Scottish Executive Review
Head of communications Roger WilliamsIt’s the most eagerly awaited and sought-after marketing review in Scotland. The big one. The contracts that will see several marketing agencies provided with steady work for the next three years. And, at a time when more and more marketing decisions are being taken south of the border, these choices will be made squarely on Scottish soil.
So, while the Scottish marketing community waited with bated breath to see who amongst them would reach the next stage of the review, the Scottish Executive took the time to explain its latest agency search to The Drum. The magazine sat down with Roger Williams, head of corporate communications, and Sarah Stevenson, senior procurement officer, at the Executive’s St Andrews House building.
Though a place on the Scottish Exec roster has always been highly sought after, this year’s review has caused particular excitement throughout the industry as, for the first time, appointed roster agencies will have the chance to work not only with the Executive itself but with several other government agencies as well.
Williams explains: “The present contracts run for three years and we had been thinking during the course of last year, in talking to Sarah’s department, and in looking at public sector contracts generally, that there should be more procurement involvement on contracts. You’re talking about public sector buying and public sector efficiency, and therefore trying to save money, which is one of the things we’re charged with doing.
“Then, obviously, the demise of Faulds exacerbated the fact that we had the option of getting another agency in if we wanted to, or deciding we’d manage with Barkers and The Union and re-tender the contract when it came up for its review. So we decided we’d make do with Barkers and The Union and distributed the Faulds work between them.
“Then we developed our idea of seeing if there were other public sector organisations who would be interested in coming in on the terms of a new contract with us, both for media buying and creative.”
Following talks with a number of government agencies, five decided to join forces with the Executive in sharing an agency roster. Scottish Enterprise, Historic Scotland, VisitScotland, NHS 24 and Quality Meat Scotland all liked the idea of working with a combined government roster. Contrary to some previous reports, the Parliament itself is not part of the review.
Of all these government agencies, only Scottish Enterprise wants to choose its own media buyer. All five will share the creative agency roster along with the Executive.
With six government bodies using the creative roster, it’s a safe bet that there will be more than three creative agencies hired, though the Executive maintains that there is no set number in mind.
Stevenson says: “We have an idea how many we’d like but it depends on their submissions. There are no preconceived ideas at this stage. There’ll be more than what there currently is on the creative side.”
“As far as the Executive is concerned, I think we clearly have enough business to have three creative agencies, as we have had in the past,” adds Williams. “But what this does do for us, as indeed it does for the other partners, is it allows us to have a choice.
“It generally just gives you that creative option, and also gives you some insurance in so far as the well-known history that we’ve had with Yellow M, which unfortunately went into receivership, and latterly Faulds. In terms of Yellow M, we were able to take an agency off the shortlist. If we’ve got a number of agencies on the roster we wouldn’t have to do that.”
The Yellow M and Faulds situations are well documented in the Scottish industry: two consecutive roster agencies that went into receivership, forcing the Executive to shift some of its business into different companies.
With a larger roster on hand, part of this danger should be averted. But the Executive has also taken steps to ensure the agencies it hires are in robust financial health.
Stevenson explains: “It’s part of the tendering process that we ask for financial stability, so we do ask for audited accounts, and they will be checked on an annual basis. Obviously, Faulds came out of the blue. Nobody could have predicted that. But if you have a new agency they’re not precluded from this either. They can have all sorts of documentation in accordance with what we require from a financial point of view. There are no exclusions at all. We’re very supportive of small and medium-sized enterprises. We’ve got to be very careful but, at the same time, it’s not to say that they can’t convince us that the correct route for this contract is with them.”
As well as the creative and media appointments, the Scottish Exec is looking to bring on board a PR consultancy and a web agency. These companies will be contracted to work with the Executive itself, though the other agencies taking part in the review will also have access to them, should they require it.
The Executive currently works with Barkers PR, the Big Partnership, Consolidated Communications and Harrison Cowley. At the moment, all of these consultancies are subcontracted through The Union or Barkers, but this is about to change. Following the current marketing review, the appointed PR consultancy will be contracted direct from the Executive itself, working with the in-house press office to promote Scottish Executive campaigns.
Another first appearing in the current marketing review is the introduction of an “open day”. In June there will be four days when the shortlisted agencies for each of the marketing disciplines will have the chance to meet with the Executive’s marketing department. It will give all of the marketing agencies a chance to get to know the Executive prior to pitching for a place on the roster.
Williams comments: “I think that proves the point that we’re trying not to disadvantage people who have not worked with us before, so that the present incumbents don’t have the advantage of knowing us when the others don’t. The open days are designed to try to correct some of that balance.”
By the time this magazine hits desks, those agencies that will be asked to pitch will already have been contacted. In the interview, however, the Executive is reluctant to give away any details. Will the shortlisted agencies, for example, all be from Scotland?
“You cannot, under the terms of the European competition, say ‘I must have Scottish agencies’ and so on, so we’re bound by those rules. Clearly, the agencies themselves have to consider, if they are picked, how they’re going to service the account. Can they do it from London? Can they do it from the continent of Europe? It’s really up to them, because they’re going to find themselves extremely disadvantaged if they can’t come at very quick notice to be able to attend meetings.”
“There’s a proviso in the creative contract that the agency would have to be able to attend meetings within four working hours,” adds Stevenson. “That, hopefully, doesn’t disadvantage anyone as long as they’re aware of that. We’ll obviously give notice as much as possible.”
There has been some mixed opinion on the Executive’s decision to appoint a single agency to handle media planning and buying but Williams is keen to defend the decision, which he states was not taken lightly.
“We looked very carefully at this and we took advice from the industry. I also went and spoke to some Whitehall departments to get their advice, notably head of communications of the department of transport, Charles Skinner. In terms of getting a single media buyer, I think we can achieve greater efficiencies in the marketplace, and that should be welcome because we’re dealing with taxpayers’ money.
“On the media planning side, we have said on the contract that the media buyer appointed will be audited, just as we have audited the present incumbent. So any discrepancies, any problems in the planning, will be shown up straight away.
“The other point I would make is that we are moving to a fee-based remuneration for the advertising agencies. So it doesn’t matter what media we’re buying, it has no effect on them in terms of their remuneration, because they will get paid on fee, not on commission. So I think that kind of pretty much levels it out to show that there are a number of checks here to make sure that the media buyer can’t be pulling the wool over our eyes.”
It’s clearly a thorough process, and one the Executive is taking very seriously. The agencies picked for the marketing roster will remain in place for a minimum of three years, with an optional fourth year if the Exec is particularly happy with their work. During this time they should receive steady work, with the media and creative agencies guaranteed projects across five and six government bodies respectively.
A place on the roster is enviable, and something everyone will be keeping front of mind as the list of agencies is narrowed.