed in themselves.  Those that didn't change likely didn't get the biggest bang for their buck but they kept advertising with me. Most of those that did had really obnoxious spots, either the frenzied pitchman or the every so corny spot you were embarassed hearing it (one was lyrics written to Camptown Races and rather off key).

    • 44 posts
    April 14, 2017 8:00 AM PDT

    If a client won't listen, I don't talk to them. Instead, I present a written argument via email. I am polite. I try to flatter them. And I address each point they're debating. "I understand why you want to do this. And on the face of it, it seems to make sense. Here's the challenge..." Evidence about why and how is key. If there's a good compromise to what they're asking, I'll suggest it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes they're not thoughtful enough to read anything. But key to overcoming any objection is understanding it. And a good deal of the time, it's either fear or ego talking. DISCLOSURE: I've done this only as a station Creative Director. I never had my income riding on whether the deal closes. But I was always the one accountable for the results, since I created the advertising. However, for almost a decade, I've worked with my wife in our own agency. And we will NEVER take a gig just for the money. Life is too short. We will work only with people who are interested in engaging in a thoughtful process. Anyone who insists on ramming their own fear or ego into the equation becomes a psychic vampire. 

    • 51 posts
    April 15, 2017 4:24 PM PDT

    I am partial to the Guru of Ads principle -- the only thing that makes an ad "good" is if it generates the results the client is looking for. An ad that works is good, an ad that doesn't work is bad. The artistic merit doesn't matter -- some of the most corny, obnoxious ads I've encountered (and sometimes written) have been among the most effective.

    Blaine, I am on your side about speaking up -- if you don't think it's going to work, you have a responsibility to speak up. I'm not a fan of using email for this, though. For any kind of argument or awkward conversation, the phone is a much more effective method. Here's a post I wrote on that a couple of years ago, featuring an argument that started on email and settled itself on the phone: 


    • 51 posts
    April 16, 2017 5:00 PM PDT

    First off, be honest.  

    If the client is not going to give you enough money to be effective, tell them.

    I will ask them if they want my professional advice or if they just want to try things their way.

    I will take their money if they really want to do it their way, but not until I make it clear what my ideas are for a better use of their dollars to produce the results they want.

    I find most local business people are open to advice.


    Advertising agencies are a whole different challenge.   

    • 51 posts
    April 18, 2017 4:05 PM PDT

    Scott, the client who wouldn't invest enough to be effective was an easy one to walk away from in my AE days -- if I'm taking business for the money, there needs to be enough money to make it worth returning the guy's calls when he complains later (there's an old joke that ends with "Now we both know what you are -- we're just haggling about the price". That joke may apply here)

    The tougher one for me was the client who was willing to invest real money in what I perceived to be a bad idea. My "two responsibilities" speech helped me live with that. And wouldn't you know it... sometimes the client was right and I was wrong. 

    As for agencies, I rarely bothered to argue with them. If I had to pay them 15% and take a reduced commission, I was paying them to figure out the plan and take responsibility for it. I reserved my mental energy for directs.

    This post was edited by Phil Bernstein at April 18, 2017 4:06 PM PDT