In My Opinion: Murray Calder: Why public sector procurement reform can’t come soon enough for Scottish marketing services

Murray Calder

I’VE lived and worked in Scotland all my life. I feel both privileged and proud to have done so, firstly as a client marketer in the whisky industry and now on the ‘other side of the fence’ in a marketing services agency.

Having seen how marketing services are sourced from both sides, I was pleased to see the Scottish Government propose to establish a national legislative framework for “sustainable public procurement to support economic growth”.

The government aims to do this by “delivering community benefits, supporting innovation, considering environmental requirements and promoting public procurement processes and systems which are transparent, streamlined, standardised, proportionate, fair and business-friendly”.

Since becoming Scottish chair of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising last year, I’ve been speaking with leading figures in the Scottish marketing services community to understand how best to support the industry.

It is clear that our industry both applauds the intent of the public sector to create equal opportunities to tender for taxpayer-funded projects and supports the objective of providing best value for money.

However, I’m sorry to say that, at present, public sector procurement processes are perceived by the industry to waste time, effort and money.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that current processes are providing poor value for the public purse, are driving innovation and creativity out of the market and have a net negative effect on the economic contribution of the marketing services sector in Scotland.

This should be of serious concern to any government looking to promote an economic growth agenda.

The tendering process for the Marketing Services Framework is a massive drain on client, procurement and supplier time.

Marketers are spending more time marking than marketing. Suppliers are spending more time filling in tender applications than working on solutions to marketing problems. And procurement are spending more time measuring cost than finding the best value and most effective solution to their clients’ problems.

The cost and process-based questions asked in the tender provide clients with little differentiating information with which to assess how effective agencies might be in addressing the very serious tasks, life-saving in some instances, to which the tender is supposed to help find solutions.

In some cases, tenders are being completed by freelance writers hired by agencies for their expertise in writing tender submissions.

At no point during the process is there any opportunity for client marketers to meet with the agencies who are tendering. How then are they to know whether these are the right team for the task at hand, whether they are a good fit with the client team and their ways of working, whether they genuinely want to work on the project?

Between 2000 and 2005, 12 Scottish public sector campaigns won at the IPA Effectiveness Awards.

Between 2006 and 2012 there have been only two winners (in 2007) and there have been no Scottish public sector submissions at all since 2008.

Scottish agencies were once proud of the work they did for Scottish public sector clients and won awards for its effectiveness.

How many can say the same today? For a Scot, working in Scotland, there should be no more attractive marketing brief than helping Scotland be the best it can be.

That some of Scotland’s leading agencies now choose not to tender for public sector work or having arguably jeopardised their business by chasing it (because of the complex, disproportionate and opaque tender process) should speak volumes.

I hope for the sake of the industry that the Scottish Government will engage with us before they impose another business stifling procurement process.

Murray Calder is a director at media buying agency, MediaCom Edinburgh. He is also Scottish chair of the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising.

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