EDITORIAL: Procurement now a fact of adland life

Procurement director. The title itself has a painful twang to it. It conjures the kinds of emotions normally reserved for a visit to a dentist, or the doctor when a nasty, intrusive examination is in order.

And nasty, intrusive examinations are what procurement people are good at. In an attempt to make a science of the entirely unscientific process of advertising, they will poke and prod where the sun don't shine.

Last week, Diageo's Alison Littley attempted to put across the procurement director's side of the story in a Campaign Essay. She's a grown-up in the procurement world. She understands how there is no given set of laws that determine the value of advertising and that creativity must not be stifled by cost-cutting. She's also an advocate of payment by results.

Nevertheless, her piece, and indeed the intervention of procurement people in the marketing process generally, highlights a commonly held belief in the client community - that agencies rip them off. Unfortunately, there's a basis for this fear, or at least there used to be. The advertising community is paying the price for its profligacy in the past. But the painful fact is that the perception is dragging a long way behind the reality.

Most agencies are now lean, efficiently run operations. They themselves are part of global organisations with responsibilities to shareholders. But it's not the procurement directors who have made them that way, it's market forces. This is what makes it difficult for agency people to accept that procurement people have a right to interfere.

But interfere they will. The boards of some of the world's most successful client companies believe in them and that means agencies must do too.

Indeed, Grey and Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO have this year hired their own procurement experts to demonstrate that they understand their clients' needs. Instead of wasting time debating the worth of procurement people, the smartest shops are accepting that they are a fact of life and are getting on with it.

Still, there is a twinkle of hope. Eventually (and it could still be several years away), the client community will forget the sins of the past and wake up to the fact that agencies are grown-up businesses that charge a fair fee for the wonderful work they do.