Editorial - New client voice: purchasing exec

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At Procter & Gamble Co., which already knows something about managing agencies, purchasing department executives are being invited to introduce their "culture" to agency relations. The results of this are uncertain. What's clearer is the potential for trouble: added tension, uncertainty and resentment if the purchasing experts think advertising services can be reduced to off-the-shelf purchases.

"It's not about penny-pinching," insisted a P&G spokesperson. Poppycock, thinks the cynical agency chief. Procurement managers, he or she might wager, mean adversarial relationships, commoditization of creative and, well, penny pinching.

The balm on agency management anxieties is that this is P&G, a company widely thought to be happy with the output from its agencies, and which, according to insiders, has no desire to upset fruitful relationships.

That Saatchi & Saatchi will be the first P&G agency expected to work with a P&G purchasing manager as well as more familiar marketing executives is also telling. Observers suggest Saatchi makes the lowest margin of P&G's main agencies, making it an odd place to start if the goal is to show P&G shareholders quick savings by squeezing agency margins.

More likely, P&G's aim is to work with Saatchi and then others to see whether there are other potential efficiencies. More worrying is the precedent P&G is setting by putting its stamp on procurement manager involvement.

P&G is not the first to make this move. Ford Motor Co., PepsiCo, Mars and a number of pharmaceutical giants have already brought purchasing people into the agency equation. But P&G is a yardstick company for many marketers. P&G is probably too sensitive to impose some over-simplistic purchasing template on its agencies. But the prospect of other, less sage marketers following its lead is unsettling. We are dealing in advertising here, not toothpaste ingredients.

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