Agencies rush to register for £260m government comms marketplace

PR agencies are rushing to register for a new Communications Marketplace that will award up to £260m of government work over the next four years.

Alex Aiken, executive director of the GCS, is calling on agencies to join the new Communications Marketplace
Alex Aiken, executive director of the GCS, is calling on agencies to join the new Communications Marketplace

The amount that the Government has earmarked for the new Communcations Marketplace is a six-fold increase on the £42m estimated value of the comms framework that ran from 2017 until this year.

The new marketplace is described by the Government as a Dynamic Purchasing System "for services including but not limited to; the provision of marketing, communications, creative services, recruitment advertising and events for all UK central government bodies, wider public sector organisations and charities”.

It aims to make it easier for government and public sector organisations to buy in marketing and comms services from a list of specialist agencies.

Unlike the framework it is replacing, agencies do not have to go through a formal tender process to get onto the marketplace and just need to register the services they offer and provide credentials.

Introducing the new marketplace earlier this month, Alex Aiken, executive director of the Government Communication Service, said: “We want to be able to work with the best and most innovative agencies across the whole of the UK, and strongly encourage agencies of all sizes to register on the platform.”

He added that there is a “much simpler process” for agencies to go through and that they can join at any point over the four-year duration of the marketplace.

It will have four main categories through which agencies can be filtered. These are services, audience, outcome, and the location for delivery.

While it will not be mandatory for public sector work to be done through the marketplace, it will be the encouraged route, and agencies will have to bid for work.

Meanwhile, the Campaign Solutions framework, which has been in place for the past four years, is continuing as Campaign Solutions 2. The £490m framework starts next month and will be the recommended route for the public sector to procure end-to-end creative campaign and marketing services, media strategy and planning and events services. The agencies that have made it onto the new campaign framework are expected to be announced soon.

In a short film made to help explain the new marketplace, Aiken stresses the need for agencies from across the country to get involved. “We want to encourage companies from Aberdeen and Inverness and from Belfast and Derry and from Cardiff and from Swansea and all around the UK to register and become part of the Communications Marketplace.”

Claremont, The Connect Group, ING Media, SEC Newgate, Smarts, Social and Third City are among the agencies already planning to register to be on the marketplace, which goes live next month.

However, Blurred is one agency that will not be taking part. Nik Govier, its chief executive and founder, told PRWeek: "My question is whether it really is designed properly to allow new talent to come in and deliver new types of work, or we will end up in the same system as before whereby it’s the same people and the same large networks or companies who are doing that same work.”

A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: "We are proud to have launched the Communications Marketplace and we will be encouraging agencies of all sizes from across the four nations of the UK to sign up. There is no deadline for registration so agencies can join at any time during the four-year duration of the marketplace."

PRWeek has canvassed a range of public sector specialists and other agencies to get their opinion on the new comms marketplace.

Ben Caspersz, founder and managing director, Claremont

"The new system is better. The old system of lots artificially siloed agencies in a way that was unhelpful for buyers with complex requirements. The new marketplace is, however, dependent on buyers using it properly, which remains to be seen. Pre-qualification questionnaires are essential to avoid a situation where dozens of agencies are submitting proposals to win a single piece of business – basically a lottery, not a fair contest."

Andy Sawford, managing partner, The Connect Group

“The principles behind the new approach, including more opportunities for SMEs and greater flexibility, are very welcome. We also appreciate the way that Alex and the team have engaged with the market – I’ve had an opportunity to hear from Alex and put questions about the new approach. I am pleased the Government has considered how to be more inclusive of agencies with different specialisms. It feels like this new approach could see a shift from a marketplace dominated by a handful of big agencies to a more diverse and inclusive approach. It is a very positive starting point and the tests now are how accessible the tender process is and the diversity of the successful pool/roster of suppliers."

Leanne Tritton, managing director, ING Media

“We are fortunate to enjoy a client list that includes public sector organisations. However, to get to this point we have accumulated a number of procurement battle scars as we spent years trying to navigate the process. Any move to simplify this and make it easier for small agencies to work with government is definitely a positive step.”

Elisabeth Lewis-Jones, chief executive, Liquid

"It’s a positive step forward that government procurement has been reviewed and now is far more open and flexible. It’s an inclusive and well-thought-through approach that I’d expect Alex Aiken to deliver. However, his desire to achieve 'the best’ in terms of quality and delivery does mean that decision-makers need to be in a marketing/communications function and not procurement alone. All too often decisions are made on price rather than an understanding of communications, delivery, creativity, ROI and calibre of personnel."

Mark Glover, executive chairman, SEC Newgate UK

“I welcome the changes Alex is making to allow a wider range of agencies to secure government work. I understand from talking with Alex that this is to allow a greater diversity of providers by simplifying the onboarding process, while maintaining the appropriate level of transparency that all government contracts require. This will allow government to access the great array of talent working in agencies, like SEC Newgate, across the UK. But it will be important that the marketplace in action matches these aspirations.”

Helen Rainford, managing partner, Smarts Communicate London

“The procurement people have been very good at gathering feedback from agencies, so I’m hoping that the marketplace will be reflective of that feedback. Anything that allows government departments to really understand what the wider capabilities are of any PR agency, rather than just defaulting to what they know, will be a really good thing. The biggest challenge will be to make sure that government departments and arms-length bodies will be properly educated on how to use it.”

John Quinton-Barber, chief executive, Social

"I think it’s a great initiative, which should hopefully open up opportunities for a much wider range of agencies to work with government and help deliver some very important messages to the public post-pandemic. Simplifying the process is a welcome move, too, which will undoubtedly lead to a wider pool of talent."

Mark Lowe, co-founder, Third City

"Government needs to be able to access a broader range of skills and this process looks a lot more likely to deliver that. It reminds me of some of the tech-driven matchmaking services in the commercial space, which aren't perfect but do give clients more choice and access to specialist skills."

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