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When Good Clients Go Bad!

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We all work in promotions for many reasons:  The travel.  The pay.  The flexible schedule.  The people.  The fact that there’s a bunch of free stuff handed to us at the end of the promotion.

Many reasons we all have for taking promotional gigs.  But the truth is none of us would have a job if it weren’t for the client.  Ahhh, yes.  The client.  That mysterious ‘giver of monies’ to promotional companies so that they can run their campaigns, create events, and ultimately, hire us.

For the most part we never see ‘the client.’  They’re a mist.  An apparition.  A mystery; like Bigfoot  – we know they exist, but have no concrete proof of their existence.

So what happens when the client DOES appear?  What happens when they surprise us on site and have nothing but criticisms and harsh words to say about our promotional endeavors.  In short:  What happens when Bigfoot gets angry and goes on the rampage?

Anyone who’s done promotions for a few years has their own horror stories about ‘the client.’  I’ve had clients show up at events who simply found flaws in every little detail:  this was too smudged.  So-and-so didn’t smile enough.  So-and-so smiled too much.  You need to be more engaging.  Less engaging.  Taller.   Thinner.  Faster.  Stronger.

Mind you, it’s not all clients who labor such harsh words, but there is more than a few who seem to revel in their barrage of verbal bullets.  They don’t think that they’re insulting anyone when they make criticisms beyond rationale.  To them, they simply have a ‘refined eye,’ that is only trying to help you become a better worker, even if it is through sarcastic quips that seem to maim rather than motivate.

Sometimes the client won’t appear at all, but will send someone from the office instead.  These powers behind the power mostly have no power at all.  Problem is:  they think they do!  When that happens, you can get bossed around by the 18-year-old intern who’s the nephew of the CFO and believes that it’s his mission to boss around people.  After all, that’s what bosses do:  they yell at people and tell them what to do.

I had this happen to me, when a young girl who worked for the client approached me at one of my store demo events and proceeded to criticize every technique and serving skill I was performing – even though my sales were the highest of any store-demo the client had going on at the time.  She was a foreigner and, true story, did not know what a Smurf was or who Indiana Jones was.  It was an awful hour of my life, and eventually I had no choice but to tell her that if she didn’t leave, that I would.  My sales were the highest in the US at that time, and I knew that the announcement of my departure would have looked badly on her.  She got the message and left the store.  I never heard any word from her or about our spat ever again.

But that’s not always the case.  Sometimes you can’t make demands, stand up for yourself, or even make the threat of departure.  Sometimes you just have to listen to them, even though everything they say lacks logical function.

I had clients who wanted to put paper products on my demo table when I was sampling juices at a Costco.  Really?  Paper doesn’t stay dry at a juice demo in Costco for long.

I had a client who gave me cinder blocks to hold down an inflatable the size of four cars – and then proceeded to get angry at me when the inflatable would not stand upright in the wind.

I had a client who met me in person, hired me, and then fired me when they found out that I was a guy and they only wanted girls working the promos.  Really?  Didn’t you notice the flecks of facial hair during the interview when I was in your office?

Not too long ago, one of my brand ambassador colleagues was handing out premiums to a customer.  She was engaged in conversation with a customer when the client appeared and, interrupting her, told her, in front of the customer, to go around our event footprint and pick up the trash that was lying on the ground.  My colleague told him that she would, in a minute, after her conversation.  The client then told her:  “No.  Pick it up – now!”

What to do?

There’s really only one real solution:  grin and bear it.  Unfortunately, they are ‘The Client,’ which means they make the rules.  If they tell you to do something, even if you don’t’ agree with it, you are expected to do it because, like any company you work for, if you don’t do what the boss tells you to do you’ll probably get fired.  Mind you – it must be within reason, and no one is ever expected to hurt or degrade themselves or others.  Self-worth and ethics should never be compromised.

But it’s the client’s money that makes this promotion happen.  Billions of dollars are invested annually from thousands of companies across the globe who expects their products to be promoted with the upmost care and proficiency.  If they feel as though this is not happening, it is their prerogative to make the necessary changes and demands for the good of the brand.  It’s their party.  If they want to cry, it’s their choice.

If you happen to confront a grumpy client who degrades you in front of others or who makes nasty comments or unreasonable demands, tell your supervisor or manager.  Let them know that you are dealing with a client who is unpleasant.

Event marketing is a big, fast moving business.  The people you work with are in and out of this industry as quickly as the people you work for.  Protect yourself from criticism by letting your superiors know about it.  No one will ever blame themselves when things go bad.

You, as the world’s greatest brand ambassador, need to make sure that a client’s words and actions, no matter how positive or negative they may be, are known to all who work with you.  If something does go wrong or accusations start to get thrown, you can stand firm in the knowledge that others were mentally prepared for such statements.  If everyone knows that the storm is coming, they won’t blame you for the rain!

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