Scottish Executive

By The Drum, Administrator

May 6, 2004 | 6 min read

Andy Crummey of Agency Assessments

For many of Scotland’s creative, media, PR and web design companies the next three months will be an anxious time. On 1 August the white smoke will emerge from St. Andrews House and the agencies that have been successful in winning a contract from the Scottish Executive will be announced.

This time round the roster of creative agencies has been increased from four to seven. However there will not be a media roster, nor will there be any division between planning and buying, a case of winner takes all. Also the contract will not only cover the requirements of the Scottish Executive, but also a number of other organisations, principally Scottish Enterprise, NHS24, Scottish Parliament Corporate Body, VisitScotland and Quality Meat Scotland - referred to as ‘collaborative partners’.

Under EC directives, all suppliers within the member states must be given an equal opportunity to tender. An ad must be placed in the Official Journal of the European Communities (OJEC) inviting tenders. There is prescribed procedure with strict specifications for the awarding of contracts. Agencies based in Latvia or Lithuania are unlikely to be appointed, but nevertheless the procedure has to be followed.

Agency Assessments has been involved in number of OJEC pitches and we know just how time consuming the process can be, so it comes as no surprise to see that the process is already behind schedule.

Some involved in the selection procedure will have the benefit of previous experience and lessons will have been learned as a result. However, there should be a willingness to accept that there can always be a better and fairer system. Agency Assessments have conducted well over a hundred agency search and selection projects in Britain and overseas and we are constantly improving our methodology. I hope the following comments and suggestions will prove useful.

Increasing the size of the roster is a welcome move, more talent to draw upon and more agencies to share the benefits. With a desire to bring the ‘collaborative partners’ on board under the one contract some observers suspect that the partners’ current agencies will be automatically selected for the roster. Naturally the Exec will point out that this procurement led process is beyond reproach with no element of pre-selection. But I think they demonstrate clearly that this is the case. The presence of on independent observer on the panel, would be a step in the right direction as would a pitch website demonstrating the scoring process leading to the appointments.

Many agencies believe that the system favours agencies with public body experience particularly the incumbents. The Catch 22 is that they can’t get any experience because they haven’t got any. Why not let the agencies know how the scoring system works? Is ISO900 accreditation as important as award winning work?

The decision to centralise the media planning goes against the advice from most of the IPA agencies involved in the consultation exercise last Autumn. Roger Williams explained in an article in Media Week (2 March) that the decision was based on lack of resource to handle more than one media contract in addition to the creative contracts. Roger could solve his resource problem by appointing one lead agency to handle the strategic co ordination for two or three separate planning units. This arrangement works well in other multi-brand organisations.

The advantages of spreading the media planning role across a number of agencies would be the involvement of more senior and experienced individuals giving a better level of service and a good chance of more original thinking. If the ‘partner’ accounts are included it is likely that the planning resources of one agency will be spread very thinly.

Last time around two of the four roster agencies, Faulds and Yellow M, went into receivership. I suppose the lesson to be learned is that a healthy set of accounts at the selection stage is no guarantee that the agency will still be in business at the end of the contract. The benefit of a roster is that work can always be re-deployed when problems occur. If regular financial audits were carried out, the Executive would stand less chance of being taken by surprise.

The OJEC procedure requests accounts going back two years. Is a new agency disqualified or just disadvantaged? Either way the Exec may be denying itself the opportunity to work with some very talented and experienced individuals.

Client responsibility does not end with the appointment of the agency. Absolutely vital throughout the term of the term of the contract is an evaluation process, client on agency and agency on client, designed to optimise the relationship and to ensure accountability. The Executive has previously not implemented a standard system of evaluation across its agencies. Perhaps it intends to do so in the next contract.

Few would question the time and hard work that goes into the procurement of these contracts. There will however always be those who maintain that the processes adopted have borrowed too much from the techniques involved in procuring a range of commodities.

In the last review there were no face to face ‘chemistry’ meetings prior to the final presentations. Hopefully that will not be the case this time round. Not having chemistry sessions gives the incumbents a substantial advantage, in that they already know the individuals in the client team. The danger with some procurement led pitches is that they can fail to take into account the most important ingredient of the advertising process, the people who make it work.

In conclusion, the objective of this important exercise is to run a selection process that leads to the best agencies producing their best work for the right price. If there are aspects of the system, which the Exec is using which get in the way of achieving this then they should, where possible, be changed. We are all shareholders in this company and we have a vested interest in getting the best results.

If you have any comments to make please contact Andy Crummey, managing partner of Agency Assessments North at andyc@agencyassessments.com

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