The dos and don’ts of breaking up with a client

Whether you’re getting the ax or you’re doing the axing, there are guidelines to follow when relationships come to end. Follow them, please.


Eventually, even the best client-agency relationships come to an end.

From the client side, reasons for the big breakup could be financial—the client’s budget is used up. It could also be driven by the news, for instance, the client made its big announcement months ago and there’s no more news coverage to squeeze out. Or perhaps the reason for the split is that the client wants to play the field and see what else is out there, an “it’s not you, it’s me” kind of deal.

Of course, the agency can also do the breaking up, for whatever reasons it deems fit.

Regardless of the cause, professional breakups are part of the PR business and should always be managed so that the door remains open to the possibility of doing business together again at some point down the road. This is the time to call on our industry’s best practices; there’s a right way to behave and to conduct yourself.

Here are some dos and don’ts to help steer through the pitfalls of professional breakups—while leaving room for potential make-ups:

DO:

• Remember it’s not personal; it’s business. Walk the client through the “breakup” process, detailing what your agency will provide so they know what to expect.

• Provide the departing client with a full complement of tools. At your final meeting, give them your agency’s wrap-up reports, pending pitches, copies of all releases and materials you’ve sent on their behalf, and a roundup of any “dangling” stories that are committed but haven’t yet run.

• Maintain the relationship after the split. Continue to stay in touch with updates and feedback regarding relevant information about the client’s area of the business. Invite staff from the company to events or out for a drink or coffee.

DON’T:

• Give away everything in your arsenal. Take the professional high road—but you don’t have to give away the whole enchilada including media lists, the full blueprint of what your next steps would have been, and the cell phone numbers for your key press contacts. Be fair, but don’t overextend.

• Cut them off. Remember, the way they’ll come back is if you leave things open and comfortably professional. Business breakups are not the time for drama. Play it easy.

Throughout the breakup, hold onto the thought that your reputation is paramount and you want to continue to build on your good name. Character always counts for something in business.

No matter who instigated the separation, relationships that end can lead to new business. Recommendations often come thanks to a satisfied former client who was impressed by your ethics and professionalism during the breakup process.

Ed James is president/co-founder of Cornerstone PR. You can follow him on Twitter @edwjames.

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