Our Friends in Procurement

Nick Emery of Mindshare was commenting recently in the press about how unfair life is given that he has to deal with advertisers’ procurement officers. His point was that his agency spends months with his marketing clients discussing strategy, and using research to come up with great communications solutions, and then it all comes down to a procurement led pitch.

Whilst Nick isn’t by any means in a minority in his concerns about procurement’s influence in the media business, I would question why this is still an issue. How come, 35+ years on from the first media agencies we have all failed to convince advertisers to move this debate along?

In my experience procurement people are reasonable, intelligent people, hard-working professionals focussed on delivering results for their employers. Indeed, at BJ&A we interviewed a few, very senior heads of procurement for an ISBA study a few years ago. We were commissioned to discuss their views of the market research world, but one of the key findings applies equally to media agencies.

That finding is that procurement officers are prepared to pay for quality; their issue is how to recognise, measure and value ‘quality’ when they come across it.

So – how come Nick and his peers haven’t managed to convince advertiser procurement departments that quality of thinking is worth paying for? That ‘media’ is far more than just the biggest audience at the cheapest cost.

Maybe it’s because far too many agency people continue to hide behind jargon and a carapace of complexity. The argument seems to run something like this: it’s all so complicated, you can’t possibly hope to understand our world, you should really leave it to us, we know what we’re doing.

Trust us, in other words.

But why should clients take agencies at their word? Aren’t these the very people who are accused, with depressing frequency of not acting transparently, pocketing discounts, broking digital space, sitting on media suppliers’ Boards and the rest?

Without trust it’s surely easier to bring in the procurement specialists, to pare everything back to the lowest common denominator, and to judge the agency on the price paid for media.

For agencies to move the debate along, as they have to do if they’re to improve their margins, they need to change the game. That means understanding what procurement chiefs do and the pressures on them, and then educating them. Agencies need to explain how they do what they do; then open up their costs and revenues to examination; they should explain their tools, the cost of developing them and the value they bring to their clients. They must engage procurement heads, involve them, in short sell to them. Once procurement professionals understand what ‘quality’ in a media context is, how to define it, and how to measure it they’re far more likely to buy it.

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