Procurement. What’s a nice boy to do?

In a moment of weakness, induced by a cheerful lunch with Alan Penson, I said that I should be delighted to give an evening talk to The Richmond Group.

The Richmond Group is run by David Corless, and it is a networking organisation. The topic would be on the subject of how to lose a pitch when you thought you were winning.

Management consultant

Alan Penson, Management Consultant

I have a number of these, and they include:

  • How to lose a pitch when you thought you were winning
  • How to do business with the Chinese
  • How to survive doing business with foreigners
  • What happens when project management fails
  • How to work with procurement

We met in a room above the Lamb pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street in the evening of 20 October.

One of the stories I told the Group’s members was of a pitch disaster at Ogilvy in Canary Wharf. Owing to the failure by the whole account team to read the whole brief, the agency team went to Devon to pitch for the business, which was a cider, whilst the client team turned up at Ogilvy’s offices in Docklands.

This lit a smouldering fuse amongst my audience. Nanette Young, who does a lot of procurement work, said, “Nobody ever reads the brief,” which is largely my experience, too.

If you don’t read the brief you cannot answer the brief. And, if you can’t answer the brief, you can’t win the business. I don’t think I can make it any simpler.

As I continued with my talk, I started worrying about a pitch in which I was then involved. The pitch was for a project from a UK state-owned business. Let’s call it Money Pit. I can’t tell you who or what it is since I’ve signed an NDA.

I was part of a team which would be a virtual agency. We’d got onto the long list, and were about to submit our RFP to Money Pit’s procurement team. Almost at the last moment, we’d enlisted the help of Tina Fegent, a procurement specialist who, over a cup of coffee in a Liverpool Street hotel, had rendered the questions intelligible and answerable.

During the chat with the members of The Richmond Group, I said that I thought marketing agencies should stop bleating about Procurement. This new branch of management is not going to go away, so it’s pointless moaning. The sensible course of action is to embrace the change, and become experts at answering Requests For Information (RFIs) and Requests for Proposals (RFPs). Most haven’t the foggiest idea how to do this.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that very few marketing clients now have their marketing directors sitting on their boards. There’s a good chance, though, that these boards will have the HR director, IT director and Procurement director as members.  I met my first on-the-board Procurement Director, the gentlemanly Lawrence Copeland, at Cadbury in, I think, 2001. I’ve met plenty more since then.

Anyway, I’ll be having lunch with Nanette Young on Friday, 28 October in The Prince of Wales in Putney. I’ll buy her lunch. In return, I’ll be hoping for advice on how a small organisation can pass Procurement’s scrutiny, and be given a crack at pitching for organisations like Money Pit. At present, the odds seem to favour larger companies.

If you have recent experience of dealing with Procurement in the context of a creative pitch, I’d love to hear from you, please.