Any organization that produces materials used in marketing is going to have marketers. There is also always some level of executive and financial management. There are some roles that, depending upon the organization, may not be so simply defined.
So Who Does the Procurement in the Marketing Supply Chain?
In many organizations the function of procurement within the marketing supply chain is considered so specialized that it is placed in the hands of the marketing department. The department may either have units for print and media buying or it may place the responsibilities with broader units such as creative or advertising. At the other end of the spectrum, all of the specifications and details for marketing material projects are given to the procurement or purchasing department. They identify vendors, request pricing and award the project. In between is any number of combinations where marketing and procurement work together; often with marketing identifying vendors and procurement handling RFPs, awards and follow through. These last two scenarios are the focus of this exploration.
A Wrench in the Purchasing Machine
Because of the nature of the work, procurement or purchasing departments tend to be very hands-on and process oriented. Requisitions come in, prices are sought and the award is made. It’s a tried and true system for procuring inventoried supplies, raw materials and commodities. Marketing materials are nothing like those items. Supplies, raw materials and commodities are not 100% custom produced. Some, like vehicles and computers, may be custom configured from an available range of options. Few items in those categories are manufactured entirely on specification from the ground up as marketing materials are. Every marketing material project is unique.
At a quick glance, two random four-color tri-fold brochures may appear to be made the same way, aside from their content. Looking at their specs is likely to tell you something different in terms of the combination of materials and processes used. Even quantity can have a drastic impact on how a project needs to be produced for optimum quality and efficiency. Not every printer is capable of producing every combination of material and process at every quantity at the same level of quality. That can throw a monkey wrench into the smooth-running machinery of a purchasing operation.
How – and Where – Do Procurement Roles Fit?
Some organizations, especially larger ones with robust marketing and procurement operations, have specialist buyers for each purchasing category. An effective specialist buyer understands the purpose of the items they source, knows the terminology of its specifications, and understands the methods of its production. Traditionally, marketing materials were sourced by print buyers since printing has always been the primary means of production.
In today’s marketing supply chain, the dependency on print processes is still huge, but emphasis has shifted from the means of production to the product being produced. While print buyers still exist, if a type of marketing material is of high importance to an organization, it may have buyers with expertise in more refined specialties such as packaging, point of purchase displays or direct marketing.
It’s also not uncommon to find a centralized, general purchasing department with managers and buyers who source everything across the board. In such a case the buyers or purchasing agents may work very closely with the project’s subject matter experts to understand the specifications, needs and purposes of the project being sourced. In such an instance a purchasing agent or even a manager would be wise to involve project subject matter experts in certain critical decisions such as vendor selection.
Taking a step further, there are instances where a purchasing or procurement department’s role in the marketing supply chain is more about administration and compliance. An example of this would be where the project’s subject matter experts provide not only the specifications and needs for the project, but also perform the research to identify vendors who can meet all of its requirements. From that point forward, purchasing agents, buyers and their managers would obtain pricing, award the project to a vendor and follow up with any additional administration.
Making the Right Connections
Regardless of where an organization falls within this continuum, a strong and free-flowing connection between procurement roles and the rest of the marketing supply chain is critical. Even in cases where marketing is responsible for sourcing its own materials; bulletproof specifications are imperative to getting the project done as planned. Tracking of tasks, actions, decisions and results ensures compliance with budgets and deadlines, as well as with procurement and marketing procedures. It’s a lot to try to make happen in an organization of any size but it’s not impossible especially with the help of project management software built especially for the marketing supply chain.
The next installment in the Marketing Supply Field Guide will wrap up our look at common roles in the marketing supply chain. See you next week.