‘Ask Spend Matters’ Lightning Round: Marketing Spend, Public Procurement and Finding a Contractor

As we work behind the scenes to turn Ask Spend Matters into a more regular feature, we thought we’d chip away at a few of the reader questions we’ve been sitting on. As managing editor Taras Berezowsky promised last month those who have submitted a question but not heard back, we haven’t forgotten about you!

Today’s lightning round edition, if you will, tackles three specific questions on the value versus price debate in marketing spend, where federal agencies find their suppliers and how to find a young person to prepare those boring databases.

Value vs. Price

“What percentage of marketing spend is value-based (e.g., strategy or creative) and what could be more price-driven (e.g. buying print, data or media)?”

A reader who wished to stay anonymous sent us this follow-up question to an earlier Ask Spend Matters article on whether other services procurement areas get as much negative press from suppliers as marketing procurement. The original question had come from Tina Fegent, who has spent more than two decades in marketing procurement.

In short, it’s hard to quantify the value of marketing, which naturally tends to put it at odds with procurement’s primary mandate of cost control. As is often the case, there’s logic behind both positions, which brings us back to this follow-up question.

We flipped the question back to Fegent.

“[This] is quite a tough one as it all depends on the client and their marketing strategy,” she said. “One hopes that there is always a value-based or really a people-based costing strand, as this spend is focused on making sure that the client is investing its marketing dollars in the right type of marketing (remember Kotler’s 4P’s — price, product, place and promotion).”

She continued, “But if they are a volume-driven organization like a retailer [or] a bank, the more price-driven strands like print and media could be used more, as they are the best way to communicate to a mass audience. There is no definite percentage split. If I had to guess, for a retailer I would say 30% value and 70% price.”

Supplying Uncle Sam

“We are a small business in West Virginia. Where do the federal agencies have their matting and framing needs supplied?”

We thought about sending @realDonaldTrump an inquiring tweet, but he always seems so … busy. Instead, we reached out to Frank McNally, director of Public Spend Forum.

Public procurement may seem like a maze of rules and regulations, but the U.S. government seeks to award 23% of its prime contracts to small business suppliers. Where to look for prime contract opportunities will depend on what the matting and framing services are for.

If they are artwork-related, for example, McNally says that the government works with a required source called the AbilityOne Program, which is run by the National Industries for the Blind (NIB). “[You] may want to start there and search their product and service catalog, linked on the home page,” McNally says.

He continues: “I was also able to find some results in the General Services Administration's Global Supply catalog. I did a search for ‘framing’ and many of the products listed were sourced by NIB.”

Source: GSA Global Supply

“Unfortunately, since the AbilityOne program is a required source and it does appear that NIB supplies at least the picture frames, that there may not be too many prime contracting opportunities,” McNally explains. “However, there are cases where a requirement is competed first in the AbilityOne program and if qualifying companies are unable to fulfill, the solicitation can then be opened up for other competitors.”

McNally recommends doing some research and finding out whether and how the U.S. government would buy from sources that are not currently part of the AbilityOne program.

So Many Databases, So Little Time

“How can I get a good junior to help me prepare some databases?”

This will depend, of course, on how sophisticated your project is, but according to Andrew Karpie, research director of services and labor procurement at Spend Matters, it should be pretty easy to find the right person for the task, be it someone in-house or a contractor that you want.

“Whether it's just data entry or actually setting up an SQL [structured query language] database from scratch, this should not be a problem,” says Karpie. “First of all, junior-level talent that is data- and tech-savvy is available. This could be an intern — a college student or even younger. Secondly, there are various ways to source contract labor.”

Karpie recommends checking out freelancer platforms like Upwork or Fiverr if this is a relatively simple, data entry-type project. There is also Amazon Mechanical Turk, a crowdsourcing platform for work that “requires human intelligence,” such as data deduplication.

If you’re looking for someone to set up a database, starting with database technology, you might consider HackerRank or CodeFights. Both are good sources for finding talented software developers, programmers and engineers.

For finding interns or student candidates, Karpie suggests Handshake or Purple Briefcase. Both are platforms that connect employers with students, alumni and university career centers.

But maybe the task doesn’t even warrant signing up for an account on a freelancer platform. “Or you can just ask your neighbor's teenager — you never know,” says Karpie.

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