Agency Search: Who’s In Charge – Marketing or Procurement?

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Whether you’re a client looking for marketing services, or an agency pitching your wares, the question of who’s really calling the shots can be a pivotal one.

On the one hand, the organizational perspective might be that marketing teams are evaluated on and are seeking things like improved performance, chemistry harmony between teams and agencies, creative brilliance and / or strategic smarts. On the other, client procurement teams are likely going to be evaluated on things like cost based efficiencies, savings, synergies and risk mitigation.

And with those perspectives, it’s hardly any wonder marketing and procurement teams can find themselves at odds with each other, leaving potential agency partners a little bewildered as to who’s really calling the shots.

We’re increasingly asked to work with procurement when undertaking an agency search – either to work on the search itself, or to work with them through the negotiation or contract development process.  And while relationships between marketing and procurement vary between organizations, there are some consistent themes that are worth addressing.

In our experience, the primary issue many organizations still have difficulty coming to terms with is that marketing needs to be viewed as an investment – not a cost. In other words, it’s not something that needs to be “minimized” – it’s an investment that needs to be “maximized”.

So how should each side approach agency selection or contract negotiation in order to meet the goals of minimizing risk and costs, while ensuring maximum performance through best in class capabilities?

Here are ten approaches worth considering when marketing and procurement teams need to work seamlessly to achieve the best value (rather than just best price) for their organizations:

Same Team

First of all, marketing and procurement aren’t on different “sides” – there shouldn’t be sides at all. Both sets of players are on the same team – so eradicate the idea of “sides” from the get-go.

Start Early

Many will have read about the idea of starting the procurement exercise early – but how many actually define a working relationship between marketing and procurement before it becomes necessary? And how many actually involve procurement in the entire search process when they know procurement will take the lead on the negotiation?

Define Roles

Because marketing and procurement look at search and selection, and negotiation through different lenses – define and agree specific tasks for each group, leveraging respective strengths and skill-sets.

Get The Brief On Paper

Brief as you would an agency. Procurement work on multiple contracts for different stakeholders – just as agencies work on multiple clients. So define your objectives, propose your strategy, define go and no-go items, propose negotiation points and spell out your desired end state in a written brief.

Acknowledge Why You’re Here

If your agency search or contract negotiation is anything other than a corporate governance requirement, clearly define why you’re negotiating now. In all likelihood, lowest price isn’t the only or primary reason you’re here – so spell out why you’ve called an agency search or want your MSA or contract renegotiated.

Define Value

Lowest price rarely equates to greatest value, so define and agree what constitutes “value” to create an MSA or contract that delivers greatest value for the organization.

Don’t Chuck It Over The Fence

We’ve seen many agency search processes conclude with a winning agency, and the marketing team then hand-off the process to procurement to negotiate and finalize a contract. Procurement then have little or no context to negotiate “value” and marketing teams are quickly frustrated that the process takes longer than they’d like and / or key details aren’t covered.

Define Key Points

Every aspect of an MSA or contract is negotiable, so defining where you’re flexible and where you’re not up-front will help your organization create a true, value based MSA or contract.

Look At The Sum of The Parts

(Not just some of the parts.) As I’ve said before, every aspect of an MSA or contract is negotiable. Greatest value from a contract will be derived from looking at the agreement holistically, rather than piecemeal.

Be Like a Pilot

Because planes have dual controls, pilots identify who has control so they’re not pulling in opposite directions before they take-off.  Ultimately someone has to lead the negotiation process and whoever’s responsible can save everyone involved time, effort and uncertainty by defining parameters and expectations in the key objectives and outcomes of the negotiation.

One of the biggest mistakes made by marketing and procurement teams is leveraging the marketer’s brand to lower prices to unsustainable levels. Low rates that are too good to be true usually are, and the agency will ultimately have to cut corners to keep and maintain your business in the long-term.

Proactive planning between marketing and procurement teams to define expectations, objectives, true value metrics and negotiation points upfront adds value and will almost certainly help you avoid undertaking a new negotiation – or even agency search – sooner than you’d like.


Stephan Argent is Founder and Principal at Listenmore Inc offering confidential advisory to marketers looking for truly independent insight and advice they can’t find anywhere else. Read more like this on our blog Marketing Unscrewed / follow me @StephanArgent
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