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You Say Procurement, I Say Punishment...

Ad Age devoted a considerable amount of space to the concept including profiles of “Purchasing Agents” and “Consultants” for major national advertisers who were quick to point out their “enlightened” approach to managing “supplier relationships.” Each of these “purchasing pros” was quick to point out that their efforts were cutting the cost of marketing and advertising by 4%-6% annually. They were also quick to point out that the agencies producing “great work” were more immune to the axe of the purchasing department. So we have the ultimate objective measurement tools being wielded based on a completely subjective basis? Sounds fishy to me. All of this is intended to produce more efficient, effective marketing programs?

Baloney… this practice is designed to do one thing, squeeze profitability out of marketing partners to provide return on the clients’ shareholders’ investment. I guess that Sarbanes-Oxley has brought an end to the much easier practice of just having your accountants cook the books while you party in places like Sardinia with toga-clad waiters and waitresses. We have entered an era when clients’ purchasing departments value marketing thought and creative capabilities just like bolts, tires and the chemical ingredients necessary to manufacture soap. Have you seen a reduction in the price of goods from these companies???? I haven’t.

One agency executive was quoted as saying, “Procurement is here to stay in pretty much every industry… which means it’s not worth whining about.” He’s correct of course, whining does no good. Yes Virginia, there are many areas in the marketing and creative process that could be made more efficient. Most of them exist within both clients and agencies. Multiple versions of multiple concepts, approved by “marketing committees,” of interested (but not necessarily qualified) people who all seem to have a “stake” in the most low-level marketing decisions. Clients who wait until final art is at the printer to get legal approval, people unable to grasp the concept of an ad until they see it in final form, and my favorite, the ever-changing technical sheet that needs just one more “tweak” before the tradeshow, which by the way, still starts tomorrow. Are we guilty of being inefficient? You bet, on both sides of the equation. Do we need a better methodology for developing and executing quality marketing programs? Yes. Do they come from the people that buy the pencils, pens, bolts and nuts? That, I’m not sure of. Have we really allowed our profession to become a commodity?

Unfortunately, those of us who make our living developing and executing marketing communications programs that are as ethereal as angel dust, have done an exceptionally poor job of infusing what we do with any real value. We have all endured creative concepts and marketing strategies that were suggested by the client’s niece or spouse. Proof positive that everyone is an expert in two things: whatever they do for living and Marketing. We find ourselves struggling to fit an increasingly complex creative process into the latest version of TQM, ISO, Six Sigma, or the most current manufacturing process improvement program. I remember seeing an ad from a major agency in the Midwest touting the fact that they had received an ISO designation for their creative development process. Isn’t the creative process inherently anti-ISO in nature? If it is ISO based, then is it really creative?

So in today’s world of Six Sigma cost cutting programs, we are forced by clients to value the creative endeavors of intelligent, seasoned marketers, against the metrics of the most non-human measure. Nice to know that they value our experience, knowledge and passion the same way they value the most inconsequential component part in the most obtuse manufacturing application. Combine this view of our contribution with the wonderful tool of “online reverse auctions” for creative projects, and shortly the purchasing departments will have marketers begging for scraps at the back door in a chorus of, “Please sir may we have some more,” that threatens to make our existence positively Dickinsonian.

So, okay; it does sound like whining… what are we going to do about it? First, we need to re-evaluate our role in the business of helping clients sell products and make money. Then, we need to believe it ourselves, and develop systems to provide that information to our clients. Next, we need to move upward in the client organization so that we have a voice in the executive suite. I have found that the people who populate that level really do understand the importance of what we do on their behalf and they have an innate ability to measure the ROI of marketing beyond what the purchasing groups are capable of. These people are charged with improving both sides of the revenue and expense equation, while purchasing is only focused on the expense side. The purchasing department’s goal is to cut their suppliers out of existence, despite what they profess in print.

Then, most importantly, we have to DELIVER. We have to insist that clients include us in the sales evaluation process. We need to understand how the clients’ sales force does, or doesn’t, follow through on the promises our marketing makes. Hold them accountable for a change; design your own measurement metrics to judge their capabilities. Be involved in the process deeply enough to shine a light on their inefficiencies and inabilities. Don’t take status quo as good enough. The relationship between purchasing and everybody else is adversarial. The relationship between marketing partner and marketer doesn’t have to be.

Solid marketing thought and creativity are forms of invention. We start with the most intimidating thing in the world, a blank page and a deadline, (and sometimes lousy input from the client), and we produce effective, exciting programs. The ability to do that is hard to put a value on, especially before the process begins. So the next time your clients’ purchasing department tries to squeeze you out of existence, ask them what they would pay on an online auction for the rights to the light bulb before it was invented and see what they say.

About the Author: Millard "Rip" Ripley is COO at Brozena Ripley & Partners in Denver. He can be reached at rip@brozena-ripley.com.