EDITORIAL: Costing questions insult the industry

As an example of a client determined to get the relationship with its newly appointed agency off to the worst possible start, Somerfield Stores would be hard to better.

No sooner does it appoint M&C Saatchi to its £6 million creative account than it is circulating other agencies asking what they would charge if they were to handle the account. Ludicrous, appalling and insensitive are some of the kinder comments being used by agencies to describe this tactic. The IPA has rightly been advising its members that they should kick any such approaches into touch.

Just why Somerfield should be doing this having already agreed fees with M&C Saatchi, when it should have addressed the matter before inviting agencies to pitch for its business, isn't clear. Odds on, though, it's the procurement department reasserting its control over the marketing purse strings and storing up ammunition for the time when agency fees come up for re-negotiation. Hardly the best way to establish an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect with its agency, which isn't likely to be motivated to produce its best work when the cost issue remains perpetually in the background.

Not only could Somerfield have carried out the exercise by using a consultant but it could have taken advantage of the regularly updated ISBA recommendations on what clients should be paying agencies. Worse, Somerfield makes the fundamental mistake of trying to measure the immeasurable. Indeed, one agency boss compares its behaviour to that of a restaurant that wants to take your order as soon as you book your table.

Agencies who acquiesce in this kind of practice will only help to reduce the industry's status to that of a supplier in the eyes of many companies.

And it will become even harder to convince clients that they aren't merely paying for an idea that may take seconds to present but is the product of imaginations that have taken years to hone.

Getting procurement people to understand this will always be difficult, but it will be impossible unless they are involved early on in the agency selection process. Only then can attempts at post-rationalisation be prevented.

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