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Agencies always reflect their clients
Tom DenfordMar 23, 20233 min read

Agencies Must Always Reflect Marketing and Procurement

Brands Deserve Better Media

A weekly column from @tomjdenford


When agencies take a look in the mirror, they should see both marketing and procurement reflected back at them. Here’s why that shows some great progress. 

I've always found media agencies' traditionally hostile attitude towards procurement rather puzzling because - whether they like to admit it or not - media agencies themselves are designed to fulfill an important procurement function: guiding their advertising clients on procuring media impressions based on expert assessments of cost and quality, in such a way as to achieve a desired outcome. Smells like procurement to me.


Maybe one day a media agency will be bold enough to position itself fully as a procurement resource. Maybe. While those 'porcine pilots' prepare for takeoff, it's worth acknowledging some significant shifts in mindset for advertisers and how they have influenced agency behavior.


As we know, for many years marketing and procurement have often been at tension, with split ambitions when it comes to media. The marketer viewing media as an investment in growth and procurement often seeing media as a large cost to be managed downwards. 


Agency CEOs would often comment that in marketing and procurement they had two different clients, coming through the same door but asking the agency for different things. For agency leadership this was always a fine line to walk, to satisfy both, to pretend the tension didn't exist. 


This tension was rarely ever acknowledged internally by the advertiser. Marketing and procurement would brief their media agency with a big smile and a big budget. It was usually left to the poor media agency to try to somehow resolve the tension in the course of business. 


More for less, more or less

One might argue that many of the industry's darkest days (loss of transparency, complex supply chains, vague contract terms, on and on...) were in part a result of agencies having to satisfy two masters, the marketer always calling for, "More!" whilst their procurement colleague added, "...For Less!"


An agency CEO keen to deliver ‘more for less’ might be tempted down a dangerous path, one which forgoes the traditional procurement standards of cost and quality and instead simply delivers ever more impressions for ever lower costs. Forget quality. 


One famous media agency even used the mantra ‘More for Less’ proudly for a short time as their internal media planning framework…  Nice idea, but didn't last long. The planning team imploded. I know, I was there. 


Not a good result for brands

Whilst the marketer was getting “More!’ and procurement was getting it “For Less!” agencies thought perhaps they’d found the winning formula. But sadly it was only a formula to resolve the tension between marketing and procurement. It was not a winning formula for the brands they were all supposed to serve. 


The result was some media buyers turning a blind eye to counterfeit impressions, arbitraging media inventory and a general loss of quality control. Media became less effective as a growth driver whilst the quality of media impressions eroded and money got wasted on things that either didn't work or sometimes (in the case of counterfeit impressions and ad fraud) didn't even exist at all. 


Price is only what you pay

Thankfully for everyone, these days we see far better internal alignment between marketing and procurement with common goals focused on value, quality, partnership and productivity.


Marketing and procurement might both agree with Warren Buffet's famous adage, "Price is what you pay, value is what you get." They know that if they work together they can optimize their media investments for value rather than chasing the cheapest unit costs.


Treat marketing and procurement the same

With the progress made between marketing and procurement, now we need their agencies to fully reflect their clients. 


In 2023, marketing and procurement want agencies to treat them as an aligned team serving a common purpose. Those agencies that can recognize places where marketing and procurement align, yet still be empathetic to their individual corporate responsibilities, will be most successful.


There is no more room for thinking you can 'divide and conquer' marketing and procurement. Those that do will find themselves left behind a new momentum coming from this powerful partnership.

Successful agencies will equally reflect their marketing and procurement clients and make sure their brands get the media they deserve.  
When brands get the media they deserve they grow, and when brands flourish, we all win.
PS: Want more? Listen to 'The Evolving Role of Procurement' recorded at our latest LinkedIn Audio show featuring 50+ procurement guests and 7 expert speakers.