Not everyone fully understands procurement, but everyone should – especially those of us involved with event management, exhibitions and brand environments & interiors. You see, practically everything in our world today – including the device you’re reading these words on – is made possible by the interaction of countless supply chains spanning the globe. Without procurement, this intricate network would collapse and wheels of trade grind to a halt. And yet, in some quarters, procurement isn’t winning any popularity contests. Why the dislike? Procurement is the acquisition of goods or services from an external source – usually in return for payment. And it is procurement’s thankless task to ask two very important questions. First, are the specified goods or services fit for purpose? Second, are they being procured at the best possible cost – in terms of quality, quantity, time and location?

You can imagine how complicated things would become if someone didn’t diligently address these two questions. As both parties would go back and forth to resolve a variety of shortcomings, the project and its delivery timelines would fall apart.

Because procurement asks the tough questions and confronts the realities that most people are unaware of (or optimistically ignore!), its popularity plummets. Instead of being treated as an important process, it is often regarded as undesirable red tape that slows things down, dampens enthusiasm and curtails creativity. The budgets, specifications and due diligence that procurement brings to the negotiation table are seen as obstacles and restrictions – sometimes even by team members sitting on the same side.

The situation is trickiest with marketing and creative projects, especially event management and exhibition stands. Client-side procurement teams tend to hail from construction, contracting and manufacturing backgrounds – historically, these sectors have relied heavily on procurement expertise. And what do these industries generally procure? Nuts and bolts, pipes and cables, steel and iron, and perhaps a million small screws. In other words, highly specified, measureable and quantified goods.

Thus, procurement officers have never had to spec a troupe of cultural dancers – complete with colourful costumes, singers and musicians. Or perhaps a crew of hostesses and ushers – impeccably trained and speaking several languages.

Traditionally, procurement excels at ensuring goods and services are compared like-for-like, side-by-side as part of the selection process. And, also ensuring that short-listed contenders are fit for purpose. But when it comes to bespoke event management such comparisons and assessments are practically impossible. Why does this troupe of cultural dancers cost twice as much as the one in the competing bid? On paper, they both appear to be exactly the same.

The procurement team is stumped. They have no means and no basis for comparison. And even if they did (by asking both troupes to stop by for a coffee and a sample performance!), the procurement team still won’t be able to decide which troupe is best fit-for-purpose for this particular event and its audience. They just don’t have enough on-the-ground event experience to reach an objective decision.

And so, as it attempts to negotiate across intangible and unfamiliar territory, procurement asks questions and requests clarifications that some people don’t have the patience for. A little friction is thus inevitable.

Ironically, even in the event management industry, procurement ably delivers on its promise. In fact, we’ve recently established our own procurement department at Action Impact (why should clients have all the fun, eh?) that now handles most of our sourcing. Results have been very rewarding: better negotiating power, lower purchase costs and greater transparency.

There’s no denying that procurement – particularly in the government sector – is becoming ever more prevalent across the region. All of us have a role to play here, in facilitating friendly dialogue between creative agencies and client-side teams. Educating everyone involved about the unique nature of procurement for bespoke events and exhibitions. And, working together towards the day when procurement is no longer perceived as a foe, but as a valuable ally in delivering stand-out events.