Time For Adland To Wake Up To The March Of The Accountants

Hearing that procurement now takes the lead, for the first time, in the majority of agency and brand negotiations reminds me of a very tasty dinner interview I once conducted with a famous restaurant owner and chef. The problem with business is that everyone listens to the accountants, he quipped, but he had never known a money man to fill a cafe, let alone a classy eatery. There is, it has to be said, the very good counter argument that a lot of chefs have flushed investors' money down the kitchen sink, and so there is still an important role for accountants. Nevertheless, the off-the-cuff remark has always stayed at the back of my mind.

The point is, where should that role begin and end? I can't help feel that brands are allowing themselves to be taken on a very dreary diversion from creativity, innovation and capturing the public's imagination to costing paper clips and establishing agreed average coffee budgets per head that a runner can't exceed when their next television advert is shot. 

Money must be considered, of course, but advertising and marketing is about a lot more than procurement. Anyone in business will have rolled their eyes as your friendly contact at a brand apologetically thumps down a huge provisioning questionnaire on the table that has to be compiled for the relationship to continue. The endless drudgery of working out what is "average" in an industry that is so liable to change borders on pointless. In fact, it's so pointless that I'd be willing to go out on a limb and bet there isn't an executive out there in this industry who doesn't become annoyed at finding rival agencies who haven't gone through procurement, at least not fully, and are still getting signed up for projects.

Put simply, the guys who make the hiring and firing decisions at brands think procurement is a pain that is best avoided and would rather give out projects on the basis of what they expect will be delivered instead of choosing an agency that can supply a five-minute voice over script for 10% less.

SoI know that it's a back-office subject -- and one that most marketers and advertising executives will not grumble about too much and will probably mentally file alongside pointless formalities, such as having to go through health and safety training to find out wet floors can be slippery. But it's the thin end of the wedge. This industry knows how to budget. It runs on budgets, and careers are made or broken on highly measurable results, particularly in digital.

So why the need to let procurement take the lead role in negotiations? It may save a busy executive the trouble of finding out what their agency charges per minute of digital video, but it will increasingly lead to agencies they don't want to work with being selected for inclusion on a roster and those they do want to work with being excluded, typically on cost. The big issue here, of course, is that the only problem with cheap wine is, you have to drink it. 

I'm speaking from experience here. I've worked around brands that have been furious at not being able to work with a trusted partner because they charge more for some deliverable or another. The execs know as well as anyone else that if you measure everything around cost, then you end up getting differing quality, which is a false economy because it requires more internal work to get the end product right.

So the news that procurement is taking the lead in the majority of agency negotiations for the first time may not bother too many people initially, but it should. The more the bean counters are involved, the less control agencies and brands have over who can work together and who cannot. Those decisions won't be based on good old "gut feel" or learnings from a previous great campaign, but the answers some over-stressed junior marketing assistant put in a hundred-page dossier nobody else could be bothered to tackle, but had to be shifted from the director's desk back to the client by the end of the week.

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