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The rise of “independent pitch consultants” and how to deal with them

Date posted: January 8, 2013

Odette van der Haar ?>

by Odette van der Haar (@odette_roper) Changes in the business landscape have resulted in the procurement department becoming more and more involved in the management of tenders and pitches to source advertising and communications agencies.  In the past, the procurement of suitable agency partners was left to the marketing department whose knowledge and expertise regarding the business of advertising and communications was heavily relied upon.

Unfortunately, these days it is deemed a “conflict of interest” for marketing departments to be closely involved in the procurement and selection of agency partners. Therefore, in the name of good corporate governance, procurement and supply chain management are more often than not mandated to run tender and pitch processes when sourcing agency partners. Furthermore, a lack of knowledge, experience and understanding of the business of advertising and communications, as well as how agency partners function complicates tender and pitch processes and has created the need for assistance from “independent consultants”.

These independent consultants are individuals or companies that are meant to be neutral and unbiased, with extensive knowledge and experience in the business of advertising and communications. They act as advisors to the procurement and supply chain management departments in order to bridge the knowledge and experience gap for agency partner sourcing, evaluation and negotiation.

Procurement departments need to ensure that all parties including the independent consultants are treated fairly during tenders and pitches.  This includes checking with the ACA, which is the industry body of the advertising and communications sector in South Africa, for any applicable industry rules, guidelines and standards which are generally provided free of charge.

The ACA has a  number of tools available to clients, agencies and consultants including rules to be applied when procuring from the advertising and communications sector, best practice guidelines for bids ranging from information on planning for bids, drafting of specifications/briefs, the structure of the evaluation panel, short-listing of bids, pitch presentations, informing bidders of the outcome, cancellation of bids and templates for RFI documents, brief documents, case studies, agency remuneration and client and agency contracts to name a few.

Furthermore, building good relationships between procurement and marketing departments will certainly benefit any company. After all, distancing the very people who are to work with the selected agency is counter-productive.  Finally, it is vital to ensure that the same perceived conflict of interest that displaces the marketing department from a tender and pitch process does not arise because the consultant is not truly independent.

Some consultants are paid annual subscriptions by agencies to have their companies recommended to potential clients.  These same potential clients also pay the consultants to act as an independent facilitator of their tender and pitch process, to ensure an unbiased or neutral selection of an agency partner.  When consultants are paid by agencies and clients, one cannot help but question whose interests the consultants serve.

Ultimately, the pitch process is the first step in what should be a long-term and mutually beneficial client- agency partnership.  The tender and pitch process therefore sets the tone and chemistry for the partnership.  If all the parties involved feel that that they were treated not just fairly, but that their views were considered in the process, it sets a firm foundation for a successful partnership in place.

In a nutshell, there are many factors to consider when sourcing an agency partner – the use of an independent consultant is merely one such factor. However, before incurring consultancy fees, clients are welcome to contact the ACA for free advice and guidance in order to make informed decisions and possibly to learn a bit more about the business of advertising and communications.

- Odette van der Haar (nee Roper) is the CEO of the Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) which is the recognised industry body of the advertising and communications profession in South Africa.