Managing Those Difficult Clients

Yesterday marked the end of a terrible relationship.

It had started out so promising. Referred to us by a long-term client, the new client was founder of a laser cartridge remanufacturing company and she was launching a program that would contribute $1 to a community service organization for every cartridge a participating company purchased. It was a program my company was excited about: It was a win, win, win. Participating companies saved 30% in toner cartridge costs by buying the recycled cartridges. Community services got needed financial help. And the environment scored by eliminating 2.5 pounds per cartridge of plastic from entering the waste stream.

My first mistake was not following my iron-clad rule of getting payment up front. My second mistake was not immediately recognizing one very scattered, ill-prepared business owner. My third mistake was not insisting she do her homework before we began work.

Where to start

Like many entrepreneurs, the client had no understanding of the importance of brand. She didn't even have a mission statement nor had she conducted any research on her competitive positioning or how customers perceived her company. Her marketing database consisted of a list she had been given by a business group to which she belonged.

So what had she done? What too many people do when they think of marketing. She hired a designer to design a program "logo." Working from the nothing, the designer not surprisingly created a logo that had no relation to her corporate brand. Worse, the mark didn't even use the correct full name of the program.

Midway through our project she decided to do a vision statement, which set us back weeks. Proud of her accomplishment, she now wanted her "vision" incorporated into the promotional copy. We tried to explain that her vision statement is meant to be an internal document, not marketing material. From here, things went from bad to worse. Insecure in her judgment and our authority, she sought everyone's opinion of every copy line we wrote, including family, friends, staff, and a slew of consultants. She even took a letter we wrote to her monthly business group meeting, asking for their opinion on every sentence!

The experience reminded me of an article by John Graham I read several months back in the September/October issue of the IPA Bulletin. Here's my version of his "Thirteen Great Ways to Kill Your Company's Marketing."

Ten ways to sabotage even the greatest marketing initiative

Everyone's an expert. Your brother-in-law took a marketing course, so he knows all about marketing. Your receptionist majored in English, so she knows how to write brochure copy. Your sales team remembers you did a direct mail campaign several years ago, and it "didn't work." A personal opinion is not professional advice. The more people you involve in decision-making, the more confused you'll become, since each person will offer their own "expert" opinion.

Indecision. Incredibly, many companies are led by people who are afraid to make decisions. This may be understandable if you're dealing with middle management in large companies, since many of these people have learned to avoid trouble by procrastinating and delaying tactics. However, every president or CEO must be able to make decision, often very quickly, to survive in today's competitive environment. This is not to say expert advice shouldn't be sought. At some point, though, you must weigh this information with your own experience and knowledge, and decide.

Fine-tuning forever. One of the surest ways to kill even the best idea is to discuss it to death. We typically allow for two rounds of author's alterations for written as well as design work, once the design direction has been signed off. Multiple iterations inevitably lead to a weaker concept and copy.

Inability to focus. This was a critical failing of the above-described client. When we convened a meeting to discuss copy, she pulled out the "logo" her designer had created. She asked for our opinion, which then launched an hour-and-half discussion on brand strategy. No matter how I tried to redirect the discussions, she'd go off on another tangent. Aside from making meetings unproductive, this tendency leads to completely ineffective marketing. Jumping from one marketing program to the next is a waste of time and money. You need to conduct appropriate research, carefully craft your brand strategy (marketing plan), and stay the course.

Lack of vision. Without a guiding vision from the top, a business is doomed. While our client had a very good idea█recycling toner cartridges, selling them back for less than an OEM product, and contributing a portion of each sale to help a community service organization█she was unable to succinctly and compellingly articulate her vision. This is critical homework before undertaking any marketing initiative. The vision statement is not only at the core of a company's brand, it is central to effective brand communications.

Due to space limitations, I'll address in my next column the other five ways in which marketing efforts are typically sabotaged.

Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte

© 2003 Charlotte Mills Seligman

February 20, 2003
Print & Graphics
Column #47, 2/20
Printing Journal
Column #47, 2/20
Difficult Clients
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

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