News Analysis

By The Drum, Administrator

June 5, 2008 | 6 min read

A Long List

This week the Scottish Government announced that over 130 agencies are through to the second stage of its tender process.

The list seems large and as The Drum went to press it was still unclear what exactly agencies will be expected to do to complete the second stage of the process.

However, many are assuming stage two will involve a closer look at the various agencies’ credentials, before inviting them to submit creative work as part of future stages.

Nevertheless the whole process has brought the old chestnut of speculative pitching back to the fore. Some agencies have reacted badly to the Scottish Government process, expressing concern at the length of time the process has taken to date, and the number of agencies which have been invited into the second stage.

“If this is how they run a pitch, how can we expect them to run the country,” one exasperated agency said to The Drum.

Others have been a lot more sanguine, pointing out that such complex procedures are part and parcel of the processes Governments have to go through, particularly if they are to comply with European tendering rules.

endemic proportions

But this does not change the fact the whole business of speculative pitching seems to have reached endemic proportions of late – and many in the industry hope that if the Government can set an example of good practice, others in the public sector may follow.

One example of bad practice being cited is that of Scottish Ballet. It recently sent out a design tender for a Fundraising dinner. It went into extensive detail about the creative concept and overall design requirements for the project, a themed event for 300 movers, shakers, benefactors and “well connected people who we hope will spend lots of money on the night”. The sting in the tail came in the postscript.

“NB: Scottish Ballet is looking for the cost of the design fees to be waived,” it said. Charity does often begin at home but there is something galling in expecting who-knows-how-many agencies to competitively pitch to apply their experience, skill, expertise and ideas to a gratis pitch, which perhaps just could have been asked for nicely. Would you fight for the right to buy the Big Issue? Nick Ramshaw of Elmwood told The Drum recently that pitching on this scale was an “ineffective and unnecessary practice.”

More agencies, he argued, need to say no more often. “No, if the pitch is ridiculously long. No to giving away their thinking for free. No when asked to pitch for very small jobs. And no when asked to provide free creative work that more often than not goes in the bin.” This, in the same month that Victor Brierley, formerly of The Hub, told Stirling Council that their tender inviting 100 agencies to pitch for their business was “bonkers”.

“It’s just one reason why lots of young, talented and excited Scottish designers can’t make any money. Over 100 consultancies working for nothing and only one winner! Design wise, the worm is beginning to turn,” he prophecised.

On the Scottish Government front whittling down the full roster of agencies from the 462 who initially applied is necessarily a complex business, given European procurement legislation which requires agencies from all across the EU to be considered equally. John Oldfield, pictured left, the IPA’s Membership Director believes the Scottish Government’s methodology is not only necessary, but also essential, as well as good business sense.

“There is nothing wrong with a process that slims down a large number to a small number. The trick is not to have too many agencies pitching competitively and using creative resource. It seems to be perfectly reasonable.” he told the Drum.

“If there were ten or five consultancies within the framework for each discipline, that would be fine. It depends on how many disciplines there are; you might only have a dozen for each sector, so I am not convinced too many agencies have been left for the second stage.

“Every company has the right to decline to tender for something which it believes the odds of winning are not worth the investment of preparing for it. This is common sense in procurement. If procurement people set the barrier so high and make the odds so long, the best agencies will never bother to submit, because they are too busy and don’t need to. And then the pendulum will swing, because they will only be getting agencies who are desperate for the business pitching for it.

“The more difficult they make it, the fewer decent agencies will pitch. Then they will get the agencies they deserve. If they make it a professional, logical, proportionate tender process, then I would endorse that. The question is, are the hoops they have to jump through proportionate for the size or value of the work?”

Steve Antoniewicz, the managing director of the Recommended Agency Register agrees that whilst at first glance, such a lengthy second stage list may imply a lot of wasted creative effort, upon closer inspection, it is arguably the only logical way to compile a sturdy roster.

“Anyone can criticise from the outside, but given the potential value of a place on the executive roster, people must accept that these decisions need to be considered and nothing less than the most robust selection process should be accepted,” he told the Drum. However, he does agree that once the dust has settled and the final shape of the roster is known, it is likely to be only the usual suspects who are the last ones standing.

few surprises

“That said I do think that the dynamics of the market in Scotland mean that a simpler procurement process could be developed, certainly for disciplines like above-the-line, PR or direct marketing. The market is well defined and with a few exceptions the candidate agencies in these disciplines are much the same as they have been for the last three years. Both digital and design are less straightforward as there’s growth in both areas but I expect few surprises when the rosters are eventually revealed.”

The message seems to be that those already criticising the Scottish Government should hold their fire. This complex process still has a long way to go before the Government – and then the industry as a whole – can reach any meaningful verdicts.


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