Procurement and Public Relations: A Tool for More Productive Conversations

The agency-procurement relationship has come far in recent years, yet an even stronger, more productive relationship is on the horizon, driven in part by a new desire on the part of clients for efficiencies and demonstrable ROI. For the Council’s Board of Directors, helping to improve this relationship is imperative; with that in mind, the Council opens the door for more collaboration by unveiling a new publication for procurement professionals, “Procurement Professionals Q&A: Advancing The Working Relationship with Public Relations Firms.”

Procurement’s early days, what I like to call Procurement 1.0, were characterized by purchasing groups buying services from public relations the way they bought any commodity, with a sole objective: Lower costs. As procurement consolidated as a discipline, procurement professionals developed a deeper understanding of the unique value public relations adds. Yet they still approached negotiations as a zero-sum exercise, where procurement “won” by realizing “value capture” in the form of lower rates. This was Procurement 2.0. Today, we’re transitioning into a new phase—Procurement 3.0—where procurement and agencies increasingly partner to improve client outcomes, measured in agreed upon deliverables.

By clarifying misunderstandings about public relations firms and the negotiation process, “Procurement Professionals Q&A” seeks to help procurement and agencies realize the full potential of Procurement 3.0. Procurement needs to pursue more than just lower rates, and agencies need to deliver in areas like education, continuous efficiency gains, and innovation. In this context, an opportunity exists for procurement to serve as an honest broker and help improve the client-firm relationship in a strategic way. For instance, procurement professionals might seek ways for agencies to help them lower non-value added costs so as to improve efficiency. By reducing those costs, the firm benefits, as it can direct more resources to functions that actually add value. Yet we can only have these more sophisticated, win-win conversations if the firm-procurement relationship gets beyond the transactional level. That’s what “Procurement Professionals Q&A” seeks to accomplish.

Education remains an important challenge. Many firms aren’t aware that procurement is becoming more strategic, while some in procurement harbor outdated or inaccurate notions of public relations. Public relations is not monolithic but a collection of sub-specialties requiring different expertise and talent. Firms are not at all the same; salary and productivity levels typically vary with the size of the firms and specialty areas, and every agency has a different cost structure. In these and other areas, “Procurement Professionals Q&A” helps bring much-needed clarity.

As the paper suggests, it’s also not always easy to define exactly how public relations adds value. In crisis communications, the absence of public uproar or bad publicity often defines a public relations success. By contrast, a procurement person used to buying an ad campaign can easily point to tangible things they’re buying. “Procurement Professionals Q&A” helps procurement distinguish public relations from other disciplines, thus laying the groundwork for new, more collaborative, “Procurement 3.0” negotiations.

We hope communications and procurement professionals will read this paper and share it with their departments and that agencies will share it with their client partners. The more the paper circulates, the more it can serve its intended function as a catalyst for an ongoing process of mutual discovery. The possibilities are exciting: Agencies opening their doors to young procurement professionals so the latter can really understand how our business works; forums bringing procurement and agency folks together, using this paper as a thought starter; and “four party meetings,” as described in the paper, which bring together procurement and marketing on the client side, and account and finance people on the agency side.

Marketing communications is changing, and it’s important that our conversations keep pace. We hope you find “Procurement Professionals Q&A” to be useful and in the spirit of dialogue, we invite your feedback.

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