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On the Campaign couch... with jb.

QDoes Parkinson's law of trivia- lity apply to procurement? The wonderful Professor C Northcote Parkinson published Parkinson's law in 1957 and I find it sad and astonishing that no equivalent mind seems to have emerged since. His law of triviality was part of his wider law on management. It stated that "the time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum [of money] involved" and was illustrated by what became known as bikeshedding.

A management committee has been asked for formal approval on two items: a multimillion-pound nu- clear reactor and a bicycle shed for the clerical staff. Because the case for the nuclear reactor is so technical and complicated, and because the sums of money involved are so vast, the com- mittee members have no choice but to assume that the experts know what they're talking about. Approval is granted in two-and-a-half minutes.

But everybody knows about bicycle sheds, or thinks they know about bicycle sheds, and many members, for example, have strong views on the ideal composition of the roof: "Dis- cussion goes on, therefore, for 45 min- utes, with the possible result of saving some $50. Members at length sit back with a feeling of accomplishment."

So to return to your question: does Parkinson's law of triviality apply to the [agency] procurement process? And the answer I think is yes and no; but, if anything, not enough.

It's certainly true that procurement experts are happiest when dealing with bike sheds: simple, easily under- stood concepts whose approximate costs can be easily established and then haggled over for hours on end.

But in the case of the nuclear reac- tor, by far the most expensive item on the agenda, the committee had faith in the experts (because they had no choice) and gave it immediate ap- proval. In agency negotiations, the equivalent of the nuclear reactor is the potential value that an excellent agency can add to a client's business. Like the nuclear reactor, that's ex- tremely complicated; but unlike the nuclear reactor, it's not tangible. In fact, it's distressingly intangible.

Procurement people can be force- fed any number of IPA Effectiveness papers or reports from the Deutsche Bank research team that demonstrate beyond challenge the relationship between brand communication and brand profit; but, unfortunately, where the Parkinsonian committee members chose to trust the experts, procurement executives blindly choose to ignore them.

QWhat's the best thing to tell the troops when you've lost a pitch? 'We came second' or 'The winner bought the busi- ness' or 'We never liked them any- way' or 'On to the next one'? My business partner has suggested I say 'Sorry, it was my fault for con- tradicting our pitch logic during the Q&A', but surely this will undermine people's confidence in me?

It was when your head of planning finished his polished peroration and you said: "I think what Fadi was trying to say is actually not that you should be the challenger brand, as he might inadvertently have implied, but rath- er that you should pre-empt the ge- neric qualities of the entire market."

That's when you lost the business and everybody knows it. So there's no need to tell the troops anything.


this marks the end of the endline?

I'm afraid not.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former chairman of J Walter Thompson and WPP. If you have any questions, email or write to PO Box 2331, Dubai, UAE

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Publication:Campaign Middle East
Date:Oct 6, 2013
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