Speak the suit’s language

As procurement people become part of the pitch process, Paul Duncanson reveals how to target and reassure these individuals

You never forget the first time you come across a corporate procurement officer. You’re ready to wow your client with ideas, until you clock the grey suit eyeballing you from the corner of the room. Corporate marketing spend is no longer exempt from their scrutiny and this interest is not only causing sweaty palms, but is affecting the design consultancy search, selection and management process.

Many would argue that choosing a design group is a subjective process. While fees play a part, at the end of the day it is about ideas and creativity. It’s about relationships (that have possibly been nurtured for months) between consultancy and client and finding the right personality fit. You can’t measure these intangibles, but every successful design group knows they are invaluable.

So how does a procurement professional who deals in the tangibles of return-on-investment, benchmarking, budgets, regulatory compliance, quality control and contracts contribute to the client/consultancy relationship? This has flummoxed many an account handler, especially now that procurement professionals are becoming increasingly involved in pitches.

Procurement professionals can unnerve your average designer and their exposure to consultancies has resulted in a number of vocal outbursts from the marketing industry. Accusations of penny pinching, of commoditising marketing resources and trying to take over the consultancy selection process have all been hurled.

Let’s consider the perspective of the purchasing department. In an effort to win pitches, consultancies have fudged information, including their capacity to handle business, fee structure and international networks. Some have been known to operate without a binding agreement, with client expectations relating to performance left unclear. The purchasing department doesn’t deal in this kind of misinformation. Their systems won’t allow it, and this is something from which all designers can benefit.

The unease that consultancies feel in response to the unfamiliar and perhaps awkward questions from procurement is perhaps indicative of the lack of experience they have in the procurement function. While procurement intervention might be clumsy, they are taking the time to familiarise themselves with the creative process. It could be said that the same vested interest hasn’t been reciprocated by design groups.

At a recent round-table breakfast, Rene de Sousa from the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply, Lotta Malm Hallqvist of McCann WorldGroup and Sarah Wood from The Airmiles Travel Company agreed that procurement can help designer/client relations. Everyone around the table agreed – it can work in the best interest of all concerned.

So how can design groups ensure that their relationships with procurement starts off on the right footing? – by understanding the role of procurement officers. They are not there to screw you out of your fee, they are there to build business partnerships on insights, innovation, global leverage and, yes, economic value. They are not there to cut your budgets, but to ensure that it’s spent more efficiently. Are they there to make it more difficult or bureaucratic? No, but they will ensure regulatory compliance and contract management, as well as benchmarking performance.

For smaller consultancies that perhaps wouldn’t normally be at the pitch table, it’s good news. They will benefit from a formal procurement process as savvy procurers will recognise their comparable value. Unsurprisingly, performance-based scales are attractive to procurement.

And, finally, something from which all design groups will benefit – no more long pitches. Some marketing clients have been accused of dragging out the pitch process. The involvement of procurement will make sure this process has some structure and is more efficient, keeping consultancy selection short and focused.

These are just some of the benefits for designers. I don’t anticipate a sudden outpouring of love for the suit in the corner, but finding ways in which you can best get on will soon be essential. It’s time to take an interest in procurement people and assess how to extract the value from them, just as they are doing to you.

Paul Duncanson is managing director of Creativebrief

Winning over procurement people

• Include content that will appeal to procurement in your client proposal. Include deadlines, deliverables, fees and expense inclusions.

• Take someone to the pitch who knows how your consultancy operates, how it is set up and how its profitability works.

• Suggest ways of making your work auditable. Demonstrating ways to show the value of design or evaluate its value will earn you extra points.

• Be truthful. Procurement people will follow up on references and will want to verify your experience.

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