Tales of troublesome clients

Now, we’re aware that working with ad agencies is not always a stroll in the park on a Sunday afternoon. But we thought it might be fun for agencies to let off a bit of steam as a difficult year comes to an end, by telling us about the most maddening clients they’ve ever worked with.

Sadly, we can’t name all of those involved. Frankly, we’d have never have got anyone to share their stories. But here are a few anecdotes that some of you may be able to relate to.

The fat farting German Shepherd

German shepherdWe went to present for a pitch. The meeting room was vast and about 30 people were present from the client side, including the son of the owner, and the son of the owner’s dog. It was a bit odd as about half the people on the client side came in wearing surgical masks – the type folk wore when SARS was around – or those masks that people wear when they’re on motorbikes. And another one had a handkerchief tied across his face. We soon discovered why this was the case.

The dog was an extremely large, rather over-weight Alsatian. The dog sat itself down near the front – where we were presenting from. It was quite a long presentation…. say an hour and a half. About every five minutes the dog would fart. Sometimes audibly, sometimes not… but the noise was not the real issue. The stench was quite overwhelming: absolutely terrible meaty doggy farts. Every time the dog farted one woman on client side would scream “oh my god, what a terrible smell” and run out of the room for a couple of minutes.

Finally the presentation ended and we staggered out to breath clean air. I think it was the only time I’ve hoped we lost a pitch – the thought of having to present there again was ghastly beyond belief. We crossed paths with one of our competitors in the pitch as we were on the way out and they were on the way for their presentation. I knew the GM of that agency quite well and said “mate, you might want to get a gas mask before you present.” He didn’t know quite what I meant – two hours later he called me: he now did know what I meant.

Thankfully we never got the business – seems none of us did actually – shambolic client fishing for ideas then executing them themselves. Instead of looking for ideas should have been looking for some charcoal pills for his dog.

The corrupt freak

Expensive watchEvery time we met this character he would look at something one of us had – eg a nice watch or a nice pen. He’d say “that’s a really nice watch you are wearing.” Perplexed our staff would say “oh thanks.” To which the client would say, “no what I mean is that is a REALLY nice watch you are wearing….” He would go on like this four or five times and then say “no, you really don’t understand me, that’s a REALLY nice watch you are wearing… I wish I had one like that.”

That came from an airline client. Pure and simple: this guy was just a corrupt freak. He also used to demand our staff go to bed with him before he would sign off quotes (they didn’t and we resigned the client).

It’s the economy, stupid

A big telco firm introduced performance-based metrics to remunerate its agencies, saying it would pay us a bonus if we met them. But when we hit those metrics – and I mean smashed them out of the park – we were told that the brand’s good performance was because of the economy’s overall growth, and nothing to do with our campaigns.

Dirty drawers

This was back in the day in Myanmar. We were in a meeting in the client’s office, soliciting his business. Towards the end of the meeting the client became a bit twitchy. He stood up, opened the drawer of his desk, leaving it wide open, and left the room for a few minutes. He came back into the room, peered deliberately into the drawer, closed it, and sat back down again. He smiled at us, stood up, opened his drawer, and left the room again.

He repeated this ritual twice more until we’d realised what his game was. We politely left and somehow felt sorry for the man alone in his office with his drawer gaping open.

God complex

The agency-client relationship?

The agency-client relationship?

A client who decided to force us to pay for an entire MRT wall ad to be reprinted and redone because of a comma being in a place which was grammatically correct in separating two long sentences. She felt it didn’t read right by “her” English standards and refused to accept that her own manager had read it, approved it and signed off on the artwork!

She obviously had some God-complex issues, so we decided to pay for it just to shut her up. It was with great joy that we resigned the account thereafter and I think our entire creative studio let out a collective whoop for joy when we told them about our decision. Difficult clients are very much the norm in our industry, but there’s a limit to how masochistic one can be…

Stingy agency

A fairly large Xmas party we threw in the agency bar for one of our bigger clients was going long and had started to degenerate, so we tried to herd them on to another venue. The clients weren’t interested in moving on and just kept partying, even as the contract cleaners were vacuuming around them.

We tried cutting the music, flashing the  house lights, offering them cabcharges – all to little effect. Eventually we had to kind of surround them and ask them to leave. They responded by raiding the bar (bottles of wine, spirits and even bags of chips went into handbags and coat pockets) and heading off into the night with their plunder, grumbling about how short the party and how stingy the agency was. I think it was almost 2am at that point.

When they were challenged about ‘stealing’ all the booze and chips at the end of the night, they responded “We pay for everything in this agency anyway, so technically it’s ours.”

Monday morning, nobody (on either side) said anything. Situation normal.

The vague brief

The client briefing form contained one section – which sat at its heart – saying something like “what is the single-minded take out required from the communication?”

The client had filled this in as: “any which relevant”.

When we questioned this the response was: “if you are so stupid you can’t work that out, let me know and I’ll get another agency.”

That came from Nestlé. A while back. Utterly incompetent client who hid behind abuse which she fired at the agency on a regular basis.

Please recycle

Please recycleThis is fairly common in Asia, so I dare say this is a familiar story for many. The client showed us an ad he’d seen and said, “make this”. We humbly suggested that we might make something different, but were told no, I want this. So we made it.

Then the client’s boss went nuts that his company had made an ad that was a copy of another, and guess who got the blame?

The viral disease

The words “I want a viral campaign” never fail to annoy and frustrate in equal measure.

One-way street

We had a long, long-term client a couple of years back. There was a new person appointed to manage the agency relationship. Our account servicing lead was a very hard-working person, and really gave it her best in terms of trying to develop a relationship with the newcomer. But to no avail. Our regular scope of work was cut down to just pitching interviews – which we were not allowed to staff. We were not allowed to talk to the spokespeople directly. As a result, it became difficult to keep a check on the pulse of the business. It was no longer a partnership and it had turned into a one-way street. After a while, we resigned the account, which is always hard to do.

In another case, working for a large global brand proved to be a disappointment. The manager there passed some very racial comments against some of our expat team mates. With a very pro-Singaporean bias. Given that I am not local either, it was not a stance I was willing to encourage. That’s one brand we won’t be working for in a while.

Got anymore? Let me know and we’ll add them to the piece.

Robin Hicks (robin.hicks@mumbrella.asia)


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