During my media agency years, I worked through many tender processes – largely either overseen by internal procurement departments or by independent pitch consultants. My preference was for the latter as they tended to know the industry landscape better.
The National Association of Broadcasters has reached the point in their tender process of identifying their “preferred supplier” for the Radio Audience and Currency Survey (RACS). As they are now working through the process of contract negotiation and finalisation, it seems timely to reflect on what has been learnt from the process so far.
Intriguingly, amongst the cross section of people to whom I chatted about their experience of the tender, the feedback has been resoundingly positive. Responding to my last column, Jos Kuper, who participated as a technical consultant on the adjudicating panel, said she had been “immensely impressed by the process followed by Yardstick” and hoped that it would prove reassuring to the Advertising Media Forum. This positive sentiment even seems to be shared by the research companies that participated in the pitch. Comments have focused on both the fairness and the rigour of the process.
One aspect of the perceived fairness was that the tender process was an open one – important too, in terms of governance and from a BBBEE standpoint. Some 23 agencies, ranging from two man bands to the large international ‘usual suspects’, attended the initial clarification briefing. While the former were unlikely to have the capacity to handle the business, it was possible for them to participate in joint ventures. After the RFI process, there was a shortlist of six agencies.
Fairness and rigour were also part of the evaluation and scoring process, with a written submission followed later by a live presentation where the participants were required to answer the questions arising from their submissions. Scoring was done after these sessions under strict supervision, forcing the adjudicators to score independently, and ensuring that there could be no lobbying within the panel.
An important aspect of the tender process was the division of the technical and commercial aspects of the tender to ensure that the correct emphasis was placed on arriving at the ‘best in class’ research solution, rather than the most cost efficient. A specialist finance panel evaluated the commercial submissions, which had obviously been prepared within specified budget guidelines.
Of course, the foundation of any successful tendering process is the drawing up of the brief. In this, the RACS tender process was very different from the regular agency tendering process. For agency tenders, the pitch consultant works with a fairly tight team of decision-makers from a single corporation, who are likely to have more or less shared objectives. For the consultant to extract a meaningful brief in those circumstances is relatively easy. In the case of RACS, the client comprised a diverse range of competitive broadcasters.
This meant that the development of the brief was more time consuming than the standard agency tender would have been. Going forward it is clear that in future industry tenders, allocating sufficient time to the work-shopping of the brief and process is fundamental to the success of the process. It requires that the panel participants need to be able to allocate meaningful and focussed time to the tendering process.
Responding to my previous column, Gordon Patterson indicated that he did not think that media owners and marketers had taken Saarf seriously in the past. This tender has made it clear that participants – be they media owners, marketers or media agency personnel – need to have a serious commitment level. They also need to be very clear on their objectives and negotiable parameters before the process starts.
Critical in supporting and guiding the diverse NAB panel in generating an ‘industry first’ brief were independent technical experts. Roger Gane, an independent consultant who had previously carried out the RAMS audit and has a wealth of broadcast research expertise, was imported from the UK. From a local perspective, Kuper brought her years of local experience and wisdom to the table. An independent statistician was also utilised. These experts also took part in the evaluation process. Incorporating independent experts is crucial in the development of our industry currencies and research going forward. The failure to do so under the auspices of Saarf, is certainly a lesson the industry needs to take to heart. Ongoing independent monitoring and evaluation needs to be incorporated into the running of the surveys once they are established.
It strikes me that the funding of such independent expertise by the media agencies and marketers could be a meaningful contribution to the ensuring the neutrality of the currencies and surveys.
In addition to the independent technical expertise, the involvement of strong and qualified media agency and marketing representation is necessary to drive towards neutral and credible solutions. The choice of those representatives is material to the credibility of the process and to ensuring the end-users needs are met.
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