Go on, call him a geek

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Sandy Fratarcangeli doesn't mind that advertising colleagues at Ford Motor Co. call him "a purchasing geek," because they add "at least he knows the business." The Detroit native has spent his entire 34-year career in procurement at the automaker.

After years of buying vehicle parts and the like, Mr. Fratarcangeli got his first taste of advertising procurement in 1995. That's when he was named purchasing specialist for buying print, exhibits and advertising for Ford's U.S. brands. He said his role was more limited then to insuring that contracts were consummated.

In 1997, he joined Ford's newly formed global advertising management team. It was charged with changing agency compensation from commissions to labor-based fees plus performance incentives. He considers that feat among his biggest professional accomplishments.

"Fees are a relatively small part of what we spend in advertising," he said. "There's more opportunity in how the work is done." The pay system, rolled out globally, continues to get tweaked. Ford reported spending $2.9 billion on worldwide advertising in 2002.

Mr. Fratarcangeli, 56, global advertising purchasing manager since January 2002, helped deliver "very significant cost savings" this year with agencies. One move: Ford cut the cost of production by consolidating buying for 35-millimeter-film duplication.

His current mission is a whopper. The global advertising management team is working centrally with executives of WPP Group and each of its Ford agency networks to negotiate central, uniform contracts for labor costs.

Mr. Fratarcangeli gets high marks from agency executives and others in the industry for balancing the needs of procurement and advertising. But he recognizes the perception in the agency field that procurement people are only interested in saving money.

He cautioned his counterparts outside Ford to remember purchasing is a service organization. "The worst thing you can do in procurement is to be dictatorial." He said upper management also must support staff moved from traditional procurement to the advertising side by insuring learning.

Finally, he said management must realize advertising is not a well-defined commodity where it's necessary or optimal to always get the lowest cost. "Adapting to that mind-set is probably one of the biggest challenges in purchasing."

Cutting ad budgets in a weak economy can do more harm than good to brands, he said. "The focus needs to be on efficiencies, advertising effectiveness and ways to verify it."

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