When the CIPR hosted its annual Excellence Awards last week it was celebrating the best campaigns of the previous 12 months. As the booze flowed and the plaudits were handed out to the most creative programmes, issues such as procurement were a long way from revellers' thoughts.
But procurement affects every agency – and everyone knows that the processes of awarding contracts and giving PR programmes the green light rarely run smoothly.
So when the (then) IPR teamed up with the Department for Trade and Industry to cast an eye over the PR market in 2003, no one was particularly surprised when they concluded that poor procurement was holding the industry back. And when procurement consultancy Gyroscope ran the rule over the industry last year, it found that an amazing 35 per cent of budgets were being ‘wasted before anyone had done any work', according to MD Tom Wells. ‘This reflects badly on everyone,' he says. ‘Poor planning leads to poor performance, which leads to a poor perception of the industry.'
Such is the scale of the problem that selection consultancy AAR has now launched a procurement division to help smooth the waters between clients' purchasing departments and agencies (see box, top right).
What's in the guide?
But arguably the most significant development is the CIPR's production of a 19-page Purchasing Guide, covering everything from planning, pitching and hiring to target setting. It also covers dispute resolution, intellectual copyright, personnel and costs.
The CIPR claims it has gone to great lengths to ensure the guide is as relevant to as many people as possible, and finds allies in the Central Office of Information (COI) and the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS). Alan Bishop, chief executive of the COI, says the guide is needed because procurement of marcoms services is particularly specialised in the public sector. ‘This guide provides an insight into the many factors that need to be considered when selecting and appointing an agency,' he says.
Liz Cullen, PR manager at the CIPS, adds that her organisation is ‘keen to ensure PR gets value out of procurement frameworks'.
The triumvirate will promote the guide to their members, to key figures in their sectors and at their events. So, what can 19 pages of non-enforceable guidelines achieve? CIPR head of PA Francis Ingham (see box, above) says the guide is meant as an ‘organic document' to help the industry understand how procurement is evolving, and admits that ‘the heat of battle' will remain a feature of procurement.
The Red Consultancy MD Andrew Baiden describes the guidelines as ‘laudable and important', and ‘aimed at being as "real world" as possible'. He particularly agrees with the section on copyrighting pitch ideas, and says clients should pay for ideas: ‘It's not always easy for agencies to have the courage to take a stand, but these guidelines will help them to do so.'
Eloqui PR chief executive Chris Genasi, last year's CIPR president, believes the guidelines will be useful to clients less experienced at hiring agencies. In particular, he agrees that clients do not have the right to ask for more than an overview of an agency's financial status. ‘Profit or turnover is not a good indicator of ability to do the work,' he adds. He also agrees with the advice that ‘the team the client meets during selection process [should be] the team that does the work'.
Adrian Webb, head of corporate comms at esure, argues the section on targets and measurement should go further. ‘No one can predict media coverage, so a contract should not try and enforce exact results,' he says.
The process of hiring an agency can be as informal as a chat over lunch – or it can be a six-month slog of slowly diminishing shortlists. Whatever the process, it should produce a clearly defined and mutually beneficial client/agency relationship. If not, this guide should explain what went wrong.
The guide can be downloaded by CIPR members for free from www.ipr.org.uk
CIPR launches procurement guidelines
Francis Ingham, CIPR head of public affairs
- Why should PR professionals take notice of this guide? Because it has been produced in conjunction with everyone who matters. It doesn't just reflect the CIPR's view. Via the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply it reflects the purchaser's view, too. Meanwhile, Gyroscope has made sure that we don't get too theoretical, but bear in mind the reality of consultancy pitching. And the COI has shed light on public sector procurement.
- Why has this guide been produced? Because procurement is still so misunderstood – by PR professionals
and their clients alike.
- Summarise the aims of procurement.
A procurement process is there to decide the bare bones of the deal – the fees to be paid and the services to be delivered. But more fundamentally it's there to establish common expectations.
- How often do problems arise?
Normally, both parties will be happy with their side of the bargain. But in too many cases, recrimination and dispute arise because common expectations were never set. The result? A poorer PR service, disappointed clients and frustrated PR professionals.
- And this is where the guide comes in?
Yes, we want to make such disappointment is a thing of the past. Procurement can appear complicated but it's pretty straightforward. It's about planning; setting realistic goals; agreeing how those goals will be monitored; and agreeing what to do if problems arise.
- What is most important?
Crucial to successful procurement is effective working between the procurement and creative teams. They bring different skills and perspectives, but their co-operation in seeing the process through from conception to completion can ensure an effective result. Good working relationships are key to success.
AAR in procurement move
Tina Fegent, head of AAR's procurement arm
- Why have you launched a procurement arm?
There has been a steady increase in the growth of purchasing involvement in client/agency relationships.
- Why do you think this is the case?
After raw material costs, marketing can be the second highest area of spend. With firms wanting to achieve optimum ROI, there is a need for purchasing to review all areas of expenditure.
- What is your aim?
We can help negotiate contracts and fees, looking at PBR schemes and reviews, as well as performance indicators and service-level agreements. We are offering it across all disciplines in which AAR works, to clients and agencies. The approach is in line with how AAR already works – with both parties receiving a fair deal.