Win Without Pitching’s mission is to change the way creative services are bought and sold the world over. Our focus has been on the sell side of the equation, teaching creative firms how to get better at selling their expertise without giving it away for free in the process. For 20 years we have worked to dismantle decades of bad practices and replace them with a saner, more logical and empowering approach for creative firms around the world—and for other sellers of expertise who have also found relevance in the WWP principles and frameworks.
Last year I started to think more about the other side of the equation: is it possible to change the way clients buy creative services? Some of this happens of course when agencies begin to sell differently, but is there a faster way to move clients away from ridiculous pitches and ill-constructed RFPs? Can this be done en masse?
Most advertising and design trade associations around the world have published white papers on this topic, laying out for clients a codified process for better procurement practices. The sum impact of all these papers is close to zero, and for that I’m grateful because most of them are misguided. I applaud the authors for trying but the problem is largely ours—on the agency side—and clients aren’t interested in listening to the pleas from agency trade associations on how to save agencies from themselves. Besides, in pursuit of what the authors see as “fairness” most of these papers call for further codifying the bad practices that Win Without Pitching has been trying to dismantle.
It’s not for us to tell clients how to buy our services. We can continue to drive a better process through the WWP principles and frameworks, but we can also shine a light on some of the bad practices on the client side, of which there are many. The mechanism for this illumination is not white papers, lectures or books. It’s conversations. And I’m starting to think that it might just work, that we might be on the cusp of a change in how clients buy creative services. The reason for my optimism is a podcast.
Six Months of Conversations, and Counting
In 2022 Leah Power and I launched 20% – The Marketing Procurement Podcast with the goal of solving the marketing procurement problem, which is effectively the question How do you procure creativity without killing it? (The marketing procurement problem is itself a function of the Innoficiency Problem, if you haven’t already gone down that rabbit hole, here you go.)
In six months we’ve interviewed CEOs and consultants from agencies; we’ve talked to procurement and marketing professionals from some of the world’s largest companies, and we’ve even found a few people who have played all three roles. Between them, a consensus seems to be coming together on a few issues:
- Procurement needs to shift their focus from cost-cutting to value creation
- About 10% of procurement professionals and departments already operate with this mindset, and the profession knows they need to keep moving in this direction if they want to maintain relevance
- Agencies need to get better at understanding procurement’s role
- Marketing—the party in the middle—needs to stay involved in the conversations between procurement and the agency to ensure that their priorities are not negotiated away
- Agencies need to continue to improve their commercial acumen and negotiating skills, starting with getting better at saying no
- These three parties don’t talk to each other nearly enough
This last point is the big takeaway for me. We in the agency world have our conferences, where sometimes clients participate. And procurement has theirs. But these three parties are almost never in the same conversation. And while so far Leah and I have only interviewed one person at a time, we’re striving to create something for all three parties. It’s only six months and 13 episodes but I am struck by my own optimism at what might be possible here. Every guest has surprised me in some way, leaving me more hopeful that we can better understand each other and continue to erode away the bad practices on all sides, like Kuerig Dr Pepper’s 360-day terms for their PR firm. (We’re trying to get someone from KDP on the show but no luck so far. )
A Catalyst for Better Conversations with Clients
If you are a 20% listener, consider sharing the podcast with your clients and their procurement teams and use it as a catalyst for better conversations. Whether you’re getting beat down by procurement to the point that your marketing or product client cannot possibly get from you what they hired you for, or you’ve just received the world’s worst RFP, a shared 20% episode might just be the thing that gets everyone to the table and talking sense again.
Finally, we’re always on the lookout for enlightened procurement people and we’re keen to shine a light on the worst procurement practices. If you have examples of either, please send them my way.