Concerns raised over government marketing tender

13 Mar 13
Whitehall’s central procurement team has come under fire for the way it chose marketing and advertising agencies to work with over the next three years.

By Vivienne Russell | 13 March 2013

Whitehall’s central procurement team has come under fire for the way it chose marketing and advertising agencies to work with over the next three years.

Several senior marketing figures have criticised the Government Procurement Service-run process, saying it took little account of their agencies’ track records. The industry trade body, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, is understood to be in talks with the Cabinet Office over the GPS’s approach.

The £360m Communications Roster Review was launched last summer. Bids were invited from specialist agencies to provide various government marketing and public relations services, helping it provide, for example, healthy eating or anti-drink driving campaigns.

Only those selected to join the list are eligible for government communications contracts. All unsuccessful bidders are shut out from government work until the entire roster is re-tendered.

Although the list has yet to be formally announced by the government, the names of some winners have already emerged.

Of the 39 agencies that bid for a place on the roster to carry out direct marketing work, four are believed to have been successful. These are Bray Leino, TMW, Lida and Lateral Group.

But the chief executive of an agency that missed out criticised the nature of the competition, telling Public Finance: ‘The tendering process was almost like a set of exam questions.

‘It was really about your processes and approaches to delivering activity rather than experience or capabilities or case studies. So people who had lots of experience didn’t necessarily go through, whereas people with no experience did go through because they scored better in the process mapping.’

The chief executive noted that two of the four successful agencies were not direct marketing agencies because ‘they weren’t asked to provide any proof that they could deliver those services’.

Unsuccessful bidders have been shown their scores and the source said inconsistencies in the marks applied were ‘mystifying’ and ‘somewhat galling’.

There was also a lack of marketing expertise on the commissioning side, the source said. The generic GPS has taken over responsibility for the communications roster from the Central Office of Information, the government’s own marketing and communications agency, which was shut down last year.

‘I’m told that there weren’t any marketers involved in the process. People who are hiring agencies and then working with agencies should be part of the [procurement] process… It is very different from buying stationery.’

The fact that the four successful agencies were all big firms, rather than the small and medium-sized enterprises ministers say they want to involve more in government contracts, was also a concern.

‘The feeling of many of us is that we would like to see the agency responses properly benchmarked so that we can understand better why we were unsuccessful,’ the source said.

‘I think it would a good idea for the review process itself to be reviewed to ensure that there is clarity behind decisions made and to ensure that the public knows that its money is being spent in the most effective way.’

A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said she could not comment on the specifics of the complaints as the department was in the ‘standstill period’ following the tender awards.

But she released the following statement: ‘Governments need to communicate effectively with citizens, and we want to make these channels of communication stronger than ever before. To ensure we can do this, the Government Procurement Service operates transparent and fair tendering processes that ensure we are extracting the maximum value from every pound spent, while continuing to deliver high quality.

‘A contract announcement will be made when this framework is finalised, after the successful completion of the mandatory standstill period.’


CIPFA logo

PF Jobsite logo

Did you enjoy this article?