Procurement as an expertise was always restricted or stereotyped to particular industries but in economically challenging times this function seems to be fast gaining recognition and acceptance. Professionals with negotiation skills and the ability to liaise with third party agencies are preferred increasingly to succeed in PR.
The process of procuring or hiring a PR consultancy (colloquially referred to as agencies) is a challenge for organisations where agencies are often treated as ‘vendors’ and not partners. Float a Request for Proposal (RFP) and the process looks easy! Procurement is a gateway to a sacred covenant in client-agency relationship which can drive best practices and set qualifying benchmarks for the industry.
PR, being a service industry, can never compromise on skills and quality and that underlines the need for a paradigm shift in our approach to this process of procuring the ‘right’ agency on board. Nit-picking on rate cards and costs to drive efficiencies without adding value to communication, leaves no room for engagement and creativity between the client and agency.
While agencies continue to make an effort into putting a value on their intangible creativity and intellectual capital; clients should also incorporate the value of sustainability into agency sourcing decisions. The client also needs to invest in training agency resources on policies and procedures to promote ethical and right behaviours. While there are ethical practices followed in the industry, clients should go a step further to reiterate this expectation of meeting the highest ethical standards to be followed throughout the contractual period.
I believe PR is all about nurturing and cultivating relationships and it requires understanding and mutual respect for it to grow.
Very often, agencies showcase their best talent during the pitching phase which sadly seems to diminish within few weeks of engagement. Lack of involvement of seasoned resources can often dampen the euphoria of hiring the best agency! Teams fail to deliver proactively on their mandate and these are just some impediments that clients face after getting an agency on board.
We are quite a traditional industry. It is time now to shift gears in the process and invite mathematics and metrics configured with technology to evaluate the efficacy of communications. However with evolving technology, it might be farsighted to position traditional pitching as more valued than a mere transactional piece in the communication framework.
A hybrid approach of quantitative and qualitative analytics can help set the standards of procurement process for PR. It is important that agencies and clients work together to jointly define success parameters, take the leap of faith, engage consistently to ensure meaningful decisions and maximise value in client-agency relationships; after all PR is all about relationships.
As clients become increasingly interested in the value and impact of communication, more of the agencies should work towards establishing a relationship that echoes the same values as that of the clients. Needs are often competing, as financially-stretched organisations remain under tremendous pressure to cut costs and expect quality and value at the same time. These dynamics necessitate, more than ever before, a true partnership between companies and agencies to deliver effective communication solutions.
You may like to refer to these crucial considerations that can make ‘procurement’ relatively easier:
- Reach out and ask for referrals as they are a reliable source to be banked upon. Leave no room for personal choices and allow fair competition.
- Key performance indicators (KPIs), service level agreements (SLAs) and return on investment (ROI) genuinely excite and ‘justify’ the client expenditure
- Get your contracts right as the foundation of the relationship.
- Let the benefit of good be clear so that value is well defined. Ensure to align with business needs and manage expectations.
- Set a process to assess post procurement progress. Enforce clauses of non- conformance and propose a plan to address necessary corrective actions.
- Earn and maintain trust and generate value through the relationship. Trust is an important determinant for successful delivery.
- Reward performance and encourage a culture to improve performance.
- Make the process innovative and not a generic RFP process!
I believe that by partnering we are more effective and are more able to innovate in dealing with procurement associated challenges.
Sushmita Bandopadhyay is the Communications and Identity Advisor for Becton, Dickinson & Co. (BD) in India.