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11/13/2009 Watch Out for Agencies Acting Like Jilted Girlfriends

The client-agency relationship has never been a life long love affair. It's like a short, intense period of romance followed by a short, sometime rocky, sometimes sublime marriage that ultimately ends in divorce. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just the nature of the business. People come and go and they realize the relationship is stale and that they each want to see new people.

Usually, that break up takes place behind closed doors. And everyone plays the game of acting nicely since you may get back together at some point. You certainly don't want other potential partners to see you acting badly or saying nasty things at the breakup because that might possible scare them off.

So I was surprised to see, on my blog of all places, a bad breakup happening. What's most odd is that I have absolutely nothing to do with the divorce; I'm like Paul Weston in HBO's "In Treatment" watching from the leather chair.

A while back, I wrote about how local ski resort Jay Peak had a hiccup in their social media program. They're doing a lot of things right, but they missed something. Everyone involved jumped in, solved the problem, and moved on.

Everyone, that is, except the agency of record Almighty Boston. The last post in the discussion was from Christopher Smith who stated that one of Jay's social media initiatives "is not an approach that we would encourage, nor endorse." This from the people who "helped design/build Jay Peak's social media platform and strategy."

It sound to me like the agency just called the client "stupid" in public. Now, clients and agencies call each other all sorts of names, but everyone usually does this behind closed doors. It's not often you see public disagreements like this, for good reason. And that reason is that once things like this become public, it's difficult, if not impossible, to find common ground.

It didn't stop there. On October 19th, Almighty Boston resigned the Jay account. When agencies resign clients they usually site "creative differences" like when Shine Advertising resigned the Go Daddy account. We all understand what that means: the agency developed what they thought were killer ideas, but the client didn't like any of them.

Almighty Boston said this instead:
"We're not comfortable moving forward without them having a cohesive plan," said agency partner Christopher Smith.  "We wish them luck."  Hmm, creative difference might simply be a matter of taste, and who can really argue with that. Not having a plan speaks plainly to intelligence. See above.

I thought it would stop there, but it didn't. Steve Wright from Jay Peak joined me for a social media roundtable in Burlington with some other local social media people. He talked about how Jay used social media to get feedback. And guess what? Almighty Boston just couldn't give up another chance to get in another jab. Christopher Smith was back with this comment:

"There must be some mistake/misunderstanding. Jay Peak has never used crowdsourcing in this manner."

Did he just call his former client a liar?

It's sad to see this happening in public, forever (it's the Web, remember). I've always heard good things about both Almighty Boston and Jay Peak. They had a good five-year run together.  I'm not sure what this public spat does (and it seems to be mainly one-sided).

Maybe Almighty Boston feels it's fighting to protect its integrity. Instead, it seems to point out the dangers in leaving an Almighty Boston agency relationship. If I were a prospective client, I'd think twice about the potential of one of my partners going out to trash my brand publicly over internal disagreements. This might one of those new business angles I just don't get.

Call me naïve; I think you can have your integrity and still break up well. No one wants to hire the Jilted Girlfriend, except perhaps out of pity.


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