Marketers and Procurement Who Want to Talk Turkey With Their Agencies Can Learn A Lot From Chickens

OK, what the heck have chickens got to do with marketing and procurement team negotiating with their agencies?

The answer is: Everything.

It goes like this: If you’d been craving some Kentucky Fried Chicken in the United Kingdom a few weeks ago you’d have been out of luck and perhaps crossing the street to Burger King instead. Why? Because at the end of last year, KFC chose to change to DHL, a lower cost distributor, which, as it turned out, provided a poorer quality of service with little or no contingency planning.

An unfortunate road accident next to DHL’s single depot caused an epic delay in deliveries which resulted in KFC having to close more than 600 of its restaurants as a result of depleted chicken supplies. If you’re intrigued and want more on the whole story – here it is.

Burger King, also lured by similarly enticing lower costs, had apparently fallen into the same trap several years prior and subsequently switched back to their previously trusted supplier, Bidvest Logistics.

Price is what you pay. Value is what you get.

As if we needed to spell it out: Lower costs are rarely – if ever – a silver bullet solution to saving money. Something typically has to give – in this case – an absence of chickens in restaurants and a fall-out ripple effect that doubtless included

  • Bewildered customers
  • Lost business
  • Angry franchisees
  • A distribution nightmare
  • A public relations disaster
  • And management scrambling for contingency solutions

Let’s leave the missing chickens for a minute and draw some parallels for marketing and procurement teams talking turkey – er negotiating – with their new or incumbent agencies.

So while a lower price-tag may get you some short-term relief in costs, it’ll almost certainly give you a long-term headache. Here are a few that could darken your doorway if you’re focused on cost rather than value:

Fewer resources

Like any other business, your agency(s) need to make a fair profit and your scope of work or requirements are typically based on staffing plan to deliver those requirements. Cut costs or fees too far and the agency will likely be pulling resources from your business to compensate.

Less senior resources

The other way agencies make up the difference in a shortfall in fees or remuneration is by substituting senior resources for less pricey and less experienced resources. One of the first symptoms of squeezing too hard is the marketer complaining their resources are too junior.

Team burn out

With fewer or more junior resources to manage and maintain your business, the chances of your agency teams getting burned out is much higher. And burned out teams typically don’t deliver inspiring strategies, great creative or solve difficult problems.

Weaker agency relationship

Got a great agency relationship? Well, one sure fire way to erode that relationship is to cut costs or fees – or sometimes extend payment terms – to a point where the agency feels they’re not being remunerated fairly. Eroding the relationship starts to build up frustration and service levels will likely fall quickly thereafter.

Competition kicks your butt

While you’re busy cost cutting to the bone with your agency, your competitors are likely focused on managing and strengthening their agency relationships, and focusing on growing their businesses together. Great marketers typically cultivate great agency relationships to help them build their businesses.

Wasting time

With cost cutting comes discussion and meetings about what to cut, how to cut, when to cut, forecasts for next year, scopes of work, adjusting staffing plans, agency margins and on and on and on. Cut too far or make payment terms unreasonable and be prepared to spend extended periods of time reviewing alternative plans to mitigate and manage the cost cuts.

Everything becomes extra

With costs cut, or payment terms extended, goodwill erodes quickly and you should be prepared for additional estimates, change order requests, contingency budget requests and invoices for anything that isn’t part of the original scope – all of which may cost more than you’ve actually succeeded in cutting.

You get a bad rap

Marketing communities are typically quite small and whether it’s award shows, industry events or resources leaving one agency and joining another – people talk. And no matter how much protection you think you have in place, word will get out that you’re a (this is gonna hurt…) cheap client. (So don’t be).

So what’s the lesson here? If you want to avoid making a hamburger of your agency relationships, look beyond cost is isolation. Ask yourself what constitutes value and make sure your procurement teams are aligned.


My thanks to friend and fellow Brit, @ninodicara for his good humour that inspired this post.

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

Photo: John Schneider


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