The Procurement Trap – Are The Watchdogs Killing Creativity?

The Procurement Trap - Are The Watchdogs Killing Creativity?

Recently we have been approached by a lot of new (potential) clients – brand managers from an array of big corporates wanting to work with the team at Paton Tupper Digital on a myriad of digital and social media campaigns and strategies. We’ve sat through huge immersions and strategy and planning sessions, giving our insights and opinions. The ball starts rolling. The brand team gets super excited by our thoughts and plans, and are ready to sign on the dotted line…

And then procurement steps in. The bean counters who don’t understand creative or strategy. The number crunchers who look only at the bottom line, not taking into account quality, or the importance of marketing or sales solutions that deliver real value. Their role is to protect their company from unscrupulous service providers who will overcharge them, and this is an important undertaking. There are countless stories of “preferred suppliers” being added as retained partners and then simply sitting back and doing nothing while still billing their client. But the procurement mantra has become “cheaper is better”. Yes, watching the bottom line in any business is essential, but so is the concept of return on investment, innovation and great creative. In many cases, the cheapest option is not the best, and in the social and digital media space, the cheapest option can often be damaging.

The truth is that you can’t put a price on creativity. It is possible to produce a 30 second TV ad for R5,000, but in all likelihood for R5,000 a brand is going to get a one man crew shooting with his iPhone and editing in iMovie. A great TV ad will have a crew of established professionals that will produce a world class product at 10 to 100 times the cost of the one-man outfit with the iPhone.

The same is true of digital and social media. There are suppliers out there who can provide solutions on a shoe-string budget. Some are simply astute, boutique agencies that can operate more nimbly than their larger counterparts (and all respect to them), but there are also those who have jumped on the bandwagon and aren’t as immersed or experienced in the space. Content production is a specialised field, and producing branded content that is relevant to a digital community even more so. People without this expertise will, in most instances, come in substantially cheaper, and then simply create a presence for a brand on a social platform and populate it with the latest memes off Google as ‘content’. They don’t create unique and engaging content that is on brand and relevant to the client’s target market and in line with the brand’s sales or marketing objectives. There is a lack of strategy and creative insight that is glaringly obvious to everyone except the procurement team. As far as they’re concerned, they’ve ticked the social media box.

In most instances, the procurement team will not even consider creative or strategy, and will look only at the cost. It is akin to a car salesman telling a customer that he has two cars for sale – one costs R25,000 and the other costs R100,000. “Which one would you like to buy?” the salesman asks. Without even looking at either car, or asking for any information about them, the customer opts for the cheaper car. Would this ever happen? Who in their right mind would buy a car, or any other product for that matter, without knowing anything about it first, simply going on price?

So I ask the question, are South African corporates doing themselves a disservice by giving their procurement teams so much power and autonomy? In most instances, procurement will overrule the desires of a brand manager – the custodian who knows what is best for their brand – simply on price. Yes, procurement should serve the purpose of protecting a company from being ripped off, but should the watchdog be the sole gatekeeper? What happens to creativity and the opportunity for fresh ideas when the only parameter for agency partnerships is price?

Like anything, you get what you pay for, and in the public eye of the digital and social media world, anything substandard will do a brand more damage than good. We say give the brand managers back their teeth, and allow them and their agencies to be as amazing as possible. That’s when the brands will begin to see real returns on investment in terms of sales and earnings.

Tags: Creativity Marketing Paton Tupper Digital Procurement Social Media
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