IPA slams government procurement e-auctions

The UK IPA Council, which consists of representatives of leading creative and media agencies, has passed an unprecedented vote of no confidence in the Government Procurement Service, which has replaced the COI as the body that selects agencies for over £200m of government ad business.

For the IPA, which prefers to act behind the scenes, this is a bold move. The final straw was the recent GPS e-auction for the so-called Framework Two which was supposed to select the best agency planners and strategists.

The e-auction in question required agencies to bid against each other on price so that only one was left standing. And this wasn’t even for an actual account, just for a place on the (somewhat reduced) planning roster.

IPA director general Paul Bainsfair (left), himself a former senior agency executive, says: “Given agency cost structures, grinding rates down inevitably carries through to the time and quality of talent agencies can devote to the piece of business in question – which in turn has to be reflected in the work they are able to produce.

“Clients have a right to expect value for money, but to treat thought and creativity in the same way as buying nuts and bolts is to threaten the creative spark that can lift a workmanlike campaign into a highly effective one.

“However, in the case of the GPS e-auction, there was an additional twist in that agencies were competing only for a place on the approved roster (vs committing to do a particular job) at a given price.

“This could potentially mean that the e-auction process could result in a final selection of agencies whose prices are so low that it becomes unattractive for them to bid for any work from Government departments that is either not very large or that will not add to their agency profile.”

This last point is a bit of a weasel but Bainsfair probably recognises that some agencies will pitch for government business regardless so it’s hardly in the IPA’s interest to outlaw them.

But the resolution is a clear shot across the bows of the GPS and its political master Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude. In its nearly three years in business the GPS has managed to cock up virtually every task it’s set itself; lumbering agencies with a time-consuming form-filling process, one that has seen highly capable agencies like Leo Burnett excluded from government business.

The final straw has been to try to put agencies through these hoops and then decline to pay them properly. But that’s procurement (anybody’s) for you.


  1. It was pretty obvious from first sight of the GPS process that it was going to be a waste of time and effort getting involved. Massively complex and time-consuming application process? Little prospect of being able to secure any business that can be run profitably as a result? Excellent! Let’s all sign up for it.
    (Or, rather, let’s just not bother.)

  2. Good to see the IPA taking a stand on this one…

    Horrendous way to go about selecting agency partners that will deliver against a number of tough objectives (essentially for the good of the masses).

    Procurement tactics like this give us all a bad name and make it even harder for good procurement folk to make a difference for their organizations.

    Here’s a good example of what happens when ‘bad procurement’ are allowed to run wild….

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