Agencies strive to get to grips with procurement

Abbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, the only advertising agency to employ an
in-house procurement specialist, last week axed the role. Emma Nussey,
who was the agency’s commercial director, has left after four years to
go freelance.

Advertising agencies have …

JonesAbbott Mead Vickers.BBDO, the only advertising agency to employ an in-house procurement specialist, last week axed the role. Emma Nussey, who was the agency’s commercial director, has left after four years to go freelance.

Advertising agencies have long been wary of the procurement process because they fear a value-for-money approach threatens creativity. But with client procurement specialists arriving on the scene to drive down costs, agencies realised they needed to make themselves more commercially savvy and respond to the involvement of these specialists in their new business negotiations.

As a result, AMV and Lowe appointed their own commercial directors to handle procurement and client budgets. But other agencies failed to follow their lead and Lowe has since terminated the role. Most agencies leave account directors and the finance department to handle procurement.

The AAR director of advertising Martin Jones says: "Procurement and finance do not speak the same language as finance people tend to look after numbers and not buy."

He adds that while it may not be essential to have an in-house procurement specialist, agencies need to learn fast about clients’ purchasing demands, which include developing robust and transparent supplier relationships, negotiating with suppliers, measuring the strength of the relationship and installing effective payment mechanisms.

"These days procurement people are increasingly getting involved at a very early stage of the pitch process," says Jones. "In almost 50% of the pitches that we run, we see the client procurement specialist before the marketing director."

Nussey says the problem is that agencies are not process-driven. "As a creative service provider it is not in their culture to have identifiable procurement skills, though over the years most agencies have almost been forced to formalise purchasing skills," she says, pointing towards the competitive nature of the advertising market.

AMV group chairman and chief executive Cilla Snowball concedes that increasingly tough negotiations with advertisers has heightened the need for agencies to improve their procurement expertise.

"Procurement discipline, which is about applying specialist skills to the way we buy and sell, is here to stay," comments Snowball. "What Nussey has done is to fast-track the process in the agency by helping us to understand it better and build it into the infrastructure."

Many experts say the industry has developed "enormous" skills to negotiate remuneration in the past five years.

"Not only have agencies become much more sophisticated when it comes to selling their services, but they have also become much better at saying no to accepting work at knockdown rates," says Suki Thompson of The Haystack Group. She adds that agencies are no longer being ripped off by client procurement specialists driving a hard bargain.

Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners managing director Tom Knox believes agencies can worry too much about procurement in a world where everyone is under cost control pressure. He does not think that a procurement specialist can do justice to the complexities of deducing advertising effectiveness.

"Clients are not paying for time or people, but output. Account directors understand that. And it is their job to negotiate an equitable relationship with their clients. I don’t see the sense in having a specialist procurement person in an agency."

Latest from Marketing Week


Access Marketing Week’s wealth of insight, analysis and opinion that will help you do your job better.

Register and receive the best content from the only UK title 100% dedicated to serving marketers' needs.

We’ll ask you just a few questions about what you do and where you work. The more we know about our visitors, the better and more relevant content we can provide for them. And, yes, knowing our audience better helps us find commercial partners too. Don't worry, we won't share your information with other parties, unless you give us permission to do so.

Register now


Our award winning editorial team (PPA Digital Brand of the Year) ask the big questions about the biggest issues on everything from strategy through to execution to help you navigate the fast moving modern marketing landscape.


From the opportunities and challenges of emerging technology to the need for greater effectiveness, from the challenge of measurement to building a marketing team fit for the future, we are your guide.


Information, inspiration and advice from the marketing world and beyond that will help you develop as a marketer and as a leader.

Having problems?

Contact us on +44 (0)20 7292 3703 or email

If you are looking for our Jobs site, please click here