Paul Vallois: is it time to view procurement people as partners rather than obstacles?

unnamedPaul Vallois (left), managing partner of Partners Andrews Aldridge, says it’s time to re-evaluate the relationship between agencies and their traditional foe, client procurement departments.

At a recent conference, Coca-Cola Europe’s marketing procurement chief Jane Dormer spoke about the need for agencies and marketers to view procurement as friend rather than foe. This is part of a growing trend of procurement heads getting closer to the pitching and creative process, and it represents a key-change that agencies should be aware of.

In recent years heads of procurement have become an integral part of client pitches, and whilst it has the potential to upset the traditional equilibrium of client and agency processes, we should ignore them at our peril.

Unknown-6Procurement has come a long way since first being introduced to the scene over a decade ago. Back then it served as a buzz word for unnecessary hassle and was seen as little more than a menace to both creativity and profit. But as time has passed and as marketing procurement has evolved, it now has a better feel of our industry, it’s less of a handicap and more of a partner that agencies would do well to take advantage of.

Gone, mostly, are the days where procurement managers viewed ideas as products and priced them as such. Now they understand the true value of what we can bring to their businesses and there has been a transition from decisions based on price to ones focused on value.

Procurement people can often represent a neutral position between agency and client marketer – seeing the bigger picture as opposed to shorter term gains and as such they are not just an important friend in the pitch process but also an ally in the longer term health of the client relationship. A good procurement consultant will be aligned to the brand mission. If they see ideas as something that enables that, then of course there is a better chance of convincing them to part with their cash.

Granted, they will always try to get the best deal possible, and may at times prove difficult to negotiate with – unsurprisingly so given that they’re often far better qualified to do so than their agency counterparts. But if dealt with correctly, the benefits to be had from the relationship can be many. That’s why new-business and client teams alike should have them on their radar pre, during and post-pitch.

This isn’t to say procurement now holds the answer to creating a perfect triumvirate between marketing client, agency and procurement relationships, and it would be naive to say that all procurement teams are the finished article at the moment.

Like all departments there are those which are enlightened and progressive and those that are still learning. The existence of e-auctions serves as a reminder of this. And whilst experienced procurement heads can be a benefit to pitches, if they are exclusively run by procurement then there can be less opportunity to build chemistry with the marketing clients. This limits interactions and reduces opportunities to build the client relationship outside of formal pitch meetings.

As procurement is very much in the fabric of pitches it would be good to see a greater co-operation between its professional body (CIPS) and the IPA agency trade body. From my own experience of sitting on IPA committees, they haven’t always been as keen to engage with us as we have with them.

Procurement and agencies have clearly had a rocky relationship, but if played right, a partnership between procurement, client and agency can lead to more efficient pitches and stronger longer-term relationships, a mutual goal that benefits everyone.

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