It’s time for marketers to show procurement some love

It’s not just agencies who hold outdated views on procurement. Marketers would also benefit from a refreshed perspective.

procurement finance

Regular readers of this column (hello, mum!) will know that I’m partial to a dated cultural reference point. I blame my past career in agencies – they love it.

Case in point: a week rarely passes in agency-land without some plum using Sun Tzu’s The Art of War – written in the fifth century BC – to illustrate his (it’s always a bloke) point about dealing with (it’s always “dealing with”) procurement.

I doubt procurement has been around for two and a half millennia, but this adversarial nonsense certainly feels like it has. And while agencies are the worst culprits for tarring all of procurement with the same brush, many marketers would also benefit from updating their views. Let’s start with what ‘good’ looks like.

Choose the right role

Unsurprisingly, the ideal relationship between marketing and procurement is mutually knowledgeable, respectful and aligned. All the cuddly business words, basically.

But even though this isn’t new news, it seems to only be true around half the time. Why is that?

Why procurement must be marketing’s new best friend

The obvious early warning sign for marketers is the absence of specialist marketing procurement. And if the function reports into finance, it may be a cost-focused barrier to brand building.

In contrast, a board-level chief procurement officer often suggests a more value-driven remit. So choose your next job wisely, yeah?

Engage early

Once you’re on board, procurement adds most value when you communicate early and often. As Bob Hoskins opined in the 90s, it’s good to talk (oops, I did it again).

It won’t make you very popular if you get your agency primed and giddy, before rocking up to procurement demanding a PO number by 5pm. When criteria are clear and time is a factor, a good procurement person can help you shorten – yes, shorten – the agency selection process without sacrificing accountability.

And remember that progressive commercial deals with agencies can increase the likelihood of great work.

Protecting you and your brand

Perhaps the strongest case for embracing procurement is to mitigate risk. Richard Woodford, Pearson’s global procurement category director for marketing and a former chair of ISBA’s Communications Procurement Action Group (Compag), describes procurement as your “first line of defence to corporate governance”.

Effective procurement helps marketing build boardroom credibility and it helps agencies succeed.

From usage rights and talent costs to data protection, GDPR and modern slavery legislation, it’s risky-a-go-go these days. Are you best-placed to judge whether your agencies offer adequate protection? Not sure about you, but I’d rather a specialist translated these risks between business and agency on my behalf.

But with the honourable exception of more regulated sectors like finance or pharma, a casual attitude to risk amongst marketers isn’t uncommon. Might a time-pressed member of your team toss a slug of customer data over the wall to their agency, reasoning that ‘it’s only a little social media campaign’?

No? Fair enough. But I bet you’ve set agency hares running before their contract’s signed. That’s a sackable offence in some companies (and regrettably few agencies).

Boosting marketing’s credibility

Avoiding disaster might save your bacon, but getting more matey with procurement can also boost your career. As Marketing Week recently reported, many marketers struggle to market their discipline internally. A closer partnership with procurement can help.

In addition to reducing risk, better collaboration around terms and KPIs can also improve outcomes and visibility of your successes. So if your board still thinks marketing is a bit ‘fluffy’,procurement can boost your commercially credibility.

Join the procurement party

Now, being right-on about procurement is one thing – let’s get #ProcurementPositive trending! – but let’s be honest, the discipline does have an image problem. That said, while ‘procurement-led’ remains a shorthand for cost-cutting not rigour, might we have reached a tipping point?

Audi’s recent ‘procurement-led’ UK advertising review is a case in point. Although BBH retained the business, procurement consultant – and former agency staffer – Tina Fegent reckons the story has changed attitudes, so behaviours should follow.

“People are finally realising that procurement is here to stay,” she says. “The sooner the industry accepts it and works positively with them, the sooner everyone will benefit.”

Or, to put it another way, whether you like it or not, if procurement can question a relationship as strong as the one between BBH and Audi’s presumably satisfied marketing team, then it’s time for everyone to make nice.

Give agencies a wake-up call

I mentioned agencies being the worst procurement bashers. And although some are engaging procurement earlier as they rethink how they go to market, many still default to lazy stereotypes. This isn’t helping you.

Don’t miss out as agencies finally toughen-up

So if your agency rolls its eyes at procurement whilst mumbling about ‘pounds of flesh’, then try this. Cite the classic ‘nightmare client’ (they’ll shudder) who demands two-dozen amends on a Friday evening. Then explain how procurement is there to avoid that, mediating on deliverables, ways of working and mutual value.

Also remind them that management consultants are hammering them on process, rigour and commercial nous. Maybe even lob in a cheeky ‘just sayin’’. That oughta do it.

Three-way love-in

John Lennon sang: “Imagine all the people, living life in peace.” Most fans recognise that he meant marketing, procurement and agencies.

Imagine you’re all in-jokes, birthday cards and BFFs, knowing the names of one another’s kids – the whole nine yards. Ridiculous utopia, right? That would be like…literally every other group of colleagues in the known universe.

Seriously folks, this isn’t rocket science. Effective procurement helps marketing build boardroom credibility and it helps agencies succeed.

That’s a clear win-win-win. More winning than Charlie Sheen – which is a cultural reference point from this millennium, so even I’m making progress.

And alongside procurement, you can too.

Robin Bonn is the founder of agency management consultancy Co:definery.