“Lou, You Know What ...


Years ago we resigned a big brand account in the consumer electronics space.

I think the statute of limitations has run out, 10+ years, so I can share the name. You’ve probably heard of them. Sony. At the time we supported their consumer electronics business in the U.S. handling their video camcorders, cameras and laptops.

The account encapsulated the worst of both worlds, a vendor-supplier dynamic out of the Procurement 101 Handbook and repetitive tasks that had the team feeling they had landed on a General Motors assembly line in the 1950s.

Row of cars coming down the assembly line with mechanics

After losing two members of the account team in less than year — even a NYC press event with Bobby Flay whipping up fish tacos with a mango salsa as journalists videotaped him did nothing for morale — a line had been drawn. What did I value more? Our employees or a prestigious account with a hefty budget?


The Root of the Problem

Naturally, I investigated whether it might be possible for both to be true. Unfortunately, a deep dive into the account revealed a massive chasm between what Sony wanted in its PR agency and what we wanted in a client.

I made the trek to San Diego to deliver the news to the head of Sony’s in-house PR team. Taking the diplomatic path, I explained why we had decided to exit from the account with the overarching message being the wonderfully vague “not a good fit.” I also remember trying to work in a secondary message, “It’s not you. It’s us.”

She wasn’t having it.

I tried to stay on message. I really did.

But she kept coming at me from all directions and with what started as a passive aggressive tone becoming just flat-out aggressive.

I cracked finally and cut to the core issue:

“You don’t need a PR agency. What you really need is a call center.”

At this point, a rather spirited discussion ensued. I seemed to have hit a nerve. She eventually brought the dialogue to a close with this zinger:

“Lou, you know what your problem is?”

In the split second pause, I’m thinking, a) She doesn’t really want me to answer the question, so keep quiet, and b) I’m aware of my flaws, but have a hunch I’m about to learn a new one.

“Your problem is you take business things personally.”

In those eight words, she perfectly captured the disconnect.

If you care, you do take things personally.

I actually think this characteristic of taking things personally helps to differentiate the Agency.

We care.

And that care is one of the driver’s behind our staff going above and beyond to support clients. It’s what causes one of our account folks to see a client opportunity over the weekend that calls for immediate attention and jumps into action. It’s what pushes our account teams to continually look for a better way.

We do take things personally.

You got a problem with that?




  • Todd Defren

    Had the exact same experience with TMO. Those big brands are great for $ and ego, but suck morale like nothing else. Kudos on doing the right thing.

    • Lou Hoffman

      Thanks. Good hearing from you Todd. Hope you and your are family safe and sound.

  • DudeStro

    The dilemma:
    1. Remain steadfast and on-message (you covered that last week in a re-run Blog).
    2. Tell the truth (“Don’t truth me, Boaz . . .” -Vonnegut).
    3. Backtrack. Find people who you’ll cycle through the account. Keep on keeping on.
    4. Or do what’s right. And what – though it seems complex – is the simple approach.

    People make the business. Not the other way around.
    Ideas, energy, focus, success and failure (learning, and winning come from respect, teamwork, expectations, and encouraged accomplishment).

    Many metaphors come to mind:
    1. Roberto Duran: “No mas.” // “Survival and pain can be a great motivator” -Mat Hodgson.

    2. When the MLB Manager was willing to let Jose Canseco pitch (a “Who cares?” moment), albeit, he threw his arm out. https://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/pitchinglogs.php?p=cansejo01&y=1993

    Either way, the control was in the hands of the performer. The doer. The person standing in the ring or in the dugout.

    Why continue something that’s neither productive nor motivating for the Team (or the business). People don’t question the walk-away. Your Team surely won’t. More likely, they’ll ask, “What took you so long.”

    No mas.

    I’m out.

    • Lou Hoffman

      “No mas” indeed.

      P.S. They did ask “what took you so long?”

  • Steve Fowler

    Funny, years ago I had the same conversation with my son’s Little League coach. I shared with him that, “This isn’t a good fit. I believe we should move on.” He responded with, “You need to care less about your son and do what is right for my team.” We never looked back.

    • Lou Hoffman

      Thanks for parachuting in Steve.

      At the risk of going off topic, little league coaches seem particularly skilled at this quality.


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