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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Port to Starboard

Is a switch from procurement to advertising agency a marriage likely to fail or a match made in heaven? 

It's happened before, Union to League, footballers too; we switch banks, phone companies and of course jobs. Having now been a procurement manager for over 10 years, buying marketing services for the majority of this time, I now find myself agency side.

So why have I done this? What am I thinking? Some friends and colleagues have thought it's a bold move, but I'm not so sure. The role of procurement manager nowadays often includes a remit to improve efficiency, benchmark supplier performance, develop meaningful measurements and RoI scorecards – and be a champion for innovation. It just so happens that these are the very things that agencies now need to navigate. Now I can directly lead such activities from the agency side and ultimately start to change the conversations from savings to value, which currently sits high on everyone's agenda.

Ten years ago the phenomena in pitching was that there was 'an extra person in the room', meaning procurement, and “who are they and what do they know about what we do”? This unknown entity has 'invaded our turf, our pitch', if you like.  In my opinion I feel that procurement's contribution in this space has provided fantastic value to the clients' business, having delivered objectivity, transparency, competition and a focus on improving agency processes and efficiency.

As an agency, I would like us to approach pitching differently. We can't ignore that the current model is likely to be in place for some time to come but we will need to be more communicative throughout the process, challenge thinking and identify what is of real value to the client before proposing potential creative solutions in response to a brief.

And so… on to differentiation. On the client side, I was confident that any one of a dozen agencies could do a great job. But what made them different was less clear. 'Innovation' is a word frequently bandied around, but rarely substantiated. In my mind, from this side of the fence, it starts with a conscious repositioning of the consumer at the centre of everything we do.

So I'll be working on many similar aspects to my previous occupation, helping to navigate and align the conversations between agency and client so there's no time lost ensuring we can talk the same language. This is why I'm excited about joining the agency, where I can embed these skills from the outset so that we start off life as a business that from an internal perspective is efficient, has sound processes, and uses data to measure the outcomes and the value of ideas. Thus we're able to support delivery of the creative product in a lean, efficient and transparent way while allowing the freedom of our creative teams to work on doing what they do best. 

So far, it's been a fast and sometimes furious blast. It's a very different environment from my previous roles. Yet one that seems much closer to everything. Winning a pitch and being rewarded with business is such a joyous event. And even though only early weeks into the role, I feel privileged to have experienced this already.

That's not to say it's easy, there is already so much to do to carve a clear path for commercial leadership within the agency. I'm also certain I'm not a one off. I'm sure we'll see many more procurement managers start to join agencies over the coming year.

Post script. Now two pitches won, that's an awesome feeling…

Article by
Paul Morrissey

commercial director at Frontera Group and can be reached at

12th April 2012


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