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Using procurement to find a PR agency with Leah Power

By On Top of PR

On Top of PR podcast: Procurement in PR with guest Leah Power and show host Jason Mudd episode graphic

In this episode, Leah Power joins host Jason Mudd to discuss best practices for using procurement with a PR, marketing, or communications agency. Together, they discuss the difficulties with in-house agencies, why brands hire outside agencies, and when to use procurement when using an outside agency.


Tune in to learn more!



Watch the episode here


5 things you’ll learn during the full episode:

  1. The reason brands and clients hire an agency
  2. The difficulties that come with having an in-house agency
  3. When to involve procurement when hiring an agency
  4. When to not involve procurement when hiring an agency
  5. Non negotiables you should have when going to procurement during the agency hiring process


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Disclosure: One or more of the links we shared here might be affiliate links that offer us a referral reward when you buy from them.



[01:48] The reason brands and clients hire an agency

Leah: “The client needs an expert and that’s why they go to any agency.”

  • Brands and clients need agencies' help, and it's up to the agencies to create an environment that will spur the brands to thrive, be innovative, and be creative.

[02:36] Difficulties of having an in-house agency

Jason: “It’s really hard to recruit, develop, and retain that expert in an in-house environment.”

  • It can be done, but it costs lots of money and time for the brand.
  • Outside agencies tend to bring in better problem-solving ideas.
  • In-house agencies struggle to reach the depth and breadth that outside agencies can.
  • Transformed professionals have told brands, “You cannot do this yourself.” You have to know what you bring to the marketplace and then stay out of other people’s business.

Leah: “Know when to make it and know when to buy it.”


[04:45] When to involve procurement when hiring an outside agency

  • Right from the beginning

Leah: “It’s important for clients to connect with their procurement department to understand what their role is, to understand what they bring to the table. They’re there to mitigate risks. It’s a really important role.”

  • Procurement department makes sure the brand's policies and procedures are intact throughout the relationship with the outside agency.
  • It’s also important for the outside agency to tell the procurement department what their role is.

Jason: “Procurement works for the department that is seeking out the relationship as opposed to that department having to work under and for procurement.”


[06:34] When is it a bad time to involve procurement

  • At the end of the relationship

Leah: “I like to talk about the relationship between the client, procurement professional, and the agency as a three-legged stool. And you know what happens when you don’t involve one of the legs on the stool; it falls over.”

  • Use procurement continually to help you manage the relationship with the outside agency and create a partnership.
  • Most companies won’t hire or will only hire a few advertising or PR agencies throughout their time, meaning they aren’t building the expertise needed to manage a relationship with an outside agency. This is where the procurement department comes in. They’re a full department with expert knowledge on managing this relationship.

[12:22] Non-negotiables the communications departments have during the procurement process, and what they should expect the agencies to have

  • Clients and agencies should stand up for high-quality work for a specific scope, because forces in procurement might detract from quality.

About Leah Power 

Leah has been working with agency leaders and their executive teams for over 25 years, first agency-side at media and creative agencies in Canada and the U.S., and now at the Institute of Canadian Agencies, the not-for-profit trade association agencies across Canada.


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[Narrator] Welcome to On Top of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer. 


- Hello and welcome to On Top of PR. I'm your host, Jason Mudd with Axia Public Relations, and we are glad you're here and tuning in to On Top of PR. I want to introduce our new episode –  we have with us today, Leah Power. Leah has been working with agency leaders and their executive teams for more than 25 years at media and creative agencies in Canada and the United States. Now she's at the Institute of Canadian Agencies, the not-for-profit trade association for agencies across Canada. Leah, welcome to On Top of PR. 


- It's great to be here. Thank you. 


- We're really glad to have you. 


- And I'm glad to be here as well. 


- For today, we're going to talk a little bit about procurement and how to connect with an agency. And I'm really excited about that. For full disclosure, as we met, I was listening to you on a podcast and you were talking basically about best practices for using procurement to get a get better PR agencies. And so with our audience being corporations looking to hire a PR agency, I thought it'd be really helpful to bring your insights and smarts and experience to the table for them. So I've set the bar really high for you. I hope you're ready. 


- Yeah, you have. And I don't know if they're all my insights, but there's so many great insights out there and I just hoover them up and try to get them out to clients, procurement and agencies. That's my job. 


- Perfect. So the first thing we want to talk about is the reason brands and clients are hiring an agency. 


- Well, that's where you start, right? The client needs an expert, and that's why they go to an agency. And, you know, a lot of what I talk about with clients is then don't kind of be false to that. You are, you know, that's what you need. You know, you need an expert service provider. You know, you need someone to help you solve your business challenges. You can't do it yourself. You've identified that. So it's up to you to create an environment that that agency can thrive in, to be the most innovative and most creative that they can be. 


- That's great. I love that. 


- And when I'm thinking about hiring an agency or working with an agency, you know, sometimes companies are thinking, well, we could just staff that role in house. 


- But you mentioned something earlier, and I think it's really important. It's really hard to recruit and develop and retain that expert in an in-house environment. 


- It sure is. And I think in any capacity, any corporation is going to see that it can be very difficult to maintain that level of expertise within their own ranks. I'm not saying it can't be done. If you want to put the cash and the investment and the time and the resources behind that. But when we're talking about agency and the just the the depth and breadth that they bring to solving problems, I don't know how any in-house really gets to the meat of the type of branding or brand understanding and consumer understanding that an agency can bring to the table. I think it's great that that some clients are going to try to do that, but that's not really their expertise. And what's really great is in my it's six years I've really been studying procurement, connecting with procurement and sourcing professionals and where there are a lot of really tenured transformed is the word that we like to use, transformed sourcing professionals that are like, you can not do this yourself. You have to, as a corporation, know what it is that you bring to the marketplace and stay out of other people's business. Know when to hire it, know when to make it, and know when to buy it. 


- Oh, I like that. I like that. Allegedly, Bill Gates said, “Do what you do best and outsource the rest.” And so that might be a similar kind of cliché or quote. So, Leah, tell us, when is the right time to involve procurement in hiring an outside agency?


- This is, I think, crucial. I think it's really important to involve them right from the beginning. Of course, I do have some caveats to that. It's important for clients to connect with their procurement department, to understand what their role is, to understand what they bring to the table. They're there to mitigate risks. It's a really important role. They're there to ensure that certain policies and procedures that the corporation has are, you know, are intact throughout the relationship, not only during the search process, onboarding, contracting and then throughout the relationship to the end of it if that end ever comes. But I would say in the same vein, it's important for the client to also make sure that procurement so this the marketer, the advertiser that communicates and the department that they are telling procurement also what their role is in making sure that it's understood why they're hiring an agency, what work it is that they need to do, why it's important for this expert to be their partner and what challenges and problems that partner is going to be solving. 


- Yeah, that's good. So, you know, you're you're making me think about the concept that procurement works for the department who is seeking out the relationship as opposed to that department having to work under and for procurement in some way. So at our next question that we want to talk about is when is when is it a bad time to involve procurement?


- Well, at the end of the relationship, if you are not working seamlessly hand in hand – and I like to talk about the relationship between the client, the procurement professional and the agency as a three-legged stool. And you know what happens when you don't involve one of those legs on a stool? It falls over. So it's a pretty good analogy that they're all equally important and they all have a role to play. They all bring something to the table. So I would say if the last time the agency and the client have connected with procurement was at contract negotiation. And then the next time you're bringing them in is when you want to fire the agency. That's just bad because procurement has a really special set of skills. And one of those skills that you can tap into is helping you to manage the relationship. So that it's a solid foundation and it's a partner relationship because partner is how you get to great work that works. And my cynicism is saying, can there really be a partnership that procurement sets the table for and manages versus it being very vendor and transaction like? Well, and that's where we come to the term of transformed again, right? That's why I love that term, because procurement, you know, it's not their fault. Procurement kind of came into being for commodities and they had a very specific set of things that they were procuring. Right. Pencils, paper, gas, fittings, beef. These were commodities. There were mandatory evaluations that vendors were going into. And it was very, you know, either you ticked the box or you didn't. 


- Mandatory. Right?


- Mandatory criteria when you start having to evaluate. And that's your mindset when you then have to start evaluating expert service providers. You can't evaluate an expert service provider based on mandatory criteria because there isn't any. It's how long is a piece of string. So when when you're the client and you're trying to determine, I guess, what kind of procurement professional do I have in my organization, is it a transformed procurement professional that's really done the work to understand what it is that I need? You're my partner. To your point, we work together. We're on the same team, right? Client procurement. We're on the same team. We're all we're trying to get growth. That's our goal. We have different ways of getting it and we have different, you know, areas that we're responsible for. But that's what we both want. 


- Yeah, I totally agree. It's all about the collaborative process. It's all about helping the company, the brand, get to the end result that they desire. And, you know, somebody told me many years ago that, you know, typically most people will never hire a PR agency or an advertising agency in their career. And the people who do it, most of the people who do it will only do it one, two or three times. So there's really no way for them to develop true expertise at this process. Meanwhile, at some organizations, they've got a whole procurement department who should have an expertise in that type of process. And as long as you're not, you know as long as they're experienced buying things beyond commodities, like you said, staples, pencils and office supplies, then they should be, you know, a good partner to you if they have that experience. 


- Well, and I think I think that's a really good point, Jason, and that's why the client needs to look at the relationship with procurement regardless of whether they have any indirect sourcing experience or not as a partner. And also, right, I'm going to help you. I'm going to guide you like we have to work together or I'm not going to get what I need in order to do my job. I'm not going to get what I need in order to affect the growth for the company that I need to affect. So it's not impossible. There's a lot of resources out there, but I think that it starts with the client advocating for themselves and then advocating for their client. And I think about it in a in a lot of the same ways that they think about recruitment. Think about yourself as a hiring manager. You're going to hire someone. You're advocating for people throughout the recruitment process. Depending on what they have to go through, how large your company is, and the process of recruitment and going through the people department or the HR department, as it were, you have to work with this person, right? You want them to have a really positive experience with your company because you have to work with them. And so, you know, as a hiring manager, you might take that position. We're going to advocate, make sure that that's a great process for the people that you are interviewing. And a client needs to think about it in those same terms for their agency. 


- All right. So, Leah this has been very helpful and I appreciate the contributions here. What are some non-negotiables that the marketing communications department should have for procurement and that marketing communications departments should expect that the agencies will have?


- It's a great question, and I think I don't think people think enough about that. And that really starts with them standing up for what it is that they need and clients. You need good work, you need quality of work, you need the scope that you need, and you're going to need to advocate those things because there are going to be forces within procurement that are going to try to pick away at that. And so you have to stand up for that. This is the quality that I'm looking for and this is the scope that I want. And in the same vein, the agencies need to stand up for that scope of work as well and say, you know, the price that you want to pay, you know, we can do it for that, but it's not going to be the scope. It might be a lesser scope. And of course, the level of expertise that's provided.


- And those two things go hand in hand. So you can see how the client and the agency need to work together. We don't want the client just leaving the agency to fend for themselves with procurement. They all should be together and talking. I've been in that environment where you get turned over to procurement and procurement starts introducing terms that you already pre-negotiated and they're like, Sorry, it's company policy. And so we had to respond, Hey, we'll accept two of these three, but not all three. You guys pick, you know, and then a month later, you know, we hear back and they're like, well, we're still trying to figure it out. And it was communication breakdown between procurement and ultimately, as I recall, we walked away from the opportunity because it was just we couldn't get out of procurement, we couldn't get the work started, just didn't seem like it was a good fit because of that. It's a clue, isn't it, to what the relationship might be like. And so that's what I want agent clients to think about as well, that there are clues that that your corporation is giving to the agency along the way. And along the way. We were seeing a lot of turnover from the organization on the client side. And so that was an additional clue. 


- Leah so you're exactly right. I mentioned earlier we met because you've got a podcast that you do with my friend Blair Enns. Tell us a little bit about that.


- So yeah. Blair and I wanted to do a podcast that again addressed that three-legged stool. That was a place where clients, procurement, and agencies could all come and just hear those three groups talk about their journeys, hopefully from procurement aspect, their journey into becoming transformed procurement professionals that are able to effectively source expert services like creative and agencies and PR agencies. So that's what we wanted to deliver. And I think we just dropped our 10th episode and it's been a lot of fun and it's been really interesting listening to all of these different perspectives, and the theme is pretty much the same, in my opinion, through. I don't know, you've listened to a couple of them, but it is that we're humans, and that's the difference. Again, if we can put kind of just a stamp on what it is, that is the challenge. You are buying humans. You are buying human work, you're buying creativity, you're buying innovation. And and that's why I liken it to the recruitment process. It's not like pencils, it's human. And so we need to...


- Yeah, people not pencils.


 - And we need to be human.


 - Yeah, that should be the name of your podcast: “People, Not Pencils.” So anyway, Leah, it's been great having you. If our audience is interested in connecting with you on LinkedIn and otherwise, what's, your preferred way for them to connect with you? 


- I love LinkedIn, so please connect with me on LinkedIn.


- Yeah, we'll be sure to put your LinkedIn profile link in the episode notes as well as a link to your organization. And in addition to that, Leah, how what's the preferred way that they connect with your podcast?


- So it's really easy. You just go to 20 percent, 2-0-percent dot com, and that's where all of our episodes are.


- And I trust percent is spelled out. 


- Percent is spelled out.


- Yeah. I don't think it would work.


- Yeah. 


- Yeah. You can’t get a domain with the percent sign in it. So I'll just save people the headache from that. So yeah.


- Thank you. 


- All right, Leah, thank you very much for tuning in or for joining us today. And I want to thank our audience for tuning in as well so that we can help them stay on top of PR. And if you enjoyed Leah's expertise and insight she shared today, I'd encourage you to connect with her on LinkedIn and check out her podcast. And as always, if you have a friend or colleague who would benefit from listening to this episode, please do themselves a favor and do me a favor and share it with them. We would really appreciate that. With that, this is Jason Mudd signing off with On Top of PR and Axia Public Relations. Be well.


- [Narrator] This has been On Top of PR with Jason Mudd, presented by ReviewMaxer. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode, and check out past shows at ontopofpr.com.

Sponsored by:

  • On Top of PR is produced by Axia Public Relations, named by Forbes as one of America’s Best PR Agencies. Axia is an expert PR firm for national brands.
  • On Top of PR is sponsored by ReviewMaxer, the platform for monitoring, improving, and promoting online customer reviews.


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About your host Jason Mudd

On Top of PR host, Jason Mudd, is a trusted adviser and dynamic strategist for some of America’s most admired brands and fastest-growing companies. Since 1994, he’s worked with American Airlines, Budweiser, Dave & Buster’s, H&R Block, Hilton, HP, Miller Lite, New York Life, Pizza Hut, Southern Comfort, and Verizon. He founded Axia Public Relations in July 2002. Forbes named Axia as one of America’s Best PR Agencies.


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