PR industry backs IPA's criticism of Government reverse auctions

The PR industry has added its weight to efforts to fight the use of reverse auctions after an advertising kickback against government procurement.

Paul Bainsfair: Director general of the IPA
Paul Bainsfair: Director general of the IPA

Campaign revealed that the Cabinet Office is reviewing its process for selecting agencies after the Institute of Advertising Practitioners, led by director general Paul Bainsfare, passed a vote of no confidence in the Government Procurement Service (GPS).

The vote followed consternation at the use of reverse e-auctions and has prompted condemnation of reverse auctions from the PRCA.

PRCA director of comms Matt Cartmell said: "We absolutely agree that PR consultancies should be purchased in a way which reflects the strategic value that they bring. While it is not clear exactly how many reverse auctions are being used to purchase PR compared to methods which put more of a value on ideas, we’d be very keen to talk to the Government about reducing this."

The issue arose most recently with the use of an online auction for the new strategy and planning roster, which is open to agencies across the marcoms spectrum.

One PR agency figure with insight into the process spoke of confusion around the auction, and said agencies had been "driving their prices to the floor" just to get on the roster.

He also called for a stronger voice on the issue from the PR industry.

"It’s utterly absurd. This is supposed to be one of the biggest government frameworks planning the real big ticket stuff and adding real value.

"This is about strategic advice for some of the most important campaigns for government, and that’s where PR needs to be – we’ve moved beyond just putting in calls to journalists. A reverse auction suggests that strategic work and PR is a commodity product, which it absolutely isn’t and that is something the industry bodies need to say."

The IPA had passed a unanimous vote of no-confidence at a quarterly meeting earlier this month.  

The criticism follows previous anger at delays to the launch of the frameworks, which were established in the wake of the COI’s closure.

However, agency figures involved in the PR roster for work worth more than £100,000 praised the set-up.

Gerry Hopkinson is co-founder of Unity, which is on the PR roster. Stating the GPS had his "full support", he said:

"They are under a lot of pressure and do a great job. We find the team very approachable and fair and it is up to all of us to make it work even more effectively. We prefer having an open, constructive dialogue and raising things directly when necessary rather than attacking a very hardworking and dedicated group of public servants."

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said that it had responded in writing to the IPA’s concerns.

She added: "Every government relationship with a supplier should be achieving the best value for taxpayers, balancing quality with price. Marketing and communications are no different. Our comprehensive commercial reforms across Government saved £3.8bn last year. But we want to find the best way to build on this progress and will continue to work with suppliers and trade associations in the marketing and communications industry to understand concerns about this process and respond as appropriate. We welcome open and honest dialogue with the industry."

The CIPR had not responded to requests for a comment.

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