How procurement can build more productive agency relationships

posted by Rob Green
29 March 2016

Too often the relationship between agencies and marketing procurement departments is presented as adversarial – unaccountable spendthrifts versus narrow-minded bean counters.

But in my experience procurement professionals are increasingly eager to transcend this narrow definition and look for more meaningful and productive agency relationships.

Smart brands have recognised that old-style procurement needs to change to keep up with the new, always connected, social media-literate consumer. Brands' marketing activities need to be a lot more agile so getting the most from agencies is crucial. How can procurement departments help achieve this?

Marketing services are not a commodity sale, so communication with the decision-making team to fully appreciate the approach, talent and chemistry is all-important. Rather than a spreadsheet exercise, the procurement team should give the agency the opportunity to explain what makes it different and how it can add value to a business. Allow for alternative pricing models and provide space in the RFP for this to be explained.

For an agency to properly understand a business, it needs to know about its past experience in terms of agency relationships and models. The briefing should outline why the review is happening and what the company is looking for. Be prepared to talk openly about what has worked and what hasn't, as well as providing any insight on why. Metrics on the success of the agency should be clearly defined.

When it comes to assessing creativity, avoid creative tests until the final stages of the process. Creative input need only come into the equation once both parties have carried out the crucial preliminary work that will be the basis of an ongoing relationship.

Soliciting "free" creative ideas from a range of agencies demeans the whole process and is no basis for productive cooperation. At this stage, set up a chemistry meeting with brand stakeholders and share scoring metrics and weighting.

Alternative creative tests can also be good to see how the agency performs under pressure. For example, agencies could be given a face-to-face briefing, with an hour to create campaign ideas and present back.

Choosing an agency that can work to the demands of business today requires procurement departments to think differently. By working collaboratively at this earliest stage of the relationship, both parties can develop a better understanding of each other’s point of view which will ultimately prove mutually beneficial.

Rob Green is a partner and new business director at marketing agency OLIVER

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