How to Buy a Gorilla

Procurement is back on the agenda in agencies (not that it ever went away).  Saw a review today (in the trade mag Campaign) for a new book by David Meikle.  It’s (among other broader themes) about how to make procurement work as a force for good, not just to drive down price.

meikle

Procurement is killing advertising, but not for the reasons most people think.

There are four problems with the way procurement has influenced how clients commission marketing communications:

  1. The increasing emphasis on price competition – this has had both upside and downside.  On the upside, it’s good to make agencies aware that they are in a competitive market.  On the downside, quality sometimes does command a higher price and procurement is not necessarily well equipped to evaluate that trade-off.  Moreover, agencies often have to pitch for projects without knowing the budgets involved, so it’s impossible to make realistic judgements around allocating resources and consequently how to cost the project.
  2. Pitching is often driven by procurement.  Again there are two sides to this.  On one hand, the process has become more professional – sometimes.  On the other, the pitching process itself has become a lowest-common-denominator exercise which misses many of the less obvious opportunities to solve the problem better.  There is often no clarity on the budget, there is minimal chemistry or collaboration, time is shortened to the point where quality is compromised.  And another thing…. the whole thing happens in a vacuum. And breath. All these points are either well-rehearsed or at least, fairly obvious.
  3. Less obvious is the way a relationship driven by or through procurement misses the traditional opportunities for agencies to add value.  Years ago, big agencies were challenged to have initiatives – things the clients wouldn’t have thought of (and therefore procurement won’t have commissioned).  Some of these (perhaps many, perhaps too many) don’t see the light of day. Others would occasionally bring a refreshing new perspective to a staid category or a rejuvenation to a stale brand. It’s the antidote to the risk aversion which is inevitable in a modern marketing department.  You can’t do this where every project is briefed separately and scoped within an inch of its life.
  4. Finally, the project-by-project scoped approach militates against the development of  client ‘experts’ within the agency.  The old fashioned idea of brand stewardship is no longer deliverable where everyone’s time is budgeted and accountable.  In ages gone by, new agency staff would spend days out with the sales reps or observing focus groups, not as part of a (chargeable) project but as part of a broader ‘immersion’ into the business.  Sadly that’s unlikely to be feasible now that every penny is under scrutiny.

So, if you want to know how best to buy a gorilla, the answer is probably to avoid or sidestep procurement.  If you’re an agency, I’m afraid you’re probably buggered.

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