The corporate soul-searching and belt-tightening that followed the 2008 financial crisis led to changes in business that are still being felt today. For marketers and brand managers, cutting costs became the order of the day, by using stringent procurement processes when looking for agencies to work with.
These procurement processes traditionally grew out of a desire to increase competition and drive down costs when buying materials, software or services. Often, they’re tick-box exercises designed to give the buyer warm feelings of due diligence and value for money.
In the creative industries of marketing and branding, this has understandably led to some tension, which has not been eased by the simultaneous rise of zero-based budgeting in a number of multinationals.
Marketing and brand managers are now often faced with the double-whammy of not only justifying every entry on their balance sheets every year, but also finding agencies are being frightened off by bureaucratic procurement processes.
It doesn’t need to be this way. The corporate drive to control costs doesn’t need to be at odds with the expectations of creative agencies. Handled in the right way, these tensions can be turned into opportunities. How? It’s all about the 3Cs.
Procurement can be seen as the enemy of creativity, stifling the ability for agencies – and therefore brands – to be creative.
But have agencies ever really enjoy unlimited, unimpinged creativity? Not really, no. We operate within a brief and just as before the dark days of the financial crash, we operate within a budget. If anything, such constraints can demand creativity and clever thinking to overcome them.
It takes creativity to find ways of adding value to an account, and it also takes collaboration.
It’s an agency’s job to understand our clients’ goals. This can include personal career goals as well as brand goals; we know we are working with people as well as with an organisation, so if we can help brand managers meet their own goals – by helping them deliver on targets set by other parts of their organisation, for example – then we will.
A side-effect of the move to the procurement model is an increase in multi-agency campaigns, forcing collaborative approaches and solutions. This is a good thing. It’s important for agencies to show that we can work with other agencies on an account – another way of delivering added value for our clients, and another element of collaboration. The agency that can’t work in partnership with another is heading for a fall – because even the most skilled creative team can benefit from the insights of another.
What does the procurement process do for a business? It’s a safety net, offering reassurance (and often documentary evidence) that clients are going to get what they asked for, delivered by an agency who will still be around next month or next year, in a manner that does not expose the company to unnecessary risk. In the same way, zero-based budgeting comes out of strategic decision-making on the part of the client – a natural, clever move.
Agencies need to adopt the same savvy in their own approach. Procurement is a two-way street, also offering the winning agency a measure of protection themselves, whilst also setting a foundation for collaboration. Agencies should think strategically about how to deal with ‘tick-box’ exercises, and by demonstrating category leadership and adopting clever thinking, creativity on the agencies’ part shouldn’t be compromised.
Whilst procurement teams won’t always be sitting between the marketeers and the agencies, the procurement processes themselves are not likely to go away – this is going to be the new reality for some time to come.
Procurement shouldn’t be about how you can save money, but how you can spend money strategically. Rather than a cost, marketing spend should be seen as an investment. If the agencies pitching for accounts can change their approach to support this thinking, it will make marketing procurement a lot less of a headache for everyone.
The 3Cs approach allows for strategic thinking, delivers effective creativity to clients and eases the agencies’ own fears about procurement. It’s all part of the meeting a creative challenge, and we believe agencies should relish in it.