A Marketers in Demand company

Scary Client Stories

Jacob Brain


A few tales from the other side of the agency life. Every agency has them, and we try to forget them. Yet for the season, we’ll un-tomb them to reflect on the hope that lives in the lessons we’ve learned from these engagements.

Where do you get your premiums?

One of our very first clients was in the logistics field, and they had a commanding CEO who still to this day runs a tight ship. It was very early on in my career, so while I was confident that I knew exactly how to solve their problem, I was less confident that I’d know exactly what to say during the kickoff meeting.

As we entered the board room, the volley of questions started from our side of the table. The back and forth went well, until the CEO asked, “Where do you get your premiums?” My colleague and I shot quick glances at each other, but tried to remain calm. The confidence with which he’d used that term made us both feel like we were missing the boat.

I started to feel a little light-headed, and my team and I started to wiggle in our seats. But in good fashion, we opted for transparency, and simply came back with, “I’m not sure what that is?”

Our stomachs hit the floor. For all intents and purposes, the meeting was over.

Well, we found out what it is, and in fairness to both of us, the use of the term was not relevant to what we are doing – so the whole ordeal was fear from left field. In fact, the CEO’s use grew to include all promotional items, not just ones that are redeemed. Fortunately, today it’s all water under the bridge, and we’ve actually been with this client now for over 9 years.

Lesson: Your humility can lead the way. Be honest always.

What is This Spec For?

We all have those stories where we should have seen it coming. One clear example where we should have had foresight took place during a recent website project. Right away, we had a client question the need for a technical spec. Yeah…

We presented and reviewed the spec, and they wondered why we needed all of this. I explained that this was what we were going to build, and that if the spec was not what they wanted, we were going to have trouble once we started building. They were not convinced.

Well, needless to say, the project hit huge issues in scope along the way, all because the client did not understand approvals – or what we were building. Approvals and specs matter, always. When they said “I’m not sure we need this”, we should have run for the hills.

Lesson: Client and agency match is important. If we don’t see eye to eye, we can’t see each other clearly.

The Site That Took 5 Years to Launch

I designed a site for a teen health initiative for the department of health back in 2010. It was going to be a long project, but we had hopes that we’d see something live in 2011. After a few rounds of design, the project was tabled in 2011.

It came back around in 2013, with some minor design tweaks and the plan to make it responsive, since mobile phones were gaining ground in the web browsing department. All lights were green to get this live by the end of the year, but then… nothing. Another major stall.

In 2015, it came back around again. This time it was placed into a parent site that removed some of the functionality, and required us to rebuild the whole thing into Cold Fusion. But it did finally go live. Today, the design is dated, the functionality isn’t as impressive as it would have been five years ago, and the user experience is less than great. In short, it’s exactly what you’d expect of a five year old website!

Lesson: Take every moment to make it your best because you don’t know where you work will end up.


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