No doubt this result will spark off debate, questions, criticism, and comment. I’m braced for that, given the high profile and seemingly controversial nature of the subject. But perhaps in this space The Drum will allow me to present some facts behind what has been a marathon effort.
A year ago we set out to redesign the Scottish Government’s marketing, PR, and web contracts. There were a number of drivers, not least the new objective handed to me by the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth, John Swinney, to ensure as many public sector organisations as possible could access the new contracts and so deliver more efficient, cost effective, and co-ordinated public sector marketing.
Besides the Scottish Government, we already had a user group consisting of NHS Health Scotland, NHS 24, Historic Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland, Scottish Enterprise, and VisitScotland, latterly joined by the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service and the Scottish Parliament. Representatives from these organisations, joined by procurement colleagues, met frequently as a group within St Andrew’s House to draw up the new services we needed.
Aside from meeting the political objective, our goal was to put in place marketing communications that would not only meet our collective needs in the public sector, but more importantly anticipate and keep pace with the rapidly changing communications sector landscape, and engage an increasingly marketing-savvy public through its preferred ways of getting its information. Not a task for the faint hearted.
After many hours of debate and haggling in smoke free committee rooms, we stepped into our brave new world with seven categories: marketing, PR, digital, design, research, events, direct marketing. In procurement speak, this was the new collaborative framework contract.
Next up was the task to draft the questions for the two stages of the tender – the Pre Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ), and the Invitation to Tender (ITT). Mindful of previous criticism, we tried to make the wording simple and clear. But, predictably when such principles come head-to-head with the formality of contract law and EU guidelines, the actual outcome will always struggle in a plain English competition.
At the same time our prospective user group was expanding rapidly as more devolved public sector organisations signed up to use the new rosters.
And then there was the deluge of responses when the tender was announced. While observers may in hindsight say we should have expected it, the volume of response to the PQQ stage was overwhelming.
During a tediously damp Scottish summer, and while juggling our day jobs, we and colleagues from the original user groups assiduously marked every PQQ against criteria arranged by, and agreed with procurement. We organised ourselves into groups to mark each allotted category.
A similar exercise took place for the ITT stage. While the numbers were now less, the task was even more time consuming, reflecting the fuller responses required to answer the even more probing questions.
And then the finale: the aggregation of scores for each group, with each group of markers comparing their comments and scores, which resulted in a shortlist for procurement to run due diligence across.
To those who claim smaller agencies were disadvantaged, or discriminated against, the facts are:
• of the 50 agencies appointed, 37 are SMEs (based on the definition of SMEs by Companies House).
• of these, 32 are defined as small, and five as medium sized.
• the remaining 13 are part of national or international groups.
• that means 74% of those appointed are SMEs.
Those appointed won on merit, pure and simple, reflected in the way they presented themselves in answering the questions and the facts those answers revealed. Did we favour existing roster agencies? Absolutely not. Why did it take so long? Well, think about it. With those sorts of numbers and the scrutiny that was applied to each application, was it any wonder that it ran for the most part of the year?
And now for the real test. As we aspire to excellence in public sector marketing communications, those appointed will be asked to meet some demanding standards. After all, as Matthew Parris says in his overview to the recent COI/IPA book How Public Service Advertising Works: “only soap is marketed more vigorously than the government’s messages”.
I’m sorry to see previous business acquaintances, who served us well, depart. I’m pleased to reacquaint ourselves with those we know, and I welcome the
So, let’s brighten the economic gloom which surrounds us with some truly exceptional work that befits the best of the Scottish marketing communications industry.
Do you have any questions or feedback on the process or on the new rosta? Visit www.thedrum.com/government to leave your comments.