Losing that rock-star employee on a crucial account can be devastating to a public relations agency—as least as far as that account goes.
It could also be a stellar opportunity to showcase to your client other outstanding staffers who have been living in Elvis’ shadow, new or enhanced service offerings, and big, fresh, creative program ideas.
Several years ago when I was working at a global PR agency, the rock-star account supervisor on an $80,000 per month tech B2B account announced her resignation. Shortly thereafter she headed off to Europe with her fiancé, who had just landed a financial services job overseas. (There was no hope of keeping her at the firm.)
This particular account supervisor not only was doing a superb job leading the day-to-day activities of a seven-person team and driving superior results, but she had become the confidante, pseudo-girlfriend, and “shrink” to the primary client contact. Their relationship was one of those “good problems to have” because as long as this rock star was engaged on the business, the business was rock solid.
At the same time, the client’s over-reliance on this account supervisor—and the fact that I let that develop—was a disaster waiting to happen. Happen it did. Not fun.
What I did wrong
To exacerbate the situation, I scrambled for a plug-and-play replacement for the outgoing employee rather than taking a step back to think about a more effective, more creative, more sustainable solution. Instead of looking at the resignation as an opportunity to strengthen the client relationship, I was playing not to lose.
I was shackled to the false security that an old, established way of doing something provides.
Although the client was extremely upset that her account lead was leaving the firm, our relationship was deep enough and the broader team proven enough that we’d get the chance to make things right. As luck would have it, though, the replacement account supervisor (who had been with the firm for a few years) also resigned about a month into her new role. It wasn’t much longer before the account went up for review.
What I’d do differently
First of all, I would never allow the rock star to “own” the client relationship. The rock star and client should have a tight and trusting relationship, but a client hires a team and an agency. This means Elvis needs to proactively share the stage with the team to demonstrate bench strength and true leadership.
Second, I would not respond to the rock star’s resignation as if it were the end of the world. Employees come and go, and agency leaders have to plan for the inevitable. Instead of rushing to replace one rock star with another, I’d embrace the opportunity to treat the account like new business. This could be an ideal opportunity to bring the entire office together, to get everyone involved in reinvigorating an account with new perspectives, and to share that enthusiasm with the client.
Third, I would review the staffing on all accounts to ensure the agency wouldn’t find itself in a similar situation with other clients. I bet there were a number of accounts at the time that would have benefited from fresh thinking, new personnel, or at the very least, an office-wide brainstorm.
Finally, on an account of this size I would invite the client to become part of the solution by inviting her to participate in a discussion about next steps, rather than assuming that she was OK with my simply replacing the outgoing account supervisor with another.
[RELATED: Ragan's new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.]
Live and learn. How you have handled similar situations? Any tips to share?
P.S. The agency was able to replace the account—dollar for dollar—with a competitive business. Phew!
A version of this story first appeared on the author's blog, What It Takes.