PR pros must come to grips with reality of procurement

Mention the word "procurement" in a room full of PR professionals and they're bound to react with a collective shudder

Mention the word "procurement" in a room full of PR professionals and they're bound to react with a collective shudder. Indeed, the role of procurement in the PR agency selection and management process has definitely increased over the years, as evidenced by this month's feature. Part of this is due to companies' increased concerns about cost prompted by the recession, but it also serves as a sign that some PR budgets have reached the level where they are drawing more intense scrutiny.

Yet where there hasn't been any change is in PR professionals' complaints about procurement officers: "They don't understand PR at all." "Their presence in the contract process completely marginalizes the contribution PR can make to the business." "They look at PR as a commodity, not a strategic service." The list goes on. One CEO even recently told me that he was going to make an effort to get out of all of his contracts where procurement was involved.

This approach is drastic, unrealistic, and entirely wrong. Has procurement's involvement in the agency selection and management process become cumbersome? Yes, perhaps. But these days, it's simply a reality of doing business. If PR wants to be considered in the same league as other business services, it has to learn to play by the same rules. To try to fight it is simply fruitless. Instead of wasting energy and time complaining about procurement's attitude and misconceptions, PR professionals need to direct their attention to making the relationship with procurement work so all parties involved can benefit.

In fact, what this really presents is a way for PR to expand its influence within their clients' companies and the business function overall. PR professionals, both internally and externally, can use this as an opportunity to educate procurement officers about what PR activities actually entail, how they are priced, and, most importantly, how their value is measured.

Learning how to prove the value of PR services is certainly not a new issue for the industry, but is something PR pros still haven't quite figured out. Perhaps procurement's growing involvement in PR is the impetus the industry needs to up its game in this area. Procurement officers speak the language of business. Properly communicating not just the cost, but the value, of PR services is a lesson many in the industry still need to learn.

Erica Iacono is the executive editor of PRWeek. She can be contacted at erica.iacono@prweek.com.

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