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2pm, Monday 26th April 2021

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Harnessing the Power of Saying No

  • Saying no to big clients can sometimes be really awkward

  • How do you reject clients constructively and fairly?

  • We’ll be joined by Jonathan Ford, founding partner and group creative director at Pearlfisher, to discuss the positive benefits of setting boundaries and saying no, rather than bowing to the pressure of losing work

Saying no can sometimes be awkward, especially when it comes to big prospective clients – but sometimes it can be very empowering for you and your agency.

“There’s a reputation that comes with saying no,” explains Jonathan Ford, group creative director of Pearlfisher. “It saves time, money and wasted conversations.”

Pearlfisher was founded on this mentality, with unethical work, unpaid work, and unjustness being the three things they list on their website as big no-nos. 

And when it comes to saying no and reaping the benefits, Jonathan has a lot of experience.

In 2005, Pearlfisher was invited to pitch for one of the world’s biggest fast-food brands. However, their brief didn’t align with global eating and health trends at the time, or with Pearlfisher’s stated brand values.

“Branding is about making sure you stand clear, but their brief was at odds with everything we knew from our own research about the shifts taking place in the market. We sent them a considered response, spelling out exactly why we wouldn’t do the pitch, and that the only way we would do it was if the brief changed,” says Jonathan. “But we didn’t hear anything and assumed we’d upset them.”

However, a year and a half later, Pearlfisher received a phone call from the global CMO of the brand, telling them their response was the most talked about in the company. They’d turned out to be completely right in their rejection, and wanted to work with them this time to rectify things.

“They had gone ahead with their brief and stuck to the way they wanted to do things, and it had failed. It was rejected for all the reasons we said it would be, and cost them vast amounts of money,” explains Jonathan. 

Fast forward 15 years later, and Pearlfisher has just completed another global redesign of their branded packaging – an example of how to build a strong relationship through a constructive and considered response rather than simply saying no and being antagonistic.

Saying no in this way also sets clear boundaries and expectations for both your agency and any future prospective clients.

“We have a reputation now. For example, we don’t accept free pitches – they get red flags pretty quickly,” says Jonathan. “You should be sending out signals that you’re best in class, not just through your work, but in every aspect of what you do.”

We’ll be talking to Jonathan about harnessing the power of saying no, the benefits of doing so upon your agency and its reputation, and how rejecting business can actually help you win more in the long run.