Marketing and Procurement: Sourcing Ideas

Many long-time readers know that I come from an agency background. Before Spend Matters, I worked on national print campaigns for HP and T-Mobile. I ran regional printing for Ben Bridge Jewelers at the ripe ol' age of 22. I've freelanced as a proofreader, a copywriter, brand strategist, and producer at all types of agencies, large and small. I've even seen Maurice Levy's office in Paris (he wasn't there at the time). In other words, I haven't just breached the other side's lair; I had an office there.

Thomas Kase has recently written a fantastic series on Spend Matters PRO called How to Attack Marketing Spend (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4), exploring how procurement can dig their savings claws into this particularly murky category. There is a massive amount of crucial advice in the above-linked series. The recommendations range from remembering to treat your agency as a partner rather than a supplier (huge) to taking the time to attend each others events, align on metrics, etc. All great stuff. But here's a secret: creatives aren't going to respect (or give two hoots about) procurement if you dress like them, or if you can rattle off some facts about what you've researched about HTML 5 or which midcentury designers you see influencing their print work for small talk before a strategy meeting.

Nope. You want in with marketing? The solution is simple: keep your numbers, keep your spend analysis, keep your bidding and outsourcing and streamlined media buys and whatever else. Believe it or not, marketing actually does understand this notion of "business." But in return: respect the notion of a truly great idea. When it comes to working with creatives, procurement needs to understand the following: a) it's deeply personal to come up with ideas for a living; and b) it's really scary to have a department come in and demand more/less/better/cheaper of something that you can't just roll off a production line. Take this passage from ad great Linds Redding from his blog A Short Lesson in Perspective:

"Time moved on, and during the nineties technology overran, and transformed the creative industry like it did most others. Exciting new tools. Endless new possibilities. Pressing new deadlines. With the new digital tools at our disposal we could romp over the creative landscape at full tilt. Have an idea, execute it and deliver it in a matter of a few short hours. Or at least a long night. At first it was a great luxury. We could cover so much more ground. Explore all the angles. And having exhausted all the available possibilities, craft a solution we could have complete faith in.

Or as the bean counters upstairs quickly realized, we could just do three times as many jobs in the same amount of time, and make them three times as much money. For the same reason that Jumbo Jets don't have the grand pianos and palm-court cocktail bars we were originally promised in the brochures, the accountants naturally won the day."

He goes on:

"This Faustian pact has been the undoing of many great artists, many more journeymen and more than a few of my good friends. Add to this volatile mixture the powerful accelerant of emerging digital technology and all hell breaks loose. What I have witnessed happening in the last twenty years is the aesthetic equivalent of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The wholesale industrialization and mechanistation of the creative process. Our ad agencies, design groups, film and music studios have gone from being cottage industries and guilds of craftsmen and women, essentially unchanged from the middle-ages, to dark satanic mills of mass production. Ideas themselves have become just another disposable commodity to be supplied to order by the lowest bidder. As soon as they figure out a way of outsourcing thinking to China they won't think twice. Believe me."

It's a sad reality. Linds says, "That one thing that we prize and value above all else – the idea – turns out to be just another plastic gizmo or widget to be touted and traded." Buying creative isn't buying parts, office supplies, futures of aluminum, or even nebulous areas such as temporary staff or relocation services. Marketing is truly different. At least in my experience sitting on both sides of the buying aisle.

So, procurement, answer this: how can you put a price on an idea? Or assign that idea's cost? Or assess the potential value?

Take this notion with you next time you talk to creative. Address it. I guarantee that your efforts won't go unnoticed.

- Sheena Moore

Voices (3)

  1. Jesse Wood:

    I’m looking for an agency that sources other agencies who do digital strategy etc. Anyone have any suggestions?

  2. Ken Hartman:

    I appreciate the thought that you can’t put a price on creativity. However, creative agencies are businesses. They are in business to turn a profit. They rent space, pay employees, advertise, and sell just like every other business. To give creative agencies immunity from sound sourcing practices just because you can’t put a price on "creativity" is used too often by agencies and the in-house marketing executives who perpetuate the mystique of marketing. Well run businesses should always come out ahead of poorly run businesses and procurement exists to help sort out which is which.

  3. Jason Winmill:

    Sheena – early in my sourcing career I was asked to develop a sourcing strategy for the advertising (agency) category for a Fortune 40 company. Your points about respecting creative are insightful – their identity is very much wedded to their ideas, and their idea generation process. We hammered the marketing department with data, sourcing, and options, but ultimately, it came down to building relationships with the right in-house marketing executives, which took time…

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