Procurement is worth the pain

For designers, procurement can seem like a stifling process. Barry Seal explains how they can make it work for them

With purse strings tightened, it is no surprise that procurement departments have increased power. For brand-owners, it makes sense to ensure every aspect of their buying is as effective as possible, giving them real value for money.

But consultancies may have to go through an arduous and stringent procurement process just to get a chemistry meeting. Being asked in so much detail about finance and structure can seem at odds with ‘being creative’. Many consultancies can’t extract this information easily, making procurement seem like an unwanted barrier.

In my view, we should embrace procurement. Times like these require businesses to take a hard look at how they operate. Putting in place the strict processes and procedures that procurement requires can enhance a consultancy’s professionalism.

At Anthem Worldwide, as part of pre-media company Schawk’s international network, we have invested much time and effort to ensure our business reporting methods and structure are globally consistent across every office in the group. It’s not been an easy task, but it means we can easily provide the appropriate information to procurement departments, and international clients receive a seamless experience.

That’s not the only benefit consultancies can take from the procurement process. It’s also worth noting that the procurement process indicates that a client is taking your relationship seriously, giving you your rightful place around the table.

If you pass the RFP (request for proposals) stage, then you know you are not entering an ad hoc trial, but a long-term partnership. It also means you are less likely to be threatened by new consultancies knocking on the door and being given projects because they’re new kids on the block.

From the client’s perspective, it’s not just about money. It’s important for them to know that the companies they have shortlisted during a pitch process meet required standards for compliance, processes and structure.

Procurement’s role in assessing this, and ensuring that potential consultancy partners are healthy, efficient, and therefore a good bet for a long-term partnership, is crucial. It is not only key in new pitch situations – it is also crucial for evaluating a consultancy’s rightful place on a roster if there is a need for consolidation.

However, the RFP process does provide consultancies with interesting dilemmas, in terms of how to demon-strate their skills and expertise.

Design is, of course, a visual discipline, so consultancies like to present their work in person, injecting the passion that went into the project. But the RFP process sometimes allows only unpresented submissions, with little supporting narrative.

Here, the choice of work to represent your skills is critical. You need to show creative examples from similar clients which will truly resonate. But it is important that clients judge this against the brief you are responding to.

Only in this way can clients can get a feel for how you got under the skin of the brief.

Therefore, anything you can add succinctly, which explains more than the visual element, is key. That said, the creative work you present must compel the desired response – as you would expect it to on-shelf.

If you get to the next stage, the client must inject sufficient time into the procurement process for consultancies to explain, face-to-face, the thinking behind their work, along with trend analysis and consumer knowledge.

Equally important is for clients to ensure the process allows them to understand a consultancy’s culture. Without chemistry, a long term relationship is unlikely.

Procurement departments are not there to turn intellectual thinking into a commodity and ignore the added value each consultancy provides. Their role is to ensure the potential client/consultancy arrangements are underpinned. Judging a consultancy’s creative talents is the marketing department’s role.

The procurement process helps transform the consultancy/client relationship into a mutually beneficial partnership. When managed well, it adds real value to that relationship, providing a greater structure around service requirements and makes costs transparent.


• Work with procurement, not against it
• Put stringent, consistent business processes and reporting structures in place
• Remember, demonstrating your business’s health and efficiency is not only good for new business, but reassures you, your staff and investors, too
• Show creative examples that are relevant to a client’s own target audience
• Demonstrate how you fulfilled the brief you were working to
• If you make it through the request for proposals stage, you should be rightly proud of your achievement

Barry Seal is UK managing director at Anthem Worldwide

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