Agencies and marketing procurement departments are often painted as being at loggerheads. It’s a picture in which one side is presented as irresponsible overspenders, while the other is seen as excessively frugal fun-sponges. Clearly that’s an over-simplification.

In my experience, neither agency professional nor procurement professionals bear any semblance to the stereotypes I’ve just described. Many procurement professionals are eager to look for more meaningful and productive agency relationships. And it’s plain enough as to why: both parties profit by working together more harmoniously.

So how do you crack this relationship? Check out my five top tips for working with procurement below:

  1. Adopt an agile approach that’s suited to today’s consumers
First off, smart brands recognise that old style procurement is outdated. It’s all part of keeping up with the new, always-on consumer, which calls for agility on the side of both brands and agencies.

One of the reasons brands hire agencies is to bring their marketing activities in line with the times, at the speed, scale and creativity that their customer demands of them. But it’s a two-way street: for marketers to get the best of everything – insight, creativity and commitment – from their agency partners, they must treat them respectfully, as much commercially as with anything else. Scalability and flexibility are the order of the day as much for the agency team as for the brand’s commercial team.

  1. Create an alternative to a commodity-based negotiation
It’s important to remember that marketing services aren’t a commodity sale. It’s necessary to take a different approach to negotiation before you start working together. Plus, you’ll be with each other for the long-run, so communication between decision-making teams is key. It’s essential to fully appreciate approach, talent and chemistry.

Rather than a spreadsheet exercise, the procurement team should give the agency the opportunity to explain what makes it different and how it can add value to a business. Make sure you allow for alternative pricing models and provide space in the RFP for this to be explained.

  1. Work through past experiences to deliver better understanding
But all this useless if you don’t actually understand the business. For an agency to really get to the heart of its client, it needs to know about its past experience in terms of agency relationships and models.

The briefing should outline why any agency review is happening and what the company is looking for, including what it feels it’s lacking from its current partners. Be prepared to talk openly about what has worked and what hasn't, as well as providing any insight on why. And clearly define the metrics through which you intend to measure agency success.

  1. Why creative tests don’t matter yet
When it comes to assessing creativity, avoid creative tests until at the final stages of the process. Creative input need only come into the equation once both parties have carried out the crucial preliminary work that will be the basis of an ongoing relationship.

Soliciting 'free' creative ideas from a range of agencies demeans the whole process and is no basis for productive cooperation. At this stage, set up a chemistry meeting with brand stakeholders and share scoring metrics and weighting.

  1. Test performance under pressure
Alternative creative tests are another great way to see how the agency performs under pressure. For instance, agencies could be given a face-to-face briefing, with an hour to create campaign ideas and present back. It’s a fairly simple way to replicate the environment you’ll be working in further down the line. Better to know right away than get a nasty surprise later.

Ultimately, finding an agency that can work to today’s business demands requires a fresh approach from procurement departments. Working collaboratively from the start is the key here. It sets a precedent that will hopefully continue throughout your relationship. This way both sides understand each other and can foster an alliance that is more likely to bear fruit for the long term.

By Robert Green, managing partner, OLIVER Group global