Here is the original version of a piece on the role of procurement I wrote for the Media Guardian last week:
Throughout history the ad business has been almost schizophrenic in its ability to build meaningful and respectful customer relations with its clients. Admittedly there have been some long lasting and mutually beneficial strategic relationships – but mostly it is a rather unedifying spectacle of mistrust and mismatched agendas played out over time.
Logic Vs Magic:
Most of this can be traced back to a simple fact: clients tend to measure success in entirely rational ways – usually quarterly and financial, whereas agencies tend to measure success in more emotive ways - once a year at a creative awards ceremony. We simply celebrate and invest in our differences rather than our similarities. Ok, perhaps that is a little harsh, but the dichotomy of rational Vs emotional – logic Vs the magic - lies at the very heart of the issue.
Stick to what you do best:
The need to have some degree of certainty in uncertain times has led to an over-reliance on the numbers which has propelled procurement to the top table and beyond. Procurement is great where you have predictable outcomes – like the lifetime of a paperclip – or the efficacy of a certain floor polish, but the business of creating highly emotive and engaging marketing that delivers substantial brand value isn’t quite so simple to evaluate. If it were the case then clients would be doing it themselves - but of course they can’t - (we can all spot the ones that do though right?) - which is why they need marketing agencies.
So what can be done to restore the client/agency balance to move it from client Vs agency to client + agency?
Well procurement is here to stay so we may as well get used to it. But what I propose is proper regulation of procurement for marketing services. I don’t want the person who has negotiated a discount on loo rolls for the year to be negotiating on behalf of the CFO for his marketing. No, I want someone with a track record in marketing who knows that it is not about saving money – it is about making the right investment in creative resources.
The Way Forward:
I propose agencies have a right to establish the credibility and value of the person operating in the procurement position by asking them to present the following in a chemistry meeting for agency evaluation:
1) A CV showing aptitude and ability to assess creative value
2) A transparent case study demonstrating the value brought to a previous client/agency procurement process by showing both financial benefit for the client and also the agency
3) Procurement to present the creative work and the results
4) Verbatims and recommendations from at least 2 other marketing led clients they have procured on behalf of, and more importantly from the previous agency/incumbent themselves
And finally – surely the best way for finance to control the amount of money invested in marketing is simply to set a budget – not to tell an agency how to spend it?