Is your communications agency out of this world?

4 June 2008
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05 June 2008

If men are from Mars and women are from Venus, then you sometimes wonder if communications agencies and those people tasked with procuring their services inhabit equally distant planets.

Both have their own languages and customs and can, on occasions, view each other with suspicion.

"They don't understand us" is a cry often heard from both sides, more often than not around the debate about money versus value.

The disconnect in communication can be seen in sharp relief where the completion of RFI's or tenders is concerned.

In late 2007, in response to an off heard lament about the complexity and repetitious nature of tender documents within the new business process, AAR carried out research amongst 200 agencies across all of the communications disciplines. These included UK based advertising, design, digital, direct marketing, media and PR agencies of all sizes.

Unsurprisingly it revealed a high level of frustration and dissatisfaction with the way in which the formal tendering process for marketing agencies is currently being carried out.

Whilst most agencies agreed that Procurement can add a lot to the pitch process, there was a concern that currently agencies were spending far too long answering the same questions - with subtle variations - over and over again.

When asked about how well the agencies felt that the tendering process was being managed, only 17% of agencies felt that they were handled well, whilst 47% felt that they were handled poorly or badly.

There was a view from 53% of agencies that too much information was being asked for at the initial stages with a great deal of inconsistent repetition in the type of information being requested by clients.

Agencies felt that whilst 52% of the information requested was consistent from one tender to the next, there was unfortunately no uniformity to the way in which the questions were phrased or the order and format in which they were requested. This meant that there were few opportunities to amortise the use of the information, thus reducing the amount of time being spent by agencies in completing their responses, and presumably, the clients reviewing them.

This is perhaps the crux of the issue. A concern that too much information is being requested at too early a stage, in a format which means that they have to reinvent the wheel every time.

So what is the answer? Surely there must be a way of standardising at least part of the process to ensure clients get the information they need in the most efficient and effective way and for agencies to supply it in a pre-agreed format.

Perhaps the information could be supplied in two stages, in a similar way to the ITT and PQQ formats currently being used as part of the OJEU process. Standardised initial questions might include size, staff numbers, address, accounts etc.

This could be stored in an accessible database and constantly updated by the agencies.

This would mean that more company specific questions could be asked of fewer agencies at a second stage. This would benefit both parties from a quality and quantity perspective.

I am not sure what the answer is, and these may simply be the naïve thoughts of someone operating in the world of communications agencies, but there must be room for discussion and dialogue.

There is clearly a major opportunity to improve the way in which the tendering process is currently undertaken for the benefit of both the agencies and the client procurement teams. After all I'd like to think that in the end we all inhabit the same planet.

Martin Jones is director of advertising at AAR


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