Lord Save Us From The March Of The Procurement Accountants

Oh crickey, the march of the procurement team goes on, speeded up by the widespread view that companies are going to need to cut back advertising budgets now the UK is negotiating its EU exit. At a time of trimming back budgets, it will be the procurement guys with their calculators that will be called in to save the day, so the theory goes.

But answer me this. As a celebrity chef once quipped to me over lunch: “When’s the last time you saw an accountant fill a restaurant?” The only problem with relying on procurement to save the day is that of course they can’t so they won’t. In my experience, all they do is change the game. Sure, it makes sense to get procurement involved. If nothing else, it covers the backs of the marketing team who can always say that whoever was chosen was given a tick of approval by the suits.

However, anyone who has gone through the process will know what a cumbersome, time-consuming pain in the backside it is. Questions are asked down to the cost of a paper clip while others are plain stupid. I’ve seen many a form that asks how much an ad takes to make, for example, which is right up there with the question of how long a piece of string may be. It should be answerable in two parts -- X if you trust us, X+X if a bunch of people not involved in the brief stick their noses in after initial sign off.

The real problem with the process has been identified by Pepsi which has given back its marketing teams the power to work with whomever they choose. It’s their budget and they are accountable for it. It gets around that tricky moment when marketing teams are told they can’t work with a provider they favour because of a procurement issue but they can work with a provider who ticks the right boxes. When people are influenced by an agency’s ability to fill in a form, that will be a great way of picking whom you work with. Until then, marketers are right to want to work with the most talented people available, even if their cost of a Web developer or a set of pack of pencils is a little higher than another supplier.

Now here’s the real rub and the reason I say procurement just changes the game. The big London agencies, I know from experience, play this game incredibly well. They have experts who will get them through procurement by saying all the right things and pricing everything up as they need to. The next thing the brand marketer knows there’s a bill in their in-tray for miscellaneous items that takes them way over budget. More often than not, the bills just get paid because the accounts person at a brand couldn’t imagine taking on that huge London agency with the familiar name. 

So it’s fair to say that procurement at least gets some agreed prices that serve as a yardstick for financial control. But any brand that thinks it’s a way of cutting back on expenditure is very much mistaken because, trust me, the "miscellaneous" overspend invoices will come in by the smart players who know how the system works and what they can get away with. Tell them what they want to hear and then bill them for what you want to earn is the approach that wins when procurement takes over. Quite what is wrong with letting marketers select and work with whom they want, and then be responsible for the outcome, is quite beyond me.





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