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Small Agencies and the Public Sector. It's not as hard as you'd think.

13/07/12 Agency
by Gemma Germains

This is part two of what will now be a series about small creative agencies tendering for public sector design work. We didn't necessarily set off to create a series, but hopefully as we progress through this tendering exercise, our experience can be useful to other small agencies put off by the apparent bureaucracy of public sector contracts.

To recap, we'd spent a fair bit of time and money back in 2008 trying to complete a couple of PQQs ourselves. We attended conferences and joined webinars without really getting to the crux of the PQQ problem which is thus:

Procurement is an industry in itself and Procurement Officers are buying goods and services for their entire borough. That's loo rolls for their schools, contractors for their leisure centres and graphic designers for their brochures. Instead of approaching these PQQs as designers, we should have been thinking like a Procurement Officer.

Earlier this year, when we made the decision to look again at PQQs, we knew we needed help this time in the form of one-to-one, tailored support.

Working with Earle was a real jump into the unknown, especially as we couldn't apply the usual checks we implement when commissioning a new freelancer.* Ironically, this step into uncertain territory has made me far more sympathetic to the steps Procurement Officers take to ensure they haven't backed a £4 million donkey.

*As an aside, on the rare occasion that we do commission a new freelancer, it's because they've been recommended by a friend, have worked with someone we really like and/ or have been floating about in our circle of creative cohorts for a long time. Appointing new talent is an imprecise science, made deliberately long to ensure the best return for our (sometimes) limited budgets.

I wish I could tell you that we chose Earle Consulting because of their stellar reputation and flawless marketing campaign, but it came down to a very snap judgement based on the fact that I live in a lovely suburb and deduced that anyone with offices over that end would also be lovely.

(Daniel Kahneman would probably shoot me for that statement).

With the benefit of hindsight, I can say that location is a key deciding factor in choosing a procurement consultant. Kevin and Andrew both spent an entire day at the studio, something which may have been problematic were they based in another part of the country. There was also a financial implication of their location, being that their prices were lower than consultants from areas further down South (whom I canvassed for quotes when researching this blog post.)

Before they moved into the office for the day, we'd already spent a huge amount of time dividing responsibility for, and answering specific questions. We had to be confident that we could honestly answer every stipulation on the form before turning those answers over to Earle for translation.

The notion of translation is an interesting one, as that's essentially what Earle did for us. They took Mercy and translated it into a language that could be easily read and scored by the Procurement Officers. It's not often that we on the creative side get the opportunity to grill someone on the buying side about our businesses, how our brands are truly perceived, and about how clearly we're communicating our talents. Now imagine having that information fed back to you in a buyer's language. It's not far off a corporate religious experience.

In finishing, I'd say don't underestimate the value of your creative brain when compiling a PQQ. As a small agency, we've all designed and developed our own ways of working that may seem on the surface unorthodox but are in fact highly productive and beneficial. Our Young Pines project for example, is an opportunity for us to work with exciting young talent, to a Procurement Officer it's a way of encouraging the development of a work force from our local community.

The next time I blog about this, we will have written, and potentially delivered our first public sector tender. I wonder if our enthusiasm will hold?