Clients who don’t pay: Hasn’t the industry had enough?

There is nothing more appalling than non-paying clients (no, not even scam ads) in our industry. While we may have come a long way, certain issues still plague the industry as they did decades ago – and non-paying clients top the list. Makes you wonder: how much have we really progressed?

Non-paying clients are big and small, local and multinational, so let’s not discriminate. Suffering most from this lack of professionalism are the smaller agencies in Singapore. Speaking to a few such agencies here, revealed some of the most outrageous reasons for clients not paying.

“Sorry, my boss is in a bad mood. She hasn’t signed the PO.” Or “you need to come by and make her happy. Give her some cakes and sweet stuff. She likes agencies like that. You guys are not ‘friendly’ enough”.

Worse still? A project starts, but never sees the light of the day. Not because the agency didn’t complete the work, but the marketing lead on the account changed so often. Let me put that in perspective – 14 people in three years – each demanding the agency submit the work following new directions and guidelines, but the agency was expected to honour the initial quotation and keep producing the work.

A disgruntled agency creative told me:

Even the Lor mee store near our office changed price from $4.50 to $6.

I found it somewhat hilarious, but checked myself because there is nothing funny about people losing jobs just because a certain someone didn’t pay for the work he/she commissioned.

“Basically, it is the marketing managers/directors that just sit on things. Their executives bear the brunt of it,” the creative lead said.

Some of these agencies are on the verge of shutting down, others might too – sooner or later.

For the industry to be thriving, and competing with other markets globally, a certain level of ethics and professionalism is critical, but as we know, they have been a bit of a rare commodity in the marketing/advertising industry. Read also: Agencies, stop dropping your pants.

The contradiction in a market such as Singapore is glaring. On the one hand, the EDB is pumping billions into making Singapore the most sophisticated digital hub globally, which will attract some of the biggest and the coolest businesses to its shore. On the other, certain industries simply refuse to get their act together. Is this how we will compete, globally?

The solution is simple. Non-paying clients, grow up. Be professional and pay for what you’ve asked for. And if you can’t, design and develop that ad in-house. It may be average or pathetic, but isn’t your work a reflection of you anyway?

There’s a need for a few disclaimers:

Yes, this article has an agency-bias.
No, I am not undermining other issues plaguing the industry
And PS: I am not even going to talk about the 4As in Singapore.