Upon visiting Source One’s website, one will notice that our company offers a variety of solutions and services. To capture the multi-dimensional nature of our day-to-day responsibilities, I use words like “consulting” or “subject matter experts” when explaining to others what we do. Never have I heard of my work being described as “Vegetarian Haggis.”

As far as I know, the entire country of Scotland has never offended me before, so I will leave out any comments on haggis until I try the dish. However, due to the nature of haggis being a hearty and meaty dish, Rob Guenette’s comparison of procurement to a vegetarian version* humorously captures the common frustration and ambivalence agencies often feel towards the division that handles the RFP, negotiation, and contracting processes. A common point of contention appears to be the perception that all procurement cares about is lowering costs, regardless of the shop’s creative ingenuity or type of work; in other words, as AdvertisingAge points out, parties often do not have reasonable expectations of themselves or their partners. On the other hand, Digiday’s interview with two executives from digital agencies discusses how negotiations with shops are natural and are like any other business transactions. Their greatest concern, rather, is the idea that procurement departments have scorecards and “scientific systems” to evaluate shops and disqualify candidates for “the wrong reasons,” and that generally, those in procurement often do not have a clear enough understanding of the industry to make the best judgment calls. These impediments are only exacerbated by the fact that pitch processes are lengthy and costly, and according to PRWeek, increasingly drawn out thanks to the procurement department’s growing involvement in marketing-related decisions. When considering those factors, it’s no wonder procurement is as appealing to the agencies as vegetarian haggis is to Sean Connery (or anyone else for that matter).

Nevertheless, it is unlikely that marketing teams will exile the procurement division any time soon. Putting aside company regulations and bureaucratic hurdles, procurement is, as discussed by Alan Wexler, EVP of SapientNitro, and James Gross, co-founder of Percolate, utilized as the “investigative layer that takes the workload off the buyer when making a purchasing decision,” and helps add accountability and structure to a company’s buying decisions. This is especially important when large firms with a multitude of divisions and products seek marketing services from a variety of agencies.

To allay the headaches of the agency-procurement relationship and to strengthen the benefits that such a relationship might bring, I conclude with a few notes on best practices observed in the business. All paths point to how clear communication is integral to the process. Forbes’ recent exposition on the 2013 ANA Advertising Financial Management Conference in Scottsdale Arizona illustrates the gap as well as constructive links between procurement, agency, and marketing teams. The Good Pitch provides six useful principles to make the most out of an agency pitch. The lesson to be mastered sounds simple enough: procurement, agency, and marketing teams should work together to ensure that there is effective communication and transparency among the three parties. Collaboration is important to understanding the ultimate objectives and nuances of selecting an agency that fits well, in terms of capabilities and chemistry, and to avoid using the RFI/RFP as a blunt instrument. As they say, “Quality, not quantity.” And perhaps then procurement will be analogous to a Boston cream cake to more of our compadres in advertising.

 *A note on vegetarian haggis: according to The Guardian, it’s actually pretty good, all things considered.

Photo credit: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2011/07/american-writers-haggis.html
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Katherine Wang

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