Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Adventures In Advertising: Revenge On A Bad Client

When all of us deal with a terrible client, we wish we could somehow get even.  This is about how it actually happened.

Some time ago I wrote about the worst client, ever. This is another story about that same client.

The ad manager, we will call him Ralph, was a screamer, abusive, difficult and we caught him lying all the time. He was the director of advertising of one of the major watch companies.  At some point while we had the account, he cut the advertising budget so he could fund sponsoring the clocks which then appeared all over Grand Central Station.  In those days those clocks were not digital, were not connected to or with each other and often showed the wrong time.  They were of questionable value. We made it clear that it was a dubious buy and a waste of money; especially since it used up a huge portion of their meager budget.

We always questioned why he might have made the purchase. (Guess why!)

Our agency did a really smart thing.  We sent our own employees out to interview commuters. We were trying to recoup the lost budget and sent our own employees out with a short questionnaire to intercept and interview commuters. They actually asked over 2000 people who commuted every day if they looked at those clocks.  Most did.  But, as I recall, only about 2% could identify who the sponsor of them was.  Worse than that, a fair number of them when asked about the sponsorship questioned why a watch company would sponsor inaccurate time pieces.  We actually did the research again after a year and the results were the same.

We could not dissuade him from wasting his budget.  Over time, I moved on to other accounts and eventually took another job.
Well, about five years after I had left the agency, I was at another agency and handling Elgin Watch.  And guess what?  Their marketing director was smart enough to call me to tell me that they had been approached by the out-of-home company which then controlled the clocks (the franchise had turned over a couple of times) in Grand Central and Penn Stations and was proposing that Elgin sponsor them.  We arranged a presentation at the agency’s offices.  The Elgin marketing director was a good guy and had become a friend.  Prior to the presentation I told him about my previous experience.  He told me that the genesis for this meeting came from his own ad director who had been approached by the company and he agreed that it was of dubious value.  Never-the-less, he was a good boss and agreed to allow the presentation.

So the meeting took place.  I was there along with the media director and others from the agency account group.  The client marketing director was there as was the advertising director.  The seller came in with a couple of people.  Lo and behold who was there?  My old friend Ralph.  He was introduced as a consultant who had extensive experience (and success) sponsoring the clocks in another job.  When he saw me his face fell and his demeanor became very dour.  

The sponsoring company made a perfectly nice presentation.  They talked about the traffic and number of people who went through the station on a daily basis.  They had some kind of crazy calculation about the CPM. Then they turned the meeting over to Ralph to tell us how effective this sponsorship would be.  He lied consistently.  He had a few graphs and charts which showed how these clocks affected sales; they were totally a figment of his imagination. 

I was lucky enough to have saved my previous agency’s research and was able to pull it out.  It gave me great pleasure to present it.  I also asked Ralph a lot of questions about the charts and graphs he showed.  He hemmed and hawed and blustered through the answers.  Half way through my presentation, Ralph screamed at me (what else was new?) called me a liar and stormed out.  (Clearly he had been offered a piece of the action if Elgin agreed to the sponsorship.  I always suspected that he had previously gotten some kind of fee.)

In fairness, I thought that the clock sponsorship might be a good idea for the right company, but Elgin wasn’t it for reasons too long and complicated here.  And the new owners of the franchise were somehow duped by Ralph and meant no harm.

When the meeting was over, Ralph was the first one out of the room.  The sponsoring company was mortified and apologized to the agency and client.  I just smiled.  Ralph had gotten his just reward.  I never hear about him again.


  1. Clearly the best revenge is to resign a bad client for another client who is in the same category. I have had that pleasure twice in my experience and it dramatically lifted morale as well as faith in the leadership of the agency. Today, such an activity is unheard of.

    1. Anon: Agree. It also happened to me a couple of times, but the revenge I wrote about was very personal. He was an awful client, a nasty person and, frankly, an idiot. It was a pleasure to put him way down!

    2. For what it's worth, this still goes in in independent agencies like ours, but it no longer makes the news. We choose our clients carefully, so when we resign a client, it is rare and typically due to a change in personnel at the company. We won't go public and embarrass a whole company of people we respect and love, or tarnish a brand we believe in, over one or two people with whom we can no longer stomach working. Living well is the best revenge.

    3. It is worth a lot. The company I wrote about was rotten from the top down; ultimately the agency resigned the account in just the way you wrote - no fuss, no muss. I suspect that many companies have no idea that they have a rotten apple in the barrel, mostly because those people manage up very well. But I believe that what goes around comes around.

  2. My best was when working for a real charmer at McCann Erickson in the mid-90s. Guy ran international media for Coke, Goodyear and some other global accounts. Remember him calling me and saying "I'm about to get on a plane. If those numbers aren't on my desk by the time the wheels touch down...." That night, I left a message with an HR person I'd been dealing with over this idiot's behaviour. I resigned. Then I phoned him, told him I'd resigned to HR and that time stamps could verify I quit before he'd take the petty chance of firing me. Told him I'd work 2 weeks. Worked about 2 days if I recall, then just didn't go back in. Fast forward several years, I'm on the Client side at Chase. Ran into the guy at a party. He smugly stared at me before coming over and said "What are you doing here." Told him I was just leaving. I had a meeting with my agency to review media plans in the morning. I'd become his Client. He didn't attend the meeting the following morning.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story. I love these stories. I had a similar experience. See my blog post in August of last year. Here is the link: http://viewfrommadisonave.blogspot.com/2016/08/adventures-in-advertising-employee-gets.html

  3. George Herbert said, "Living well is the best revenge." That's the only kind of revenge I've ever gotten, but I've enjoyed it. Miserable people make themselves miserable most of all. If they commit crimes or abuse people, I will speak up every time. If they are bad for business or culture, I'll speak up and do what I can. But, mostly I will just keep my distance, keep myself and my company far away from them. Let them stew in their own misery with people who, for whatever reasons, choose their world or stumble into it. So, I don't have any good revenge stories, but I enjoy reading them all the same!

  4. Thanks for sharing such a nice post. Blue Astral


I would welcome your comments, suggestions or anything you would like to share with me or my readers.

Creative Commons License