Diageo to introduce social contract to improve its relationship with agencies

The initiative, created by Diageo’s procurement team, aims to create a set of principles around how the brand and its agencies work together with the aim of improving the quality of its creative work.


Diageo is preparing to launch a new programme developed by its procurement team that will lay out how its brands and agencies should work together, with the aim of improving their relationship and shifting the quality of its creative work.

The programme, in essence a social contract, will set out rules around behaviour and decision-making in order to get the best working relationship out of the two parties. That means, for example, that if an agency turns up to a meeting and a key decision-maker from the brand isn’t there they can cancel the meeting “because there’s no point”. The initiative will run across every agency it works with, not just its lead agencies.

The move comes in response to a survey the procurement department runs every two years that talks to both agencies and brand-side marketers about the big issues and challenges they have. That survey involves an independent researcher going in and having a one-to-one meeting with key figures to find out what is working and what isn’t.

Using the results of that research, Diageo has set up various teams and committees over the years to debate how to improve the relationship. This latest initiative comes in direct response to the global marketing leadership team asking what more the company can do to address the issues.

We have seen a fundamental shift in the quality of the work that is coming out.

Simon Tilden, Diageo

The idea is that once the programme launches, Diageo will run workshops with the brand and agency teams able to go into a room to talk about working together. The hope is it will drive up productivity and deliver a more efficient way of working, for example by improving briefs.

“My team spends too much time going in and looking at briefs and they’re rubbish. It’s not surprising we have an upset agency and the work’s not very good. That is something we are really trying to get better, build those relationships and create a set of principles, that way everyone can work together,” explains Simon Tilden, global category director advertising at Diageo.

The initiative is already live in certain markets, and Tilden says it has seen a bit step up in the quality of work and its agency relationships.

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“We have seen a fundamental shift in the quality of the work that is coming out, the relationships are getting better and we aren’t getting what I call fee creep,” he adds.

Tilden, who was speaking at the ProcureCon conference on Tuesday (12 June), joined Diageo 13 years ago and says he has developed the procurement team to be “basically marriage counsellors”. That means that while they do have a focus on “money and KPIs”, it is as much about “looking at the relationship”, understanding that relationship and building it.

“We very clearly positioned ourselves as the people that both the brand team can go to and the agency can go to and feel they can be really honest and say, ‘this isn’t working’ and we’ll go in and try and solve the problem,” he explains.

“The other thing is we recognise that marketing people and agencies want to have a perfect relationship and they don’t like confrontation because they are working together to create great work. We can be that sounding board.”