Is procurement preventing you from finding a good agency?

– 9th December 2019 –
John Onion

 

I’m writing this following continued frustration. This year we’ve had an increase in organisations inviting us to pitch. Often we have been perfectly positioned to demonstrate expertise and provide significant value. But, we’ve had to pull out because of their process.

 

Problem summary

We are not the only agency finding this. Regularly procurement procedures are stopping organisations from getting the agencies they deserve. Pitch requests are becoming increasingly demanding, opaque and don’t enable agencies to demonstrate expertise. Good agencies will drop out of these processes altogether.

Procurement Departments are not used to purchasing ‘expertise’. Not in digital marketing. They attempt to simplify and commoditise agencies into a criteria that they are more used to: Value vs. cost; without the expertise to evaluate value.

 

Common issues with procurement procedures and their inevitable results:

 

Procurement Rule

Issue it causes

Requesting an incredible amount of work, (unpaid), including plan the strategy

 

Unless the pitch process is remunerated, this will act as a filter to deter agencies that value their (strategic) time.

 

Email questions, answered to be shared with all

 

This will prevent thought going into pitches and will prevent agencies from being able to check they are on the right lines before developing a proposal.

 

You can’t speak to Stakeholders before writing the proposal

 

Any responses won’t meet all requirements.

 

You can’t have any conversation, questions on the brief must be written

 

Any responses will meet few requirements.

 

Turnaround must be quick

 

The response from agencies  will be rushed apart from those who are under booked.

 

There is no budget, we are waiting to see what the cost will be from  the responses

 

This will filter out agencies focused on quality. Agencies focused on price, or with little confidence of their abilities will compete on getting rate down, not on appropriate quality of work.

 

We need to know what the results of the campaign will be in proposals

 

This will filter out agencies that aren’t prepared to exaggerate results.  Proposals that are received will have exaggerated responses.

 

We can’t give you access to our data for preparation

 

Expect uninformed proposals.

 

We are inviting several (over three) agencies to respond to brief

 

Organisation won’t have enough time to communicate effectively with all agencies. They will appear unsure about what they want. Good agencies won’t feel confident in being able to establish expertise under such conditions, and concerned about the time investment, will pull out.

 

 

john-on-the-phone-frustrated

As an example, a recent conversation went like this:

Client:   “Our marketing department has done some research and would like you to be one of the ten agencies to pitch for our SEO and Google Ads business. You’ll receive a brief on Friday. You’ll need to respond within two weeks and if you make it to the next stage the account team should come to Birmingham to present. You’ll need to have all your questions asked within 3 days of receiving the brief, we’ll publish everyone’s answers together…”

Me:       “Great, can we have a conversation with the Stakeholders once we’ve received the brief.”

Client    “If we let you have a conversation with the stakeholders we’d have to let everyone have a conversation with Stakeholders. They don’t have the time for that”

Me:       “This is a considerable amount of work, over a week’s worth. Unplanned, and unpaid, without being sure of the details that we are working too. Then an extra ½ day per person, for four people to travel to Birmingham and discuss the proposal.

We really would need an hour of  the stakeholders time before making that investment.

Client:     “They are very busy, we are inviting ten agencies to pitch.”

I don’t know how many agencies that organisation had contacted to find ten that they could send the brief to. Any agency with the slightest confidence in itself would have dropped out after that initial call. And this is common. Often pitch requests involve many days of work, to the (very real) cost of thousands of pounds to the agency. A brief alone is never enough. A conversation with stakeholders to understand requirements is essential.

Agencies need to be able to ask follow-up questions; clarification questions; big open ‘setting the context questions’, small little minutiae detailed question. We shouldn’t spend time writing about content development to later discover a content writer inhouse and an internal video team. We wouldn’t recommend a full SEO audit of the site to find out that it is migrating two weeks later.

We need to understand complex situations and prescribe complex solutions.

 

Marketing and Communication needs to demonstrate leadership

Marketing and Communications decision-making processes should not be decided by departments that don’t know the sector. I think that fear of making a poor decision focuses agency selection on numerical quantifiable which don’t fit the nature of the decisions that need to be made. Marketing and Communications leaders should have the expertise to evaluate agencies themselves and therefore should take ownership of the process.

Expertise needs a degree of expertise to be understood. A procurement lead process may appear to be working, whittling agencies down to a list of 6; but hidden might be that the four strongest agencies didn’t want to take part.

A small number of agencies should be approached, no more than three. Otherwise the ones that agree to take part won’t be any good. Effective communication needs to run throughout the process. Any solutions should be arrived at together, so that the proposal details a combined solution. In digital strategy development, a ‘Grand Reveal’ isn’t appropriate.

 

What do you think?

I really would appreciate any feedback on this blog, from other agencies, clients, Marketing departments, Communications departments and definitely any Procurement departments.

Please email us at hello@upriseup.co.uk

Have I missed something? Have I failed to see another perspective?

It feels to me like there is a trend here and that organisations are being impeded in finding good agencies as a result. I think something is broken and it would be good to get clarity on the issue and fix it.

 



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