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Council Post: 17 Real-Life Client Requests That These Agency Leaders Declined To Accept

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Council Post: 17 Real-Life Client Requests That These Agency Leaders Declined To Accept

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Professionals in any field will occasionally encounter client requests that don’t align with their capabilities, values or business objectives. For agency leaders, deciding whether or not to take on a special request from a prospect or an existing client can be challenging. And while it may be tempting to say “yes” to every opportunity that comes along, in certain instances, declining a client’s request is the most prudent decision.

Below, 17 Forbes Agency Council members share real-life experiences they’ve had recently where they declined a client’s request, shedding light on the rationale behind their decisions. Read on to gain insights into the importance of setting boundaries with clients, maintaining integrity and prioritizing long-term success.

1. To Be The Voice Of A Client’s Company

We’ve been asked to develop a company’s reaction statements to societal and high-impact internal events. While we are here to act as strategic counsel and review sensitive statements, we should not be the voice of the company when it comes to personal feelings or corporate stances on sensitive topics. These statements should be authentic and come from a place of organizational truth. They shouldn’t be fabricated. – Lindsey Groepper, BLASTmedia

2. To Do Advanced Coding Or Development Work

A custom event trigger required advanced coding and expertise in Google Tag Manager. The typical agency response to any request is “yes,” and then we try and figure it out. However, in certain instances, agencies should not be afraid to say “no.” When it comes to coding or development work, one mistake can have significant consequences. Honesty can help sustain the client relationship. – Geoff Crain, Kingstar Media

3. To Work As The AOR, Do Crisis Management

Client relationships are at the core of all service businesses, so it can be tempting to answer any request for help. However, we’ve passed on opportunities to work as the PR agency of record, or to help our clients in crisis management situations. Those are both specializations that touch on what we do (brand storytelling) but require slightly different expertise. Focus is key to our success. – Megan Cunningham, Magnet Media, Inc.

4. To Partner With A Disrespectful Client

I had a very zealous client who I was excited to partner with to apply cutting-edge technology to an outdoor retail project. What I initially rationalized as behavior coming from a place of stress eventually manifested as demeaning, disrespectful treatment of myself and my team. While we hated to lose the opportunity, we knew others would come. My only regret was not parting ways sooner. – Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative


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5. To Go Outside The Scope Of What We Do

We often decline requests that are out of our scope because we learned our lesson the hard way: When you don’t have clear boundaries of what you can and cannot do, you end up trying to become everything to everybody. And that is the opposite of growth. So now, we define expectations and terms of service with our clients from the very beginning. – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

6. To Spread A Client’s Ad Budget Too Thin

As most clients go, they want their ads to be everywhere, all the time. On a regular basis, we decline client requests that spread their budget too thinly across multiple ad placements—multiple social networks, organic and paid search, online display, radio, over-the-top, and the list goes on. We educate them about the impact they could have with a focused effort, and decline the work if they insist on having it all. – Korena Keys, KeyMedia Solutions

7. To Provide A Performance Guarantee For SEO

New SEO project inquiries often request performance guarantees, which can be challenging. In our 16 years of service, we’ve never offered a performance guarantee. Rather, we educate customers on the benefits of SEO investments and share success stories from past clients. There is a fine line between “guarantees” and “results,” and some agencies exploit this, creating a wrong impression about SEO. – Sanil Subhash Chandra Bose, Ayruz Data Marketing

8. To Meet Unrealistic Goals For A Client’s Budget

We recently declined a client request that presented an unrealistic goal given their budget. Many firms exploit such clients, but we prioritize transparency. We informed the client that their vision would require a much larger investment than planned, and any company suggesting otherwise would only lead to wasted resources and the client losing their investment. – Blake George, BMG Media Co.

9. To Deliver Only Earned Media Hits

We have declined a handful of clients who just want earned media hits. This is a very myopic view of PR and undervalues the extensive work put into market positioning and strategy, which of course ladders down into coverage, but also into everything from sales to broader marketing. Like almost any marketing function, a combination of earned, owned and paid media will bring the biggest return. – Molly Mulloy, Crafted Communications

10. To Take On Small, Ad-Hoc Projects

We decline small, hourly, ad-hoc projects with no clear strategy. These projects only create noise and are usually inefficient. They do little to drive the client’s business or our relationship with the client forward. – Katie Schibler Conn, KSA Marketing

11. To Assist With Projects Unrelated To Marketing

We’re a full-service marketing company, so drawing the line is sometimes very difficult because some clients see “full-service” and think we should do everything. We focus on the e-commerce industry and recently had to deny a very large project that involved assisting with feeding a client’s inventory into their website; we had to turn it down because it wasn’t marketing-specific. – Andrew Maffettone, BlueTuskr

12. To Meet Unreasonable Expectations

We have declined projects where clients’ expectations would never be met—if they have a seriously low budget for content and expect it to be perfect, with multiple rounds of edits, for instance. We guided them toward artificial intelligence tools, but even then, they did not realize the effort it would take to organize, brainstorm, prompt and edit the content to finalization. It is better to pass on such a project. – Peter Boyd, PaperStreet Web Design

13. To Accommodate Demeaning Or Insulting Requests

Sometimes clients make requests that individual members of our team would find demeaning or insulting. For example, a client might attempt to micromanage their account manager or insist on having a vice president on every call, which shows that the client does not trust the more junior members of the team. Ultimately, accommodating these types of requests hurts team morale; it’s not worth it. – Scott Baradell, Idea Grove

14. To Do OTT Marketing On Hulu

While we think OTT is a great segment to be involved in, it was not fair to this client for us to take on the project and “learn on the fly.” At the end of the day, it comes down to ethics. We know what we are good at and are not willing to risk a client’s marketing investment if we have not dipped at least an entire foot into the waters—even if the contract is huge. – Bernard May, National Positions

15. To Give A Problematic Returning Client A Huge Discount

We had a returning client who wanted to force us into providing high-level work for a third of the cost. While they loved our work in the past, we didn’t like the way that they treated our team the first time around. While they were returning wanting our help, their behavior reminded us to step away. – Kathleen Lucente, Red Fan Communications

16. To Do A Type Of Campaign That Wouldn’t Drive Value

We had a client wanting to do a geoconquesting campaign. However, when we performed a behavior analysis on whether or not the campaign could be successful, we determined that the audiences’ ability to perform a specific behavior was impeded by an element that drove down their motivation. The campaign was then shifted to one that drove far more value to the client. – Roger Hurni, Off Madison Ave

17. To Call Google For Them

We had a client ask us to call Google and ask them to remove some listings from their search results. I told them I lost Sundar Pichai’s phone number. – T. Maxwell, eMaximize

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