When The Lights Go Out: Closing An Agency The Right Way

Most folks know by now: Portent abruptly closed last week.

TL;DR: It was handled… poorly. My advice:

A brand’s legacy lives beyond the brand itself. How you go out is as important as how you come in. So, if you have to do the unthinkable and shut down an agency, be:

  • Kind to your team
  • Professional with your clients
  • Transparent with the community

OK, on to the story:

It’s not really about me. I last worked there five years ago. But I need to vent before my head explodes like a grape in a microwave. And I’ve got some advice:

This Sucks

I’m not naive. Businesses fail. It’s awful, but it happens.

I’m infuriated/enraged by how it happened:

The entire team was unceremoniously dumped on the street.

Book of business sold (OK), but client accounts were flung to new agencies with no time to transition (not OK).

Website still up, with zero indication that anything’s happened.

If you face a crisis like this (I hope you never do), you can do better.

How To Do Better

Your responsibilities don’t end when you turn out the lights.

You are responsible for your team

Take care of them.

Provide severance. At least 1 week/year worked (more is better).

In the United States? Provide continuation of health coverage (aka COBRA).

Get the team in front of as many employers as possible. At Portent, folks took it upon themselves to build a spreadsheet of employees, skills, and contact info. They shouldn’t have had to.

You are responsible for your customers

Take care of them, too.

Tell them you’re closing before rumors hit social media. Clients don’t like finding out their agency is gone via Twitter.

If you sold the book of business, provide ample time for the new agency to take over. “Ample” means “A month or more.”

Even now, your team’s a resource! They’re devoted to those clients. Pay them to stick around and help with the transition. It helps the clients, and it helps your team.

(If someone doesn’t want to stick around and get paid to transition a client, be understanding. It’s a big ask.)

You are responsible to… everyone

The whole world doesn’t instantly know you’re out of business. They’re still visiting your site. Calling you. Whatever.

Add a message to your homepage that explains what happened and refers potential customers to other agencies.

Oh, and link to that list of employees. Some of those potential customers might be looking to hire in-house.

Be A Decent Human

Roll your eyes if you want, but this is really about being a decent human. Help your talent and clients move on, and you’ll safeguard all the trust you’ve built as a professional.

If you don’t care about that, I can write a separate post titled “Don’t be an ass.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *