Got a big pitch coming up, but the purchasing department will be in the room alongside the PR people? Craig DeMaria, procurement manager at pharma giant AstraZeneca, answers PRWeek readers' questions about his role in the process and how pitching companies can strengthen their position.Q. It was almost a year ago now that AstraZeneca decided to streamline its PR counsel, and divided all responsibilities among 4 agencies: Edelman, Fleishman-Hillard, Burson-Marsteller and Signova. What kind of results and/or changes have you noticed - positive or negative - since instating that approach? -SC, New York A. All the benefits that were originally outlined in the process were achieved, and I think we've since grown several of the relationships further - taking them to the next level, which is the whole purpose of why we streamline and try to partner with certain companies. Q. What significant role does procurement play in the pitching process? What are the big contributions you feel you make toward the brand name of the pharmaceutical company in this role? -AW, Springfield, MO A. We help our internal customer, PR, organize the process, and ensure the process is fair to all those who are pitching. We are very much involved in the pitching process because we help our internal customers coordinate it and ensure that there are ground rules set out. We work with the customers to set out specific agendas that are given to the companies pitching, which tell them exactly how much time they have and what areas specifically they are to cover during the presentation. We tell them up front that they have to cover these areas, because this is how they are getting graded. We also help our customers by giving them scorecards, which are directly related to what we gave to the pitching companies: This is what we want you to cover, here's how much time you have, and here's how much time you spend covering the specific topics. Again, the topics come from collaboration between purchasing and the internal customer, and it's all driven by what's important to them. Q. What steps would you suggest a company take if they are approaching a procurement officer for the first time? -NR, Washington, DC A. They should ask the procurement professional a lot of questions to understand the process: what role procurement is playing in the process, how the process is going to work, how decisions are going to be made. Some of these questions you may not get answers to, but my advice is to talk to the procurement leader of the process to understand how it's going to work. Because, depending on which company you're dealing with, the process may be vastly different. The key thing is to ask a lot of questions. Don't make assumptions. By making assumptions you can miss opportunities to present a better pitch, or to pull out additional information from the brand team relative to this pitch. I can give examples where companies came in and pitched, and totally missed the point of what the team wanted. If they asked some pretty basic questions, they wouldn't have missed the whole point. Q. What are the unwritten standards in partner selection that your company or others you know of go by, i.e. long-term relationship, depth of category, etc.? -NR, Washington, DC A. It always helps if there are other business relationships happening between AstraZeneca, for example, and the parent company of who we're dealing with. That's a plus. If a company is pitching AstraZeneca, and another company's pitching, and one is part of a network that we do a lot of business with globally, all things being equal we'd go with the company that we have relationships with in other areas. A lot of these PR firms are conglomerates of WPP and Omnicom, that if we're doing a lot of business with other divisions of that company, we put a premium on that. We try to grow our relationships with our preferred suppliers. I think it's breadth of relationship, and track record and experience. Q. What do you say to agency heads who claim that procurement people are only interested in eating into their profit margin? -PC, New York A. It's about total value for AstraZeneca. It's not about selecting the lowest bidder. It's about selecting the right company that can provide the best services. What procurement tries to do is level the playing field in that it gives non-incumbents a fair opportunity to win business. At the end of the day, it's about managing the money we spend efficiently and effectively, but we want to partner with the company that is going to provide us the best services. At the end of the day, we have further grown relationships with companies that have been awarded business. We want the best companies, and it's not that we're not willing to pay for it. We need to understand what the costs are so we can make sure they are fair and appropriate. Q. Do you ever think it's appropriate for an agency to mark up an out-of-pocket expense they incur on behalf of their client? -PC, New York A. Generally, no. It's not appropriate. Q. How do you measure the return for PR dollars spent? -JF, Chicago A. That's really not for procurement to decide. That's really for the PR leaders within the company to decide. It's my job to help my internal customer to meet their objectives, whatever they are. So I don't measure why the dollars are being spent, but what I try to do is help my internal customers meet their objectives, and put good process and procurement skills behind that. Q. What training or background do you have in how public relations firms operate, staff, etc.? -NK, Chicago A. Typically the training procurement professionals have comes from the breadth of knowledge and experience from our internal customers. We rely a lot on our internal customers for the in-depth understanding of the various companies out there. We also use the RFP process in order to understand that. What procurement people are good at is asking questions to be able to better inform our internal customers. That's why our internal customers are such a big part of the process - at the end of the day, they're the experts. What we know how to do is run a process, and make sure it's fair. We don't profess to be the be-all-end-all PR experts. We rely on the partnership with our internal customers, and the fact that we're experts at implementing a process. Q. What do you think are some of the drawbacks of the involvement of procurement in the whole process, and how do you try and account for them? -EA, New York A. Time is always an issue, so generally speaking, the procurement process takes a little more time versus just having a company come in and pitch a contract. We set expectations up front with our internal client to understand what their goals are in this process and how we can help them, and we schedule everything in advance. We strictly adhere to time lines, and make sure that we're over-communicating to our internal customers so they know what's going to happen, when it's going to happen, how it's going to happen, and what their involvement is when it happens. Communication is the answer. So what we always do is build an internal program that meets our customer's time line. So if they say, 'We need to get this done in 60 days,' our process is different if it's 30 days or if it's four months. It depends on what the process is, and we build a program around it. We don't tell them that we can't do it in a month, we tell them, 'OK, this is our recommendation given the fact that we have a month.' Whatever their objective, we try to cater to that so purchasing gets involved. Q. How do you think your services or expertise are underutilized? -GF, New York A. They're underutilized when we don't get early involvement in a process or project. The value purchasing professionals add goes up tremendously when we're involved in the beginning of the process. The later we get involved, the less value we can add.