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    Agency client passed away -- moving on
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    Junior Member mattmealer's Avatar
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    One of my longest-running clients sadly passed away a few days ago, about three months after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis. He owned a small ad agency in my city and hosted a locally-produced travel show that I worked on for the last three years, most recently as DP/editor. In addition to the show, he hired me frequently to shoot a wide range of local commercial and corporate projects. We worked together a great deal.

    His family, with whom I am not acquainted nor in direct contact with, is in the process of shutting down his agency, apparently with no plans to sell the business and/or his client list. His former creative director and producer, both of whom were contractors like myself (...), do not plan to continue working in the field.

    The loss of this agency is a serious, though hopefully temporary, blow to my own business. I'm primarily a freelance owner/operator, not a production company, and I definitely don't live in a media-centric city. It all goes to show why you can't put too many eggs in one basket.

    Once a decent amount of time has passed -- certainly, at minimum, not until after the funeral -- I'm thinking about reaching out to some of this agency's former clients with whom I have worked in the past, to inquire about continuing to work for them in the future on a direct-to-client basis.

    Obviously I want to show the utmost sensitivity to the deceased's family and to these clients' history with the former agency. On the other hand, life goes on. These clients still have ongoing video needs (I was submitting quotes to the agency for upcoming jobs as recently as July), and they must certainly now be looking elsewhere for support in that area. Someone has to do the work...might as well be me.

    Have any of you been in a similar situation? How did you handle it? Any advice, tips, warnings?


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    Resident Preditor mcgeedigital's Avatar
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    If you won't someone else will.
    Matt Gottshalk - Director/ Dp/ and Emmy Award Winning Editor
    Producer, Digital Creative for the United States Postal Service


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    Quote Originally Posted by mcgeedigital View Post
    If you won't someone else will.
    Was going to say the same.... The business will not wait... Don’t be afraid to pick up the torch and continue on.


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    As previous posts say if you don't do it someone else will for sure. I know I would!

    Contact his old client list and put it to them that you would love to continue on his good work if they have any need for ongoing or future production needs. And that if they do that you may be able to assist them. In doing so point out just how much you were involved with him in his business bringing production assets to all his clients. You could also point out that that some of his clients had been left in the lurch with projects part done or planned and that you were trying to help them out as much as possible and with that in mind you were extending that hand of cooperation to other clients of his that may need production assistance. Or something to that effect.

    Also if you can identify and associate any of the clients with projects you have worked on in conjunction with your old boss I wouldn't hesitate to point that out. "Ah! I remember working on your XYZ project and what a good project that was. (Deceased's name) and I really enjoyed putting that together for you." Maybe gilding the lily a bit maybe but having run a business for years I know I always felt more assured when I had contractors working on my projects who had worked with me in the past. People I know who wouldn't leave me in a tricky situation. You'll probably find some of his clients would be more than happy to hear from you. You're a long time dead my friend and the wheels keep turning so go for it my man, go for it!

    Chris Young


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    I would reach out to the family, to express condolences, let them know how much I enjoyed working with the person (I'm assuming you did!), see if there's anything they need that I could be of help w/r/t shutting down the business (did he own equipment that needs to be appraised/sold etc?)

    Then I would wait for a respectful time to raise the issue of contacting clients with them. (You say apparently no plans to continue the business... I'd want to know for sure!)

    And then go to the clients with a hopefully something like "Agency Family has informed me they don't intend to pursue xyz, so I'm reaching out to former clients to let them know that in the event that you have unmet video needs I'm available."


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    Quote Originally Posted by dcoughla View Post
    I would reach out to the family, to express condolences, let them know how much I enjoyed working with the person (I'm assuming you did!), see if there's anything they need that I could be of help w/r/t shutting down the business (did he own equipment that needs to be appraised/sold etc?)

    Then I would wait for a respectful time to raise the issue of contacting clients with them. (You say apparently no plans to continue the business... I'd want to know for sure!)

    And then go to the clients with a hopefully something like "Agency Family has informed me they don't intend to pursue xyz, so I'm reaching out to former clients to let them know that in the event that you have unmet video needs I'm available."
    + to that!

    Chris Young


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    #7
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    I'd request his entire client list from the family and start calling each one to find out who they are moving to and if you might be able to work with them.

    You might want to suggest that they sell off the business to another agency, even if a tribal amount of money, better than just closing the doors. This might be something you can help them with for a small commission.


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    Senior Member paulears's Avatar
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    I'd not contact the family at all, and be practical. Your client has passed on, and you still need to make a living - so I'd be contacting them all explaining that you've had a great relationship and are keen to continue, giving them the ability to contact you direct. You didn't know the family, so they can't do anything for you and if his business has now effectively ceased, there's no legal restraint, or indeed, a moral one.

    Do it now, or the clients will if they need video, start googling.


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    Quote Originally Posted by paulears View Post
    I'd not contact the family at all, and be practical. Your client has passed on, and you still need to make a living
    I think this works provided you're 100% sure that the family has no plans to continue with the business, there was no succession plan in place and already communicated to clients, etc. Everyone responds to a terminal diagnosis differently, but I'd have to imagine the issue of "this is what should happen to the business when I die" was at least broached with family, if not clients, at some point during the 3 months between diagnosis and death. OP runs the risk of looking uninformed or possibly even underhanded by going directly to clients if they've already received some kind of succession information or if he finds himself accidentally competing against family, etc.

    I can't imagine many scenarios in which OP contacts the family and then loses a client that he would have otherwise gotten if he had gone directly to the client, but I can see a couple in the reverse direction.

    Forgot to say in my last message -- good luck, OP! I had the "lost a huge client and realized I wasn't diversified enough" scare myself. Ended up being a great thing for me longterm, hope it's the same for you.


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    Junior Member mattmealer's Avatar
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    Valid concerns for sure. That said, after the terminal diagnosis, this client's family ran a GoFundMe campaign which listed the expenses of shutting down his business as an explicit reason for the fundraiser. That, coupled with the fact that 1) the agency's ex-creative director (with whom my client was close friends) is getting out of the business altogether and 2) to my knowledge, at least, there's no one else in his family who does anything remotely related to marketing, makes me think the agency is completely done for.

    I currently have no way of contacting family members, but I'll check in again with the client's former work associates (who were apparently also acting as part-time caregivers during his final months...it's a bizarre situation) and see if there have been any further developments after we last spoke.

    Let me introduce an additonal wrinkle to the story that I probably should have mentioned earlier: I'm still owed a fairly sizable chunk of money (<$10K) for two of this client's projects that were left in varying states of completion during his last two months. I'm working with his former bookkeeper to get the situation resolved, but...would this fact change your plan of attack if you were in my shoes?

    Thanks very much for the thoughtful responses so far. This forum is great for tech-related stuff, but it's this type of discussion that I find most useful. I really value the collective professional experience here.

    Quote Originally Posted by dcoughla View Post
    Forgot to say in my last message -- good luck, OP! I had the "lost a huge client and realized I wasn't diversified enough" scare myself. Ended up being a great thing for me longterm, hope it's the same for you.
    I appreciate it!


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