Procurement people are your friends, not the enemy

Jon Williams, Founder of The Liberty Guild, on how, with procurement, you honestly don't have to sell your soul

We need to debunk this idea that procurement people are some sort of Mephistophelean figure with whom you had to cut a deal for your soul.

That they are wheeled up from some sort of dingy basement when it’s time to negotiate to cut the fun, value and budget out of your plans.

Because this ain’t how it is boys and girls. Procurement people are your friends. Not your enemies. They are not the reason you can’t shoot that ad in Hawaii, despite what your account team tells you.

Sure, there will be some of you who get this premise, but from the conversations we have with procurement people — and we’ve had hundreds — they don’t feel like that. They feel massively undervalued.

Which is ironic, being that their job is actually all about creating value

They understand how to make value out of great creativity. They understand that we are in a time of flux, systemic change to supplier relationships, business models, distribution, go to market strategy, media landscape, supply chain and logistics, and ultimately the consumer’s behaviour and mindset.

They are intrepreneurial champions of disruptive change and understand a business beyond marketing — something akin to hen’s teeth in the industry currently. On most projects, you will find they’re the ones trying to move everything forward.

Since setting up the The Liberty Guild we’ve made a point of finding procurement people and working closely with them, because we’ve found the procurement community to be massively collaborative.

In fact, if there is anything negative in this relationship, it’s the agency set-up. This isn’t any of the above. It’s not set up to drive value. It’s an old tired monster of a system set up to eat man-hours and resources and spew out low quality work and eye-watering fees. There can’t be many other industries where the model is set up where it’s better for revenue and margin for more people to take longer to do the work. In fact, this means it ends up being the diametric opposite of ‘value’.

But it’s too difficult to change now, so let’s just blame it on procurement and crack on.

I was recently on stage at ProcureCon and the generalised opinion could be summed up as; ‘Yes, maybe every year we ask for more for less, but that is because our businesses are under massive pressure and the world is changing. It’s disappointing that agencies have not evolved their model to reflect this as we know all too well how much marketing is a crucial investment in the success of a brand. ’

And because, in essence, everyone on both sides wholeheartedly believes that this investment in creativity is crucial, this isn’t a burning bridge.

Here are some ways it can be rebuilt

Procurement can analyse how it can be better for their agency. Be open and transparent in the decision-making process, because, yes, this builds trust. Transparency of budget is a double-edged sword, sharing it is so incredibly important, but agencies — if this is shared with you, you need to stop seeing it as a target.

On both sides, there needs to be a move towards greater trust and a push towards treating each other as equals. But before trust has to come transparency. This can be done in a number of ways. Accelerate the move away from transactional KPIs and create joint ownership. Funny how being jointly incentivised on something brings people together.

Build a joint culture or team spirit around the brand. Embrace the whole ‘post-Covid’ array of digital communications tools to use now. Bring everyone into the creative process. Think about a creative council, including procurement, marketers and partner agencies. We spend a long time getting to know procurement as the MSA is designed, it always seems odd to me that they disappear once you start the work. Surely it makes more sense to keep it tight.

Featured image: Dalton Smith / Unsplash

Jon Williams

Jon Williams is a 20+ year veteran of the ad industry working at some of the biggest global agencies. He was European CCO of Grey for almost 10 years. He has set up a creative business called The Liberty Guild which has a new way of working that is all based on the idea that creatives should be paid for their ideas, not their time and have really forward-thinking views on talent.During his lengthy career Jon developed the first genuinely interactive TV ad ever broadcast, the first mobile enabled posters and the iPint the world’s first native branded application for the iPhone. His personal work has seen him stack up awards, winning over 300 international awards, including Cannes, D&AD and Effies. While at Grey he deployed a 2000 strong pan-EMEA co-creation platform that allowed the best teams to be put forward for the right jobs regardless of the geographical challenges, out of this initiative the Liberty Guild was born.

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