Bad Client Barometer: 4 Red Flags to Protect Your Agency

A PR, marketing and advertising veteran of more than 35 years, Ned Barnett, president of Barnett Marketing Communications, has seen it all when it comes to agency/client relationships. Over time, he’s compiled a list of red flags in identifying clients that could present problems. Here they are:

  1. The client lies to the agency: “I had a client about four years ago who was dishonest with me,” says Barnett. “I regret that when I discovered it, I didn’t act on it right away and drop them.”

  2. They can’t pass the chemistry test: Barnett is of two minds about chemistry with clients—he’s had no chemistry at all with some clients and was still successful, yet he feels it’s good to have some common ground. “Zero chemistry can cause active hostility—it’s like a bad marriage, you shouldn’t be together.”

  3. There are philosophical differences: If the client believes in a cause that you find unworthy or distasteful, don’t take them on, says Barnett.

  4. You get a bad feeling in your gut: “A lot of this is intuitive decision-making,” says Barnett. So follow your hunches. 

PR News subscribers can read more from Barnett and other agency veterans about taking on controversial clients like BP and Bank of America in: "Media Relationships a Big Factor in Taking on Controversial Clients." 

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01

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About Scott Van Camp

Scott Van Camp is editor of PR News, an executive-level, reader-supported publication that helps enhance the business impact of PR. Scott has a rich background in both journalism and PR/marketing. He has more than 15 years of experience as a writer/editor at various consumer and trade publications. Scott was with VNU Business Publications for five years, including stints as managing editor at IQ News and Technology Marketing magazines and senior editor at Brandweek. In the PR/marketing sphere, he has served as corporate communications manager at MarketBridge, a marketing and sales consultancy, and as editorial director for the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council. While at the Council, Scott led several high-profile marketing research projects. He has also operated his own communications and media consulting firm, SVC Communications.

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