What Should You Do When You Get Canned?

Seasons change, time passes. People change. Goals change. Objective alignments change. Technology changes. The entire country is drunk on the concept of change. For a whole lot of reasons, and at one time or another, everyone has gotten the axe.

There are good ways to handle it and there are really bad ways. The way one handles a change in relationship separates the men from the boys. Most of the time, one knows there’s a transition in the wind so it shouldn’t come as a shock.

For some reason, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to handle an agency transition. Because we’re in such a young industry, it seems much of the old-school teaching practices have fallen by the wayside.

The New World

True, we’re in a young industry. The Internet and SEM world have afforded many opportunities for professionals in a non-traditional career progression. In other words, an entire generation of trade professionals has turned its nose up to the “pay your dues” and “learn the basics” portion of their careers.

Right or wrong, the world has changed. There are some basic rules of engagement that advertisers, agencies, and other professional services partners tell me just aren’t there anymore.

Of course, “paying your dues” often means getting someone’s coffee, answering phones, picking up dry cleaning, and mowing the CEO’s lawn on the weekend. From this perspective, it’s easy to understand why one would want to skip a few steps in the professional services world.

Your Out is In

There are several reasons a change might be in order. I’m told the notification of change often comes in the form of an e-mail with the date of transition and not much else. While that might seem a bit cold-blooded, remember the overly litigious world we live in. In the traditional agency world, we used a sanitized form letter indicating dates and times for transition.

Unless a contract specifically requires defining cause (I don’t know anyone who would sign such an agreement), the odds of getting an explanation are very slim.

The odds of getting an explanation decrease further if you let the emotional aspects of the engagement take over. When I asked colleagues in the industry what a typical notification looks like, many responded by noting the caustic responses they received, in favor of explaining how they exited a relationship.


There’s a short list of things that fall into the category of “what not to do” when on your way out. Most importantly, do not send a list of demands for a justification. While there may be an exchange of intellectual property documents, most often confidentiality covenants survive any agreement termination. You may want to remind the former client of any covenants that survive contract, but be careful how you do that.

You’ll want to watch your tone as you exit. Remember, there are many reasons for making a change. One way to guarantee you’ll never know any of those reasons is by using an acerbic or spiteful tone with your former client.

Another surprise I encountered when researching this week’s column is the sheer number of folks still working on a handshake or simple agreement letter. If you fall into this category, depending on your local laws, you may have even fewer rights. It’s always a good idea to migrate your handshakes into something a bit more tangible.

It Comes Around

Another key point to remember is that the world will, in fact, continue to turn. Take a step back before initiating a transition dialogue. Often, if you ask nicely for a transition meeting, your client will accommodate you. Phrasing the question like, “Might you have a few minutes to discuss your feedback for us moving forward?” will go a long way to getting constructive feedback for your firm.

Change is inevitable. You never know when you might encounter the folks you work with again and in what capacity. What goes around often comes around, so behave accordingly and it might just come back to you in a positive way.

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