Scottish Government Public Relations Feature

Scottish Government marketing tender

By The Drum | Administrator

January 31, 2008 | 13 min read

Hey big spender

Over the years, as Scotland has lost more and more of its indigenous business to market consolidation, the Scottish Government account remains one of the last big carrots to be dangled in front of the Scottish marketing industry.

However, as times have changed, so too has the roster and the process through which public sector work will be appointed.

Yet, with contracts and briefs worth up to £80m in total up for grabs, it remains one of the most prestigious rosters to earn a place on.

And this year there is more opportunity than perhaps ever before as the Government looks to expand its agency roster in terms of both size and scope.

Roger Williams, head of marketing for the Scottish Government, is in his office in St Andrews House, an imposing, grey building at the east end of Princes Street.

On reaching him it is straight to business. Williams has a lot to cover.

As he explains in detail the changes afoot for the Scottish Government roster, he confirms that new names will join the list of public sector companies involved in the review, with more possibly to come.

Both the Scottish Blood Transfusion Service and the Scottish Parliament Corporate body joined at the end of last year, and are already being serviced by recently retained media agency Mediacom.

The changes follow conversations which Williams had with John Swinney, secretary of finance and sustainable growth, where he was asked to include more of the public sector organisations to the user consortium, in a bid to improve financial efficiency.

However, change is evident all the way through this roster review. The roster currently in place will be radically altered, with more than 30 agencies likely to have a place come 1 September when the appointment process is scheduled to be completed.

New clients of varying sizes will join the combined Government buying pot too, including Scottish Natural Heritage, SEPA, National Museums of Scotland, the Crofters Commission and Caledonian MacBrayne.

Williams confirms that this new contract will run for an initial 31 month period with the possibility of a 12 month extension, as was taken up with the current roster agencies. The thinking behind this length is to bring the account in line with the financial year which, for The Government, begins in April. Another reason is to avoid the contract running through the summer, a time, Williams says, when it is difficult to hold meetings due to summer holidays.

“It’s a cycle which I inherited but we have decided to change it now. This decision was made to bring the media and marketing accounts into cycle together,” he adds.

While the current roster is split into three areas: advertising (1576, Barkers, The Bridge, Family, Leith Agency, Newhaven, The Union); PR (Barkers, BIG, IAS Smarts, Consolidated); and web (Civic, Union Digital, Whitespace), the new roster will now feature seven separate disciplines; advertising, PR, direct mail, market research, event management, digital and design.

The inclusion of digital, explains Williams, is due to the increasing demand and consumption of information online and through mobile technology and the future developments in the sector.

“Digital work will increase. All we are doing is responding to the consumer trends to meet media fragmentation. We’re not driving this, we’re anticipating it and I anticipate, as indeed my colleagues do, that digital will become a bigger part of the requirement. By digital, we mean everything from web to mobile phones. Whatever developments occur over the next four years, we are equipping ourselves to ensure that we’ve got the agencies to meet these challenges, whatever the developments may be.”


Design has been introduced through the demands that have been made over the last few years for high-profile, specialist work, including the rebranding of the Executive and the competition to create the logo for Glasgow’s Commonwealth bid.

Both, according to Williams, were examples of work which could only have been serviced by purely design led companies.

The appearance of event management and DM are at the request of VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise, two of the largest companies in the consortium which, along with the Government, will use the bulk of the services available.

Williams highlights PR as the area where the smaller organisations will probably look for most work in, especially if they do not have an internal communications function before highlighting PR as the sector he has been extremely pleased with, particularly the way in which the rostered PR teams have worked with The Government’s in-house teams.

“Clearly there could be an awkward duplication or a butting of heads,” says Williams, “but they have absolutely understood their roles, they are not corporate spokespeople for ourselves. They are there to support campaigns. With VoteScotland and others we’ve had a very sensible understanding in what could have been a very difficult situation.

“I’ve spent a long time in my career in Whitehall and I’ve seen the professional jealousies and rivalries which this can produce, particularly when you have a PR agency which doesn’t quite understand its role of working closely with an in-house press office. They’ve worked very well in this instance. They’ve been very imaginative and if you look at some of the work they’ve done, which is not always apparent, they have come up with some excellent results.”

Williams also highlights winning two IPA Awards for its work, which proves to him that the standard of work coming out of those agencies that have worked on the roster over the recent years has provided the highest quality of work.

No Favourites

However, he is also clear that no agencies will be able to rely on previous campaign work and trade on reputation alone. “There are no favourites. Everyone is equal,” he states. “Being on the roster does not guarantee work,” warns Williams, all too well aware that agencies may look at this as an opportunity to print money. In fact, the opposite may well be true because despite more organisations joining the roster, and more work clearly being made available, there will be no extra money in his marketing budget to spend. The budget for this coming roster will be between £40m and £80m over the possible 43 month length, similar to that of the previous budget.

“In the current climate, which is very tight on finance, Mr Swinney and others are looking to see efficiencies, rationalisation and so on.

“Certainly we will be under scrutiny to make sure that we are running this properly, that we are getting the very best out of our budget. All organisations will be asked to look at what they are doing with a view to seeing whether they can do it more efficiently.”

This information makes the likes of PR and digital – two of the most cost friendly disciplines – all the more vital, and hints that these will be two of the busier rosters.

If this affects the likes of advertising expenditure dramatically, then advertising agencies will surely look to use those ‘integrated’ offerings to get onto another of the rosters as well.


Due to EU restrictions, the procurement process is one that will also change with this roster, as mini-pitches are introduced for each appointment made in order that there is “transparency” in every decision and no one can claim favouritism for an appointment.

Explaining the need for this move, which will doubtless mean that the appointment process will become all the more time consuming on both sides, Williams says that it is a process that is entirely fairer.

“At the moment we can award work to which ever agency we think is best suited to do it. Although we did introduce mini-pitches in the last roster for the smoking ban and VoteScotland campaigns. I took the decision that because they were such big piece of work, with such a high profile to them, that it was only fair to pitch them to the roster. That’s not the norm. But this will become the norm. What we’re going to have to do because we’re compelled to do this by the EU, is to hold mini-pitches within the roster...We will try and streamline them, so that we do this as a paper base, then online give them a brief and ask them to respond in two or four sides of paper, sift it from there and then have maybe the two best or the three best applicants. That way we can show to be transparent, we have followed the rules, we can show that there has been proper competition, and we haven’t just given it to our favourites.”

Williams says that this will be a more time consuming process and that agencies that are not capable of handling that extra workload need not apply: “they’ll need to say ‘sorry, we’re full up at the moment and we don’t have the capacity to do that’.”

This will also be an extra responsibility that the marketing department and organisations will have to soak up themselves, and there will not be any alterations or new recruits brought into the Government to help with the new workload, it will have to be handled with the team that is already in place.

So, that means more work for both agencies and Government team alike – but not perhaps the sort of work that they would be hoping for.

Yet Williams declares that agencies must also understand that when applying at the pre-qualifying stage, they must do so for each sector separately. The decision as to where marketing ends and digital begins is up to the individual client themselves to decide what they are looking for.

Digital specialism

“That’s going to be a question for the client to decide on whatever piece of work it is, because a number of the marketing agencies have now got a digital capability, so they’ll have to decide whether a piece of work requires a real digital specialism or whether they think the marketing agency can absorb that – and that has to be the judgement of the individual client.”

It is also a possibility that not all of the successful applicants will herald from Scotland.

“Under EU rules, we cannot stipulate whether agencies are Scottish or not,” warns Williams. “But to service our needs and others needs, agencies must be in Scotland or very close to it, because doing it from a distance will be very hard indeed on budgets.”

When asked what his advice to all applying agencies is, Williams is clear, that they each take time with their applications and be as thorough as possible.

“Read the questions thoroughly and try and understand why they are being asked. There is a reason for every question we ask. Complete it as fully as possible.

“You’d be surprised, in our experience when we’ve done this before, some of the applicants either don’t answer the questions properly or they leave blanks because they don’t see why they should answer them. They should respond in full.”

Despite this, it is also advised that agencies should reply as “promptly” as possible in order to allow for an “opportunity of clarification.”

With all these changes to the process and accounts, it will be of interest just how the final roster selection will change the Scottish marketing landscape, as the impact of those choices will doubtless make or break agencies in the coming years.

Design intervention?

Nick Ramshaw, formerly chair of the Scottish DBA spent his time in Scotland actively pushing for design to be recognised by the Government as a discipline in its own right. Despite having moved to Leeds, Ramshaw welcomed the news that he had finally got his way.

“During my time in Scotland, I was surprised and disappointed that The Executive (as was) didn’t have a design or brand agency roster, so I very much welcome one,” says Ramshaw.

“Rosters, when well managed, are a very effective way for clients to source the best agency for the job. All will have pre-qualified to get on the roster and will therefore have the required skills and experience for each project.

“As far as design and branding is concerned, these are specialist services which have until now been sourced on a sub-contract basis from an advertising or other type of agency. As a result, I am not sure that the best equipped agencies have always been used. Lots of agencies claim to ‘do branding’, but in my experience not that many can walk the walk.

“Introducing a specific roster will be much fairer. The public sector in Scotland will be able to properly review the options out there and get to choose who they work with, which in turn should improve the standard of branding generally.”

The new additions

Advertising will stay at eight agencies. We feel that is a sufficient number to service what we need.

PR companies will probably increase from four to six. Over the last three or four years, the number of requests that I’ve had over my desk for PR services has increased.

Market Research will remain at around four – when we had a stand

alone contract for market research that is what we had.

Digital is an exciting area. We have three agencies at the moment,

Whitespace, Civic and Union Digital. I can see that increasing to six at least, maybe eight. We will be very interested to see who applies and what they bring to the table.

Design, we’ve never done this before so it’s hard to say how many we would need. I think we need six or seven, but that’s just a very rough estimate.

Events will be largely dependent on what VisitScotland and Scottish Enterprise want.

DM too will be down to the organisations views as to how many they think should be on the roster.

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