Adland is fighting back in the procurement siege

"The growing tendency for clients to impose unreasonable terms on agencies is the biggest issue facing the advertising business today," one top agency chief executive told me this week. It is hard to disagree.

Two weeks ago, I wrote how a "race to the bottom" was gathering pace among clients after the Government’s inaugural "reverse e-auction" for media planning and GlaxoSmithKline’s attempt to impose 90-day payment terms on its global media buying.

Last week, we saw another example: Premier Foods’ attempt to get all roster agencies to pay an upfront "investment" fee, amounting to tens of thousands of pounds, just to be on its roster.

Fortunately, the client appears to have backed down. But the war rages on. The battles with private-sector and public-sector clients vary in nature, with the latter played out on a more public stage.

Last week, the IPA Council passed a vote of no confidence about the Government’s approach to buying advertising, sending an angry letter to the Cabinet Office Minister, Francis Maude. Paul Bainsfair, the IPA director-general, pointed out that, if price becomes too big a factor in the Government’s purchase of creative services, this mitigates against great ideas and ultimately represents poor value for the taxpayer.

It was a strong and decisive move by the IPA, reflecting the obvious anger among the agency bosses who comprise the council, and looks likely to bear fruit. The chances are we have seen the last government advertising "e-auction". A team led by the executive director for government communications, Alex Aiken, will now sit down with the IPA and the Advertising Association to discuss the way forward.

I know Aiken well from his days as the director of communications at Westminster City Council. He was one of PR’s most-respected practitioners and, while single-minded, is inherently reasonable. Aiken’s job is to save the Government money in the age of "austerity", but he knows this cannot be at the expense of effective campaigns, so there must be room for negotiation.

Aiken’s job is to save the Government money, but he knows this cannot be at the expense of effective campaigns

The real challenge for advertising bosses is to fight these battles with force, nous and charm. Most marketing and comms professionals privately express sympathy with their creative suppliers. It is their bosses – the finance directors, procurement chiefs, cabinet ministers – who are turning the screws.

The ensuing months will see a subtle blend of negotiating muscle and reasoned persuasion. Campaign champions the pursuit of outstanding creative, effective work, but this must be delivered without exploitation. Only then will it work to all parties’ mutual advantage.


Subscribe today for just $116 a year

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to , plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free