I could’ve sworn that I had read an article on ‘Creativity in the age of Procurement’ many years ago, but no one else seems to recall it so I guess I was dreaming!!

The premise of the original article:

Clients hire agencies to do great work. Work that builds brands. Gets the cash register to ring. Make tons of money. At least that’s what the Marketing department wants.

However, over the last few years, Procurement has grown in strength. They want cheap. Cheap. Cheap.

To this end they drive a hard bargain on structures and fees. ‘Why do you need 80% of that ECD? Why can’t it be 20% and get a junior writer at 100%. That way you get more hands and save money’ etc.

Or on suppliers. We need 3 quotes for every job. And the lowest should get the job.

Or on SLAs to do with deliveries. A black and white ad of 100 col cms should take 12 days.

All things that get the Creative Directors really angry.

So the article talked about the challenges to doing great work globally consistently with the ascendance of Procurement.

Anyone working on a large piece of business probably nods in agreement.

With someone peering over your shoulders and continuously questioning everything you do, Creativity is a challenge.

Recently I was in a meeting with a client and heard some comments that brought the original article and its premise back to my mind.

Also given what I am doing currently, a penny dropped and I understood a little better how Creativity and Procurement can live together happily. Ok reasonably happily.

If we read into Procurement’s intentions, essentially what they want to do is, save costs. They don’t care about creativity really.

How can/should an agency respond?

There are different approaches to this and I am taking one below.

This is a phased approach to making Procurement happy without getting in the way of Creativity

Stage 1: This is where clients do what they are currently doing but cheaper. I did this on a global client 4 years ago, when we move the ASEAN creative development to India because India was cheaper and did good work. Nothing changed for the client. Just the agency process needed to be redefined and managed.  Significant creative staff cost savings ensued.

Stage 2: Here work continues as previously but some change in process is required. Lenovo’s creative hub in Bangalore is an example of this. The Creative is hubbed as in Phase 1. So is the Servicing. And some of the Clients. So this moves more of the services to a cheaper location and hence saves more of the costs.

Stage 3: This requires Clients to change the way they work. The usual Client requirements of ‘good briefs’, ‘the person who briefs should approve’, ‘reduce the number of changes’ etc. There is data I have seen that this drives costs down from anywhere of 30% to 60% depending on the factors. This specific aspect is not in agency control. All that agencies can do is track and feedback to clients

Stage 4: Drive greater creative adaptation. As long as Agencies have full teams on businesses in every office there will be local plotting between Clients and Agencies to create more local work. On a previous assignment we created a database of work and put in place a reward mechanism for markets to adapt more than they created. This required partnering with Clients as targets for adaptation were set for each market

Stage 5: Here Agencies make it easy for adaptation. The focus here is nearly totally on Print and on-line work.  If we expect markets to adapt global work then the way to do it is to create templates of the work with pre assigned areas for headlines, body copy, specs whatever. Essentially view a piece of communication as a puzzle with some parts that are fixed. The flexible parts are where the local clients can put their own copy or maybe even visual or price etc. This recognizes need to make for easy adaptation and reduces the work to few key areas. At Enfatico we have been doing this for Dell for years. It is a science!

Stage 6: Automation. In this stage, technology is used to make changes on work anywhere in the world. Using some of the technology from electronic POSM, it is possible once templates are created to drop in the localized copy or visual in a central template and nearly instantly make the changes on all the on-line properties nearly anywhere in the world. Of course this is restricted to on-line as that is where it is possible as well as needed due to speed being a priority. Again we are working on developing this at Enfatico and will be launching this for double byte languages in a month or so. This is already working in English.

Stage 7: Again technology at play but here we refer to a workflow process that seamlessly integrates clients and agencies as well as the markets. It is an engine that captures all aspects of a job from briefs, to templates to changes to work to final files for production. A single system that everyone working on the business can access and track progress of a job. Once again Enfatico is probably leading this effort globally with its proprietary tool currently being applied to Dell.

I think a model such as this can still ensure that Clients continue to get creative work as current while saving them tons of money in the globalization/adaptation/execution part of the process.

One last thing. While I have referred to the above as Stages they are really independent of each other save Stages 5 and 6, where 5 has to precede 6.

The more agencies lead the conversation with clients, the more likely those agencies build credibility with procurement.

So there you go..My prescription to agencies those are serious about creativity without compromising Procurement and vice versa.

  1. Unmish
    October 8, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Harish –

    Read this with interest. One minor point, make what you want of the other!

    I would prefer Approaches instead of Stages since your reference is less on sequential periods of time showing a progression, and more about different ways to tackle (an unfortunately) common problem.

    Moving beyond semantics … your post reminded me of the ‘creative (read collaborative) desktop’ culture that’s growing in multi-media newsrooms and production houses; a genre that faces the wrath of Procurement (aka Finance) much like an agency. Stages 3, 4, 6 & 7 are commonly noticed – with editorial haggling with sales for time to create a pukka product, and with finance for the resources needed.

    A combination of human collaboration and technical automation seems to have prevented TV networks from the fate of newspapers, or perhaps only delayed it …

    October 8, 2009 at 11:50 pm

    Yes I was not happy with ‘Stages’ either. Maybe ‘Approaches’ it should be. Just wonder if ‘Approaches’ has the other problem of being seen as alternates. Let me give it a think.
    On your second point..I think across industries the tension with Finance/Procurement is growing. And this is really the time for Creativity.
    More collaboration and innovation is the key I believe.
    Thank you for taking the time to post a comment.

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