6 Ways to Take Your Marketing Procurement Process to The Next Level

By Patti Soldavini

Patti Soldavini

Marketing supply chains have been called a “trillion dollar mess” for the past few years. Some experts have claimed that just 20% of marketing supply chains are fully optimized and that the portion of marketing budgets that leading companies spend on marketing supply chain operations is around 35%. 

With marketing budgets always challenged on how much activities are directly contributing to growth, few companies can afford to accommodate waste in their marketing ecosystem. 

Marketing Supply Chain Optimization in its Infancy

While the procurement process for manufacturing identical tangible goods is very mature, the procurement process for intangible or less tangible marketing supply chain services remains in its infancy. 

It is also inherently more complex, especially since it includes creative activities which are by their nature, more difficult to measure objectively. Just like you wouldn’t take a process established in the United States and “ship it” over to Asia and expect it to perform just as well without modifications, it’s not effective to just apply a manufacturing procurement process lens to marketing without making some significant changes.

A Disparate Approach Leaves Money on the Table

By taking a fresh look at the marketing procurement process throughout the lifecycle of your marketing partnerships, you’ll find many opportunities to extract greater value on both a short- and long-term basis – value that can be recaptured and either applied to new strategic growth initiatives, new talent requirements or applied directly to the bottom line. 

By simply taking a holistic look at marketing supply chain services and vendors across your enterprise, you will find redundancies that are draining a significant amount of time and money from the company’s coffers, while compromising the equity of your company’s brands and marketing’s ability to respond to marketplace events with agility.  

Resilient Marketing Ecosystems Multiply The Value of Spend

By rethinking how you approach marketing supply chain procurement now, you can leverage the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to drive change throughout your organization in a way that directly benefits your company, your customers, and your brands – in a manner that can have a lasting impact. 

A high performing and resilient marketing ecosystem confers significant benefits every time your company launches a new product, enters a new market, creates a new brand or copes with a crisis like a global pandemic. Simplify now to start amplifying your brand.

Here are six ways you can take your marketing procurement process to the next level:

1. Take a Hard Look at Your RFPs

We routinely see evidence that RFPs for marketing services and solutions have not kept pace with the rapid changes in marketing that technology has created. The questions are all fundamentally similar in the conventional and narrow lens that’s been applied. Even for print-based/packaging services. 

There are questions that should be asked, that we don’t see because the RFPs are often created by people who simply don’t know to ask them. Could we save these questions for the group Q&A or the pitch? Sure, but in the former case, it’s too late to influence a change in the RFP and competing vendors may not want to reveal their proposal strategy and in the latter case, a qualified agency might not make it to the pitch phase. Or, in the latter case, you end up having to compare apples to oranges to bananas and strawberries, making the evaluation process more complex. 

Go beyond assessing core competency. Take a more disciplined approach to assessing the agency’s ability to pivot quickly, their insights on where marketing is headed, what new technologies are on the horizon, what new channels are emerging, which are fading, etc. 

2. Re-think Your Sourcing Strategy

Switching from a single supplier strategy to a multiple supplier strategy as a knee-jerk reaction to COVID-19 is always a possibility. But that comes with risks as well. While it depends on many variables that are different for each company, with multiple marketing partners comes the conventional illusion of lesser risk – largely in the realm of capacity and geographic proximity. 

But, with multiple partners, complexity multiplies – in everything from communications during rapidly escalating events and growing uncertainty to potentially managing thousands upon thousands of change orders to critical marketing assets. This increases the likelihood of error by every participant in the ecosystem experiencing the disruption. 

And in the case of geographic proximity, it’s far less an issue when it comes to digital marketing activities that don’t require a physical location to be completed. Is the fundamental question about the number of partners the right question to be asking? Or is it more about the ability of your partners to pivot rapidly and effectively under any disruptive circumstances and implement business continuity planning successfully? 

During the early stages of COVID19, SGK was able to implement its business continuity plan and transition more than 6,000 employees to a remote workforce in just eight days to continuously serve its clients effectively. 

Do you have the right marketing partners? 

3. Evaluate the Fitness of Your Marketing Partnerships

We advise our clients to regularly evaluate our fitness as opposed to doing it annually or doing it just to validate compliance with our contract. Many of the KPIs that our clients want to track are typically available to be tracked and accessed through HubX, our service delivery platform that automates routine tasks and drives greater operational efficiency from project brief through asset release. 

We can also create a collaborative digital network to connect all your marketing partners and systems without disrupting your existing technology infrastructure. With all that’s at stake, you should make it a practice to evaluate your marketing partnerships formally and informally throughout the lifecycle of your relationship with them. 

Go beyond the fundamental competency KPIs. That should be the “basement” performance criteria and not the “ceiling.” How robust is their own supply chain? What is their business continuity plan? How and when do they re-visit it; what are the triggers? How do they recruit and retain talent? How quickly could they pivot to a remote workforce? How do they capture, share and retain tribal knowledge? 

4. Think Beyond Commodity Partnerships

There is really no such thing as a commodity partnership today. Every partnership is fundamentally a strategic partnership because a) we live in a world that grows increasingly more complex and competitive every day, b) you expect strategic thinking out of the partners you view as providing a commodity and c) you are looking to extract the greatest value out of the partnership. 

Commodity vendors stamp out identical widgets at the lowest cost. They don’t offer strategic thinking about your business and they innovate largely to improve their own efficiency. There are many marketing partners today who offer manufacturing-like services – including premedia and printing – that are largely perceived as commodities because the process by which they deliver their goods is replicable. But – that’s a vast oversimplification. 

Every file they deliver, every job they print is absolutely unique – it is not an identical widget. It requires the specialized knowledge and expertise of many professionals throughout the process to meet very unique requirements for brands that are often worth billions of dollars. 

The most valuable marketing partners are actively coming to you with new ideas on how to improve the performance of your marketing ecosystem to grow your business. If you are looking at certain partnerships as commodities today, just “cranking out widgets on the assembly line,” then you are potentially undermining the performance potential of your own marketing supply chain. Some of your partners may be living down to your expectations. 

Take the time to establish measurable criteria that enables you to evaluate the strategic performance of all your marketing partners as well as contractual compliance.

5. Onboard New Marketing Partners as You Would New Employees

After all, new partners are essentially people – many thousands across all your partners when you think about it -- performing roles alongside your own employees to enable marketing to be as productive, efficient and creative as it can possibly be. 

Think beyond the signing of the contract. Procurement can help ensure that the onboarding of new partners sets the stage for a successful implementation. Work with your Marketing leaders to establish or re-visit the standards for a successful implementation. The more time Marketing invests upfront with the process of briefing the new partner and “acclimating” them to the company’s culture, the business and marketing challenges, and everything from brand standards to internal dynamics the more successful the partnership will be. 

The more you show your marketing partners that you trust them, the more confidence and motivation it instills in them to outperform your expectations – and the faster they will ramp up, accelerating both the process and the achievement of your desired outcomes. Right now, this is often handled by Marketing and not Procurement and handled very differently by each Marketing leader. While Marketing should own how new Marketing partners are onboarded, Procurement can bring considerable value to the process in an advisory role.

6. Be Gracious and Buttoned Up When Offboarding Partners

It is inevitable that most partnerships end at some point in time. In the end, its pays to remember that the partnership started out as all do, with great expectations and with individuals that created professional relationships, some of which will outlast the official partnership. 

It pays to be a gracious soon-to-be “ex,” as you could end up re-engaging this partner in the future under new and different circumstances. Also, there’s still a transition period to get through. Effective transitions feel seamless and respectful and keep the business moving forward. Ineffective transitions are disruptive, feel painful and can cost a brand market share. 

Go beyond the standard contract review to make sure you and your marketing partner are clear on compliance. If your contract doesn’t already specify how a transition will be handled, consider creating a formal document that specifies the transition agreement between all three parties – your company, the soon-to-be-offboarded vendor and the new vendor. 

The transition can represent a significant risk to your business – simply informing competing vendors -- outgoing and incoming -- to cooperate and behave professionally and leaving it at that, only adds risk to the transition. Assuming equal integrity and professionalism on the part of both partners simply leaves too much open to different interpretations of roles and expectations by each partner.

The COVID-19 global pandemic is an event that can serve as a trigger to take a really fresh look at your marketing supply chain procurement process and take it to the next level. In an era of unprecedented technological change and innovation, and seismic global events like COVID-19, disruption creates constant change and the need for constant pivotability to respond to change better and faster than your competitors.

About Patti Soldavini

Patti Soldavini is a futurist who has pushed the boundaries of marketing and creativity to connect brands with consumers, using leading edge technology to drive results. For the past 25 years on both the agency and client sides of the business across the entertainment, retail and pharmaceutical industries, she has served in marketing leadership positions for the New York Cable Marketing Co-op and IQVIA (formerly IMS Health) and in creative leadership positions for Home Shopping Network and Anthem Worldwide prior to joining SGK. She is passionate about the intersection of creativity, technology and psychology.