Editorial: Industry enemies need to learn to live together

How wonderful working in agencies would be if it wasn't for the clients, an industry wag once remarked.

Today, he might have substituted clients for their procurement specialists. A decade after procurement people banded together to form their own action group under the ISBA umbrella (see feature, page 20), they and the agencies they deal with can't seem to shed their mutual suspicion.

Agencies are mistrustful of those seeking to set a price for something as hard to value as a creative idea; procurement managers argue that advertising is a supplier service like any other and an increasingly expensive one. Why shouldn't clients demand the best bang they can get for their buck?

It's worrying that, after such a long time, these views remain hard to reconcile. Pleas from procurement people to the ad industry that "we're both after the same thing" don't cut much ice with agencies that see client marketing directors being elbowed aside by moneymen wanting them to sign contracts that have little connection with reality.

In the end, of course, an accommodation will have to be found. Clients' tight grip on budgets isn't going to be loosened by an improving economic climate - and those charged with ensuring that agencies deliver value for money are going to be a permanent fixture on the ad scene.

Agencies and procurement people are never going to be friends. But that doesn't mean more can't be done to eliminate some of the most aggravating issues that divide them.

The more that procurement specialists can show agencies that they understand marketing, the better their credibility will be. An estimated 40 per cent of them already have marketing experience. The higher that figure climbs, the better for everybody. This isn't to suggest the faults are all on one side. Procurement people rightly despair of the paucity of agency managers who can talk to them on their own terms.

Certainly, it's in nobody's interest to perpetuate an "us and them" mentality when more mutual understanding could work to everybody's advantage.