Choosing a creative agency – procurement must understand that relationships DO matter

There was an excellent article on the trinityP3 (Australasian strategic marketing consulting firm) website recently. It was from Debra Giampoli, Director, Global Strategic Agency Relations, at Mondelez International, “where she helps Business Unit and Marketing leaders across the globe find external marketing resource partners”. (Some of us might still think of Mondelez as Cadbury chocolate plus some other stuff...)

It’s called “Let’s put the creative agency selection process out of its (and our) misery” and it covers, not surprisingly, how firms choose their advertising agencies. Giampoli lays out the traditional selection process, with RFI, short listing and final full-blown pitch, then explains why it so often goes wrong, leaving a situation as she says where “the client doesn’t like the agency, the agency isn’t that crazy about the client, both sides are frustrated, the work isn’t great, and everybody’s wondering what happened”.

She explains why that traditional agency section process too often ends up with that result, pointing out on the way that many agencies are now refusing to compete in such exercises – not surprising given the huge amount of work needed to complete the pitch assignment. But perhaps the major reason for failure is that the process does not test the agency / client relationship.

“You are choosing a creative partner, and when it comes to creativity, relationships matter. They matter a lot; so much that you won’t get great work without a great relationship no matter how talented the agency is or how “rigorous” the selection process is”.

She goes on and talks about other ways in which you can make the selection – it’s all good stuff and we may come back to it again, and you should read the whole article. However, for now let’s just pick up on that “relationship” point. I suspect most procurement professionals are suspicious of the budget holder / stakeholder who says that their “relationship with the supplier is really important”. Indeed, much procurement process and methodology is about getting rid of those subjective factors in our supplier selection work.

So we introduce scoring systems, make the whole process paper or digitally based (rather than face to face) – and a lot of the thinking behind that is mistrust of the “relationship” intruding into a business decision. Perhaps we have had our fingers burnt (as I have) by budget holders for whom the “relationship” with the supplier meant cases of wine at Christmas or tickets to the World Cup finals.

But in many cases, Giampoli is right. Relationships with key strategic suppliers do matter, and the creative agency is probably a very good example of that. And of course it is the brand manager who has to work with the agency day after day, not the procurement manager. That’s why relationships do have real importance for the stakeholder in many cases, in a way that is fundamentally different from the procurement function's post-contract involvement.

So we’d suggest the challenge for procurement is this. How can procurement practitioners in this category add value to the marketing procurement process, whilst acknowledging and reflecting the importance of relationships? We’re not going to try and answer that question today, but it must mean more than just running a formal tendering process and adding up numerical scores.

And again, a strong recommendation for Giampoli’s article.

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Voices (3)

  1. Aaron Crewe:

    A key aspect in the client relationship is having good communication between both parties. By ensuring that the relationship isn’t based on simply two points-of-contact, rather than one person at the agency and one person at the client, this prevents communication issues if one person leaves.

  2. Dan:

    Interesting article. I would love to see how this applies to public sector procurement, as it tends to require rigid tender processes and generally abhors such relationships as a basis for awarding contracts

  3. John Butcher:

    Some fantastic points. One simple additional value that procurement can bring is to help unpick what is actually meant by “relationship”. What is it that the client and agency are doing as part of the relationship. Understanding the positive and negative behaviours within that will equip the decision-making and agency management team better for sustaining success of finding a more appropriate agency and agency relationship. Procurement is in a unique position to act as an independent facilitator and aid (not block) communications with the agency and marketing clients.

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