Is the Singapore government’s integrated marketing tender doomed to fail?

Richard Bleasdale

In this guest post, Richard Bleasdale wonders if the Singapore government’s plan to set up a panel of agencies in the name of integrated marketing communications will work.

As Singapore’s biggest advertiser, the Singapore government, in all of its many forms (government ministries, statutory boards, departments and organs of state), holds a somewhat fatal attraction for the agency sector.

On the one hand, owning the big issues of national importance. Relatively strong budgets. A sense of doing one’s duty. Of late, even the opportunity to win awards and accolades.

But on the other, improbably long lists of pitching agencies. A seeming disdain for smaller, independent agencies. A lack of transparency on agency selection. Questionable marketing experience on the client-side. And a preference for short-term, project-based contracts.

Singapore governmentWith this background, the Ministry of Communications and Information’s ITT move to appoint a panel of agencies accessible to all government ministries, statutory boards, departments and organs of state, one could have expected, would generate a reasonable amount of interest and discussion.

However, the tender’s release and closure, back in January and February, unfortunately coinciding with the Chinese New Year holiday period, came and went with no coverage or fanfare.

Currently, fourteen weeks after the tender’s closure, with no tender awards having been made, this does not appear to bode well for the outcome.

And while there is no such thing as a perfect pitch, when reviewing the tender in more detail, there are some other areas which underline the potential for concern.

The concept of a roster of pre-approved agencies for government bodies to work with, is a good one. It’s similar to the strategies applied by many governments globally, with the UK and the US, being two of the better-known examples, and ones from which there is much to learn.

In MCI’s case, it’s stated tender objective is to “integrate communication efforts, across the different channels and platforms.”

However, one of the biggest challenges with creating effectively integrated communications is the traditional approach to divide work between creative, media and digital silos.

As Procter & Gamble was famously quoted, when launching their integrated agency operating model, “We have enough trouble integrating ourselves, never mind our agencies.”

So MCI’s approach to divide work between, creative, non-digital media and digital media – does appear to fly in the face of trying to “integrate communication efforts”. Particularly, the split between non-digital and digital media.

That said, often a highly experienced marketing team, can effectively play the role of integrator. Smartly dividing work scopes, ensuring agencies are focused on the same outcome. With business processes clear and detailed to support the work, timelines well-managed, and with the knowledge on how to incentivise and encourage collaboration between agencies.

Unfortunately, this level of experience and quality, is not widely seen globally. And when the world’s largest advertiser admits this skill area is not one of its strengths, one has to question whether a government body can truly play this role.

One way to mitigate the above, is to ensure that Singapore’s best and brightest agencies, who do have a lot of practical and award-winning experience in managing and working in an integrated environment with their clients, participate in the tender.

The 33 bidders

The 33 bidders

With the greatest respect to all 33 bidders – with a few exceptions – the list of tenderers cannot be judged as the best, nor most experienced in managing IMC projects and campaigns. Particularly, when it inexplicably includes Singtel, Singapore Press Holdings, Mediacorp and cinema group Golden Village.

So why are the large majority of the best missing? Well, when one looks at MCI’s Evaluation Criteria, there is a further pointer worth considering [for details on the requirements for agencies, go here].

As already mentioned, successfully completing integrated marketing campaigns is heavily influenced by experience. IMC as they say, is a lot like teen sex – it’s messy, everyone claims to be doing it, but in truth very few are. And, almost no-one, well.

One would imagine therefore, IMC experience would count for a lot, when one wants to appoint a roster of IMC agencies.

In the case of the MCI tender, apparently not. Experience is quite clearly the least important factor. In fact, between three-to-four times less important than price. And between five-six times less important than a response to a simulated brief.

To top it off, if one is appointed to the panel, there is no guarantee of any work at all. And in fact, the panel is non-exclusive, so government bodies can go completely outside the panel if they so choose. And even when on the panel, agencies will have to pitch for projects from the government bodies. Which they do, along with this tender, all at their own cost.

So, there you have it.

And when one goes back to review MCI’s stated tender objective…

“To reach out to Singaporeans effectively, there is a greater need for integrated communication efforts across the different channels and platforms.”

…one has to question whether, this tender will in fact achieve this?

Or whether in fact, the fantastic opportunity to develop a pre-approved panel of agencies for powerful, effective and celebrated integrated marketing communications campaigns, which address many of the key issues that Singapore faces, has been badly missed?

We await the outcome of the tender with interest.

Richard Bleasdale is managing Partner, Asia Pacific, The Observatory International


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