Beware of the Grima

grima wormtongue

Let me lay out a scenario. The client that you have been helping for the last 3 years has grown to a size where the owner, or the person you are reporting to, gets an assistant (or even a VP of Marketing). The client loves you and what you have been able to do to grow their business. Never in a million years would they think of rocking the boat! However, in hiring this new person, the client has to relinquish the reins and let this new person do their job.

Every marketer has been in this situation. It’s exciting to see our clients grow and progress as a business. We love to see the client’s quality of life improve and to be able to take some well deserved time off by relieving some of their duties. It’s the thing that gives us purpose and an extremely rewarding moment we get out of being a digital marketer. However, if you’re not careful, this situation can be the beginning of the end of the successful relationship you’ve built with your client.

Whenever a new person is hired they want to make their mark. They want to feel like they are adding value and that their position is secure in the company. It’s a stressful time, so much that it is listed as one of the top 10 most stressful events in people’s lives. Everyone reacts differently to this. For some, the way they add perceived value is by telling their superiors that everyone else is doing a bad job, and by putting a lot of emphasis on perceived lackluster work. This negative tactic can be an extremely easy way to gain confidence and trust. Here at Gravitate Online, we call these people a “Grima Wormtongue,” referring to the character from JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings saga. 

In the book, Grima Wormtongue whispers into King Theoden’s ear and convinces him to do things that he would normally never do. The only way to break the spell Grima has over the king is to separate them, but Grima will do anything to try and prevent this. Much like the heroes of Tolkien, we too have found solutions to overcome this political quagmire.

How to Deal with a Grima Wormtongue


1. Establish Respect

The first thing we always try to do is make the new employee feels respected. Again, they are entering a situation where their livelihood depends on them doing a good job and if they don’t feel like you respect them or are going to make them look bad, they will do anything they can to make sure that doesn’t happen. It doesn’t matter if you have the best numbers, metrics, and results in the world. If a Grima wants you gone, he has the ear of the decision-maker and you will be gone.

2. Make Them Look Good

The second thing that needs to be accomplished is that the new employee needs to know that you are not an enemy, you are a friend and partner with them. Your job is to make them look good. You should do anything to make that happen, and go the extra mile when they first come on. You and they are in this together and should have solidarity. At Gravitate, we are here as a team to make the company more money, and we are willing to give all the credit to the new employee.

3. Re-Establish the Relationship You Had Before

The last thing is to make sure there is a genuine relationship between you and the new employee. This new employee is now the new client, and all of the things you did to establish a relationship with the owner must be done again with the new employee. The relationship must be real. Don’t just treat this new employee as a means to an end. Have real dialogue when you meet. Remember details in their lives and truly listen to them. Getting out of work setting also helps, such as taking them to lunch. Connect with them on Linkedin. The key is to really try to really cultivate a relationship. Besides the fact that you can never have too many friends, employees often leave and go to other companies, and if they liked working with you, there is a good chance they will want to work with you again. 

Of course, in some instances, there is nothing you can do. You are a dead man walking. If that is the case, make sure everything ends amicably. Again, this ultimately is about the client and if they are better off with this new employee and that means you have to go, so be it. Be the bigger person and move on. But if you take the time to do the three things I have listed above, your chances of successfully retaining that client will be much higher.