Sorry, procurement departments, we’re only pretending to appreciate you

In big financial companies, procurement departments are now so important and so all-pervasive that dissing them to their faces would be really stupid.

Behind their backs, though, we’re still 100% unsympathetic towards them.  All of us in creative agencies simply refuse to believe that a procurement-led process is the right way to buy our services and manage business relationships with us.  We find the processes they put us through bizarrely irrelevant and inappropriate.  We find the questions they ask us often either irrelevant, or impossible to answer.  And we find their approach to negotiations on cost almost comical.

Pleasingly, it’s increasingly clear that many of our clients in marketing, branding or comms roles feel much the same.  At lunch today, I was sharing war stories with a former colleague who is now in charge of advertising for a very large FS provider.  His agency’s 2008 fee proposal was recently rejected by procurement , he told me, because even though it showed an acceptable hourly rate for the copywriter and art director, and an aceptable allocation of time to the account, and an acceptable all-up cost for their services, it didn’t specify their names.  Procurement couldn’t sign the proposal off without names.

My friend did what any sensible person would do in the circumstances, which was to make some names up.  Problem solved. 

Ha ha ha, we laughed.  But thinking about it afterwards, the story reminded me of a very ancient folk tale – about how things used to be in the print room at Times Newspapers, long before Rupert Murdoch and back in the dark old days when The Times was still printed in Fleet Street. 

The management were completely out of control, we were told.  Things we so bad that salaries were being paid to non-existent workers with ludicrous false names – M. Mouse, D. Duck, B. Bunny.  The real workers were splitting these bogus pay packets between them and spending the money down the pub.

I’ve no idea whether anything similar is happening, or will ever happen, at my friend’s firm.  But there’s nothing that managers can do which is much more dangerous than forcing their people to tell stupid lies to fit in with their processes.  As Stakhanovite underlings proved in Stalinist Russia, there are few surer ways to erode an organisation from the inside.

Procurement departments, with their stupid unsuitable processes, force us to lie and bend the truth all the time to fit in with them.  Much as we may pretend we’re happy to go along with that, the truth is that we hate it.  And in the long run, the procurement people’s bosses have reason to hate it even more.

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