The Procurement Opportunity: Process Improvements

By Bill Duggan

ANA recently released the report, "Procurement 2022: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." The work measures the perception of marketing procurement among three constituents: procurement, marketing, and agencies. While procurement has a positive perception of itself, agencies generally do not. Marketing, meanwhile, has a better perception than agencies yet it's clear they believe there is much room for procurement's improvement.

One of the key questions asked, "How successful do you feel the current performance of marketing procurement is regarding each of the goals listed?" For the goal "Provides process improvements," the percent of respondents who felt that procurement was "very successful/successful" is:

  • Procurement – 58 percent
  • Marketing – 27 percent
  • Agencies – 4 percent

There is such an opportunity here! Process improvements offer the opportunity for procurement to provide a real win/win — ideas that benefit both the client and agency. Process improvements are about finding better ways of working. Better for the client and better for the agency. Consider as examples:

  • The briefing process: This is an age-old issue. We still hear reports of pain points such as incomplete briefs or briefs that are too complicated – even stories of how work has been done without the senior client approving the brief in advance.
  • Review of creative work: This is also an age-old issue. More specifically, the issues include not having the right people in the room when creative is reviewed, having too many decision makers and having too many people who can say "no" but aren't empowered to say "yes" to approve work.

Sebastien Slek, executive director of global sourcing, marketing at Warner Bros Discovery, provided a process improvement case study in the report. During a business review with global sourcing, one of their creative agencies commented how manual, intensive, and cumbersome the creative process was in utilizing physical pitch materials — the printed boards, the pencil annotations, the courier delivery, and the physical destruction of materials.

Additionally, those time-consuming processes were not environmentally neutral. Sebastien and his team listened and brainstormed about how to save time and money and create the conditions for a better solution for everyone. The solution was to update their manual process to be more digitalized and streamlined. That was a win/win.

We heard lots of comments about the opportunity for process improvements in the qualitative research for "Procurement 2022: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly." Some examples:

  • "Too much time is spent on tactical areas and cost squeezing, with no dialogue around how to deliver marketing effectiveness. We find the procurement relationships that work well are those that work with agencies to co-develop ideas on improving the relationship and processes to support clearly communicated marketing goals."
  • "Procurement can contribute more to marketing process innovation: risk- and reward-sharing compensation models, production strategy, talent negotiations."
  • "It (process improvements) doesn't happen every time but when it does, it can be powerful."

In a one-on-one discussion with an agency leader, there was the comment, "There is a massive amount of waste. There really should be more time spent on improving the process of working together — to get better work, more often, more efficiently. That includes discussing timelines for development, quality of the brief, clarity of feedback, unity of feedback, and any spoken or unspoken mandatories. It's ironic that in a situation where pricing of agency services is so dominated by conversations about time that there's so little focus on the best use of that time!"

Agencies have a role to play and can provide suggestions, especially to help improve the briefing process and reduce rounds of creative work. Agencies should identify the behavior both marketing and procurement could change to enable more efficient processes and methods. As one marketing respondent said, "We may be the clients, but we have opportunities for improvement. Agencies should bring us ideas and innovations for how we can get better."

One of the perspectives that stood out to me in the qualitative discussions was from a senior sourcing executive who said, "We put structure into unstructured ways of working." Yes!! That's what process improvements are all about.

Procurement is still critiqued for focusing too much on driving costs down. More work should be done on process improvements that benefit all parties.

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The views and opinions expressed are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.