Fire the Client? Answers

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Marketing Challenge: Fire the Client?
Marketing Challenge: Fire the Client?

Len Stein, president and founder, Visibility Public Relations

Let's see... There are laws against this; making payments directly to the “client” (crook) will surely come out sooner than later—how does accounting handle these direct payments? So, how to handle the situation? Every conversation with clients should be recorded for “quality control”—smartphones make this simple and invisible. Simply do not send payments and should the client demand it, let him/her know you have evidence of the impropriety.

Michael Shepherd  

President and CEO, The Shepherd Group Inc. 

Oh, that Ralph! He's such a comedian! Or, OMG - you fell for that one? That's likely to be the initial reaction from the brass at Stylish when confronted with hearsay evidence about their macho marketing man. But, this is clearly no laughing matter.  

Juno did the right thing in bringing the matter to Choudury, her boss.  Now, it's time for the agency SVP to show some leadership—starting with a complete written account of the conversation between the two, followed by transmittal to and a follow-up meeting with the Agency's CEO.  I would also encourage the CEO to reach out to legal counsel for guidance and necessary documentation.  Creating the proper paper trail is essential and gives the agency the upper-hand in future dealings, regardless of whether litigation ensues.  I would also have the principals involved on the agency side sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs) promising strict confidentiality while the investigation is underway. Meantime, in terms of day-to-day operations, it should be business as usual between the two parties.

Next, the agency should contact an outside auditor to come in and look at the transactions between Stylish and Superior Creative. The fact that nothing showed up when accounting looked into the possibility of kickbacks doesn't necessarily mean that it didn't happen in some fashion.  Someone internally at Superior could be in on the deal. An independent audit will clarify things and give the agency solid financial ground on which to achieve successful resolution.  Furthermore, since Jones effectively threw the now-retired Roscoe under the bus by implicating him in the scheme, the agency should alert their former employee to what has transpired and get a statement—after first getting his signature on an NDA. Legal counsel should definitely be involved.

Armed with the findings of the audit and proper statements/documentation from Juno, Choudury, and Roscoe, the agency's CEO should then reach out to Stylish's CEO and ask him to meet in the agency's offices for a private meeting that will not involve staff, either from the client or agency side.  Politely request that it be kept confidential. 

At the meeting, which may also involve Superior Creative's attorney (particularly, if criminal activity is discovered), communicate how seriously the agency took Jones's statements and the steps taken to fully investigate the matter.  If the agency, through Roscoe, was complicit in any form of misappropriation of funds, that should be acknowledged, as well as the internal measures taken to prevent future occurrences.  The explanation should also be accompanied by an offer to resign the business. This communicates strength and renders any threat of an impending agency review to secondary status.  Let's face it: If there was any financial “monkey business” taking place involving agency personnel, a review should be the least of their worries.

On the other hand, if the agency is “clean,” the Stylish CEO should fully grasp the vulnerable and precarious position in which his marketing chief has placed the company.  Not only should he take the necessary steps to quickly rid the company of Jones's brand of managerial and financial thuggery, the agency's value to the company has definitely increased. Will Stylish still conduct a review? Perhaps. Could any competitor exceed their demonstrated level of integrity and professionalism? Not a chance.

Regardless of the outcome, however, Superior Creative has demonstrated the kind of leadership you find in great agencies—and people.  That never goes out of style.

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