Just Say No!
Rule No. 4 — Will they let us get full margin for our work? We would discover this by bidding on projects, even if they didn't ask us to. We wanted the prospect to see what working with us would cost. If there was going to be a pushback, we wanted to hear it before we did the work, not after. I learned this lesson when I was the head marketing guy at Kenworth Truck Company. My mentor, Keith Rowe, used to always say, "Don't you wear out my factories unless you're bringing in full margin business that I can invest in the future." I think that applies to agencies, too. If you can't reinvest in people and new technology, you can't survive, so don't discount your services.
Rule No. 5 — Did the client want to have compensation negotiations? For us, that was a deal killer. We would show them the bids, even give them a menu of what various programs would cost and guarantee those costs for a year or two. But we never opened our books. Our books were none of their business.
Rule No. 6 — Does the client have a good or bad reputation in the industry? Some clients are known for abusing their agencies, others are known for great agency/client relationships. We would run away from abusive relationships. Bad clients are very demoralizing. I remember one week where I brought in a huge new piece of business and also fired an abusive client. On Friday evening, there was a big wine tasting bash going on. I stopped by and asked my peeps if they were celebrating me closing a deal with our huge, new client. "No, we're celebrating that you fired the meanest S.O.B. client this agency ever had."
Rule No. 7 — Will they work on a fixed-bid, project basis? If they wanted us to work on a retainer basis, we'd pass. Somebody always gets screwed in a retainer relationship. And typically, it's not the client.