Busting The Procurement Myth For Agencies

11 Nov, 2022

In his latest column for MAD//Insight, Gareth Turner, former head of marketing for Weetabix, discusses whether brand procurement teams are as powerful as many believe.

At MAD//Fest this summer I met many agencies and a common theme in the conversations was how to get on a roster for large brands.  Now, I published my thoughts on how to develop client relationships in the summer  (www.bigblackdoor.com/madfest to get your copy), but in subsequent conversations there have been two “revelations” that have surprised this old client.

THE ROLE OF PROCUREMENT

There seemed to be a consensus that client marketing procurement teams are making the decision on whether an agency is appointed or not.  This simply doesn’t fit with my 25 years of experience.

My experience is that the brand team ALWAYS makes the decision on who to appoint, but then hand off to the procurement team to secure the best price possible for the work they want.  That’s sound commercial practice.

The brand team know who will best deliver against the brief, the procurement team know how to get the best price. 

Marketers want to have the best possible relationships with their agencies (although don’t always achieve that – but that’s another story…) and so will happily avoid an awkward price conversation by passing an agency off to their procurement colleagues.

So, it wouldn’t surprise me if some clients were telling their agencies that “procurement says no.”  That’s an easier conversation than telling someone the chemistry wasn’t right, that the strategy felt off or that another agency had better creative.  But I’m going to suggest that’s almost never the truth.

So, what can agencies do to help themselves?  Four thoughts:

1.     If you’ve presented a pitch presentation and you are in discussion with procurement, you have almost certainly won the battle for the brand team’s decision.  Remember, they’re busy people and wouldn’t be spending time negotiating with agencies for the fun of it, so step into the discussion with confidence.

2.    Also remember that they are professional negotiators.  So, who are you going to put up against them?  Do you have your own ninja level commercial negotiator that you can bring to the discussion?

3.    Are you prepared to stand your ground?  I’ve worked with agencies in the past who haven’t budged on their pricing at the pitch stage.  Ultimately the procurement team come back to the brand manager to say something like “We’ve had a go, and they’re not moving on price.  They’re expensive vs the competition, but it’s your budget to make the decision.”

4.    Have you worked to develop a relationship with the procurement team during the process?  Have you identified that they will be involved in the negotiation process at the start?  How have you worked to understand their objectives and motivations?

So, I may have led a blessed marketing life with the autonomy to decide how to spend my own budget.  But I don’t think that I’m a rarity.  Brand teams make the decision about who to appoint, but sometimes use procurement as the fall-guy.

WHO WRITES THE BRIEF:

I was shocked to hear that some large brands are asking their agencies to write their big creative briefs for them and send back to the client for approval.  Not the internal creative brief that the agency uses to brief the creative teams.  No, they’re asking them to write the actual big client creative brief.

WTAF?

The brief is the single most important document in our armoury.  It is a summary of the conversations, collaboration and decisions that have already taken place.  It simplifies the options down to the ones that the team believe will make the difference.

Now, I think you can (perhaps) make an argument for this happening when the scope of the brief is small – allowing the brand team to focus resource elsewhere, or where the channel is new to the brand team and they perhaps don’t have the knowledge to write a full brief themselves.

So why is this happening? I’m going to guess the cause is either lack of resource (time or human) or lack of training. Either can be fixed without asking an agency to write their own briefs.

That’s just crazy in my book.

If you don’t know where to start, then you’re not ready to brief. You’ll end up taking longer, spending more and not getting the output you need. Please, get in touch with me, and I’ll stop you making rookie mistakes like that.

Gareth will be writing a column for the MAD//Fest Newsletter regularly throughout the year.

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