MY CLIENT IS A SADIST: Is your client a right royal pain in the arse? Well, things could be worse, Paul Simpson finds

Your client greets with you a handshake, tells you he is delighted to meet you and, if you’ll excuse him, he’ll just go and organise some coffee. Your upbeat mood lasts until he leaves the room, when your colleague points out that the client had just wiped his nose with his hand before gripping yours.

Your client greets with you a handshake, tells you he is delighted

to meet you and, if you’ll excuse him, he’ll just go and organise some

coffee. Your upbeat mood lasts until he leaves the room, when your

colleague points out that the client had just wiped his nose with his

hand before gripping yours.

The customer is always right. That, at least, is the code to which

everyone who works in media sales is supposed to subscribe. And yet the

doctrine of customer infallibility is even harder to support than that

of papal infallibility.

Most media sales people have had to manage clients who would need to

move several links up the food chain to claim membership of the species

known as Homo Sapiens. Some can’t help it. It is not their fault they

have had a charisma bypass, suffer from BO so acute that vultures circle

at a respectful distance, and take decisions so slowly that you want to

shout: ’I’ve seen continents shift faster than this!’.

The stories that follow are - like the tale of the unhygienic handshake

above - all true. These tales go beyond the humdrum abuse of broken

promises, unreturned phone calls, requests for favourable editorial and

habitual abuse (’Your last issue was the worst yet’). They are the

result of an unscientific survey of more than 50 media sales people. The

names and some of the details have been changed to protect the innocent

sales folk from the wrath of guilty clients.

Two things are worth noting. For an industry with some high-profile

women at senior levels, advertising has employed a lot of male managers

whose first reaction, when they’re dealing with a member of the opposite

sex, is to demand to see ’someone in charge’. Their second reaction is

to rub their legs in a lascivious Vic Reeves manner - however, unlike

the comic, they’re not joking.

The rapidly growing world of contract publishing offers clients ever

more spectacular opportunities to make arses of themselves. At least in

most forms of media sales, the client just has to decide whether to book

an ad or not, and at what rate. But in customer magazines, the client

has the opportunity to prove what they have suspected all along: that

they are a full-blown editorial genius. A classic example being the

female marketing manager who complained she didn’t like the first issue

because there were not enough pictures of her in it.

Then there’s the car company marketing manager who commissioned an

innovative one-off title. As the signed-off brief made clear, this was

not to include lots of boring shots of cars. Yet when the proofs

arrived, he screamed, ’Where are all the bloody product shots?’ and

tried to can the job. The same client hired PJ O’Rourke to write a

feature and then asked if it could be cut to 300 words.

Also worth a mention is the multinational client that approves the

content of every issue in a similar manner to the voting in the

Eurovision Song Contest, with the Belgian jury giving douze points to

its favourite feature idea.

Dave now an IT marketing consultant

’Ten years ago I was the ad manager for a moderately profitable business

magazine. Our biggest advertiser had arranged for one of the editorial

staff to do a story on one of his biggest customers.

’The day after the customer visit, the advertiser rang and asked if he

could see the copy. I gave him the usual flannel about it not being

company policy but he started shouting. So, as he spent pounds 150,000 a

year with us, I slid into the editor’s office and begged him to let my

client see the copy. Reluctantly, with the reminder of how many favours

I would now owe him, the editor agreed. I assured him no precedent had

been set.

’The next day, the enraged editor was on the phone. My client had

threatened to take out a High Court injunction if we published the

article. Apparently, his sales manager let slip something he shouldn’t

have. As soon as I put the receiver down on the editor, the client came

on the phone saying he’d briefed his solicitor and his company would

henceforth be withdrawing all its advertising. As a result of schmucks

like him, I decided to change career.’

Derek magazine ad manager

’I fell out with one of my clients and he thought the situation would be

best resolved by stamping on my feet and engaging me in an Oliver

Reed-style handshake until one of us burst into tears. He won.

’One of my Irish clients would only talk to me while examining one of

his mares to determine if she was pregnant. This involved me donning a

rubber glove (which went right up to my shoulder) and holding the

horse’s tail while she kicked like crazy. Meanwhile, my client shoved

his entire arm up her rear end and slagged the magazine off at the same

time. It’s a dirty job.’

Alan publishing director

’A female colleague and I went in to negotiate a pounds 250,000 annual

advertising contract at a media independent. The telephone preamble from

the buyers had been ’sorry guys, business is dangling by a thread, our

budgets have been slashed and TV and national press are our clear

priorities’. It was my colleague’s first big deal, preparation had been

extensive and the pressure was on.

’We were ushered into the conference room and the buyers suggested we

might like to see a tape of the latest TV ad while they popped out to

get their papers organised. I pressed play on the video. ’That’s good,

oooh, so good, mmmm, oh yes.’ I hastily pressed stop. We were not sure

if the porn flick was supposed to intimidate, amuse or confuse us. My

colleague was spitting venom by the time the buyers returned,


John customer magazine director

’I had fixed a meeting with a German client in Frankfurt. I confirmed it

the day before but when I arrived in Frankfurt he was not in his office.

His secretary knew nothing about the meeting or his whereabouts. His

response the following week was: ’Well, I’m sure you enjoyed your day in

Germany, ze weather in April is always nicer here zan in England.’’

Philip newspaper display manager

’My least favourite client is in a constant state of turmoil. We only

started getting business from them a year ago and in that time I’ve had

six contacts. Over one memorable two-day period, they had three people

managing their relationship with us. We drove to their office to meet

the new contact, who was actually the office junior. We spoke to her

just before we left. It was an 90-minute drive to the client’s office

and, by the time we arrived, she had been replaced by somebody

completely different.’

Peter publishing director

’We had an ad manager who was visiting one of our largest advertisers.

The client fancied the ad manager and took her to lunch after clinching

a big deal. Afterwards, the client asked her to join him for coffee in a

nearby hotel room, which he had thoughtfully booked for the afternoon.

She refused, despite being threatened with the cancellation of the


’How did we rescue the deal? With the wholehearted support of the ad

manager, we told the client she had been fired. He rebooked the deal,

she did not answer the phone in the office for six months in case she

spoke to him, and her name vanished from the flannel panel. In six

months she was ’reinstated’, the client forgot all the fuss and everyone

was happy.’

Helen classified advertising manager

’Some of my biggest clients sell second-hand equipment and let’s just

say they have the kind of CVs that would disqualify them from a life

peerage. One client rang me to complain that one of our reporters was

doing a story on his company. ’If he prints it, he will suffer,’ he

threatened, putting the phone down before specifying exactly what kind

of punishment he had in mind. The story did appear - heavily lawyered -

but the reporter seemed to come to no harm.’

Debbie special projects manager

’My worst nightmare is an American client who lectures me about his

brand. He recently progressed from demographics to psycho-demographics

or psychographics. He explained in detail why Peperami was a paradigm

shifter and a cultural rebel. While he told me this, I wondered what it

had to do with the bath products his company makes.

’Whenever we propose anything he says: ’Well, I can see why you would

want to do that - on the other hand, I can see why you might not. What

we have to do is see how this fits into our marketing matrix, which, of

course, we haven’t completed yet but ...’.’

Simon magazine ad manager

’One of my clients is a ridiculously wealthy Texan oil tycoon. I visited

him with my editor and, during our conversation, he tried to sell us

tickets for a charity ball he was throwing. The tickets were dollars 100

each and there was no way we were going to get that back on


’We made a lame excuse, said we were too busy and started to gather our

things together. In one last attempt to persuade us, the client

hollered: ’C’mon fellas - 100 bucks each and I’ll throw in a couple of



Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus