Marketing Challenge: Fire the Client?

Melissa Juno was stunned. “Let me be sure I understand,” she said to her client, Ralph

Jones, marketing operations director for retailer Stylish. “You want 1% of the monthly retainer paid to you directly?” Jones’ terse response: “No payment, I launch an agency search.” With annual billings in the millions, it was a client the agency wouldn’t want to lose. “I’ll have to get back to you on this,” she stammered while getting up to leave.

As Juno mumbled an awkward goodbye, Jones added curtly, “Roscoe made it happen. I’m sure you can, too.”

Roscoe, as it turns out, was Juno’s recently retired predecessor. Since Juno joined Superior Creative, a full-service marketing agency, this was her first meeting with Jones. Stylish is a top-10 account for Superior Creative and has been for 12 years. Its current contract is up for renewal in the next few months. Certainly, she wants to retain the Stylish account, but no client is worth the risks associated with kickbacks.

When Juno got back to Superior’s offices, she went straight to her manager’s office to discuss the situation. Mara Choudury, SVP of marketing and sales for Superior, looked at Juno in disbelief as her story unfolded. “There’s no way Roscoe arranged kickbacks,” she insisted. Choudury phoned Jim Darlan in accounting to ask him to determine whether there was anything that would suggest the illegal activity Jones purported. He found nothing.

Like Juno, Choudury wants to keep the Stylish account, but payoffs are not an option. She needs to find a way to approach Jones, or his boss, and solve the problem. Or maybe it would be better to simply “fire” the client.

What would you do?

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