Vendors and Partners

I was recently speaking with the India communication head of a global NBFC looking to hire a PR consultancy, who asked if I could help her connect with players. I dropped names of four consultancies, of which she said yes to three and no to the fourth, since she had already worked there.

I asked her why she would say no to a firm she had worked with earlier. Her answer reinforced something I have believed for some time now – one can’t always badmouth clientele for being boorish; oft consultancy leads must take the flak for extricating their spine from its ‘cumbersome’ duty of standing up for their teams. She said, and I quote, “Sandeep, should this consultancy win, the ED whose team will handle the account doesn’t stand up for his team and therefore sees very high attrition, a complete yes-man. I’d end up with my team getting changed every quarter. What’s the use?”

We have all dealt with yes-(wo)men. Those who, when asked by clientele to disseminate press releases on Budget Day, will say yes without thought to the fact that journalists don’t have the time for press release follow-ups on Budget Day; if asked for Ad Value Equivalents by clients, will get their teams to burn the midnight oil to churn out these metrics, rather than advise clientele on how AVEs are an obsolete and incorrect way of measuring RoI. These are the same people who turn a profession from being one of partners and consultants, to one of vendors and salespeople. Mind you, my father was the GM – Sales of an auto maker for three decades – nothing wrong with that. But if you are expected to consult and you tend to keel over under client expectations, then you are letting yourself, your team and your industry down.

Here’s a few things I feel every client lead should therefore practice, whether an executive (when you have to toe several lines) or a CEO, when the only line to toe is a financial one.

  1. There is a difference between ‘Yes’ and ‘Yes Ma’am / Sir’ – Call only those who have been knighted ‘Sir’. And madam is quite literally derived from ma dame or my lady. So go with a Ms. / Mr. Surname, rather than being obsequious.
  2. Bite off only what you can chew – We oft hear of mandates that requires a team of a score, being taken on for a retainer that wouldn’t pay a dozen. Why? – because the brand is a market leader, a prestigious name, in a sector that opens doors to similar business. Don’t say yes for the sake of winning businesses. It’s oft dishonest and more often than not, leaves both your clientele and your teams unhappy. 
  3. Stand up for your teams. Clients come and go. People stay. – I recently signed off a client whose representative would regularly say stop shitting around to consultancy teams. No one’s a saint, but at least at work, bring the mouth you would kiss your mother with. And if someone is pushing you around, stand up to them. Easier said than done, of course.
  4. There’s nothing wrong in being a vendor or a peddler. – But peddlers hawk wares. Public relations advisors consult. Don’t hawk wares for the sake of getting clientele. They might give you’re their business today because you say yes to every demand, but tomorrow, when you can’t supply, they will leave disillusioned, leave you and be disillusioned with us as an industry.
  5. Learn how to say no – The art of saying no is sometimes one of the most difficult to learn. But it is also one of the most important, especially in high pressure industries. As Steve Jobs said after all – If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.

When you stand up for your teams and yourself, you don’t have to spend time reading articles on mental health. You earn respect within your teams, which translates into better results and lesser attrition. Remember – people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses. Bosses who want to be yes-(wo)men vendors, when their clientele want partners.

Sandeep Rao
Founding Partner at One Source
Sandeep has spent close to 15 years across advertising, public relations, journalism, corporate communication and marketing. He founded One Source, an 8,000-member strong forum for marketers and journalists in 2014 and One Source, the integrated marketing consultancy, in 2019.

He spends his time stopping to smell the roses when he isn't at work. Interests include teaching Shakespeare and the value of selfishness.

1 Comment on "Vendors and Partners"

  1. That’s an apt article Sandeep. Unfortunately in our industry, there are many mushroom firms run by ‘Founders’ and not by someone who is a ‘Leader’ in true sense. What to do when the culture of ‘Sir’ and ‘Ma’am’ is embedded by these founders to satiate their ego? When firms bite off more than what they can chew, they force their people to go beyond rationale and push for unrealistic expectations and false commitments made to the clients. Such practices eventually put the entire industry in bad light and creates a wrong perception. I wish if there could be a quick and effective mechanism to solve grievances and help the vendor partners survive, have seen them struggling to get their payments released and the harassment they get in return from these firms. Hopefully this article reaches the right audience and encourage them to bring the required positive change.

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