“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 worse 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?




  • Mike Wendelin

    Lou, What a great story. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Lou Covey

    We had almost the same conversation with an obstreperous and abusive client around the dame time. That, however, was during the height of the downturn and we had lost all of our clients except this one. But it had become clear that the client did not want to do the work it would take to make them successful and I determined we could not take money for doing something we knew was not working. So we fired our last client and closed up shop.

    • Lou Hoffman

      Thanks for weighing in and expanding my vocabulary (had to look up obstreperous).

  • Antoinette Sottak

    Love this story and the point behind it – how can business be anything but personal? I have always wrestled with this distinction so I appreciate your sharing this wisdom.

  • DudeStro

    Like many of Lou’s posts, the message in his missives is easily reinforced and echoed in classic film and reality examples. In this case, the movie, Back to School, provides an interpretation on how to deal with obstreperous customers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CXdc2L3QH9U

    To begin, Ned Beatty, who portrays the school’s Dean Martin, opines, “As Calvin Coolidge once said, ‘The business of America, is business.’”

    Rodney chimes in, “There’s nothing like good clean business. And a little monkey business.”

    Then, when a foil intercedes that the “business” has undermined the efforts and hard work, Rodney responds:

    “Hard work? Listen Sherlock, while you were tucked away up here working on your ethics, I was out there busting my hump in the real world.”

    When you — and others — made the decision to jettison the accounts, you realized that busting your humps in the real world was more important than the hassle.

    I can picture Lou in front of the client, asking her about the product, and providing actualities about PR. “You left out a bunch of stuff: first of all you’re gonna have to grease the local politicians for the sudden zoning problems that always come up. Then there’s the kickback to the carpenters. And if you p[lan on using any cement in this building, I’m sure the Teamsters would like to have a chat with you. And that will cost you. Then I hope you have a little something for the building inspectors.
    Then there’s the long term costs such as waste disposal. I don’t know if you are familiar with who runs that business. But I assure you it’s not the Boy Scouts.”

    Today’s marketplace requires flexibility, focus and real-time adjustments. Change is occurring all around us. So, if a client/organization just wants sausage made, their way, over and over, they’re not being realistic. Nor are they utilizing the wealth of intelligence, ideas and nimbleness that a Team can provide.

    Good clients/visionary companies want vision, performance and newness, e.g., Lou doing the Triple-Lindy . . . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ygo9bZElepE

    In conclusion, as Ned Beatty said, “So, whatever it is that I’ve said here today . . . ?“

    • Lou Hoffman

      As often happens, your comment should have been a standalone post.

      Good stuff!

      Though the mention of teamsters reminded me of a saga trying to get my client’s booth constructed in time for the start of COMDEX, a story for another time.

  • Jyoti Khan

    Thats a great story! Taking things personally isnt a bad trait at all 🙂 thanks for sharing.

  • Steve Leibson

    Great story, as usual Lou. But that’s a Ford Skyliner assembly line. I’m guessing that’s the plant in Milpitas currently known as The Great Mall.


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