Rethinking agency procurement to protect Brilliant Creative Minds

Brilliant Creative Minds aims to stamp out behaviours that impact employee wellbeing and diminish creativity in the advertising and communications industry.

Crown Commercial Service’s Simon Soothill explains why we need a radical shake up of agency procurement to protect our industry’s Brilliant Creative Minds.

Poor mental health is the enemy of creativity in our industry. We know this both instinctively and from the data: a business that invests in creativity is more likely to increase productivity (78% agree), foster innovation (80% agree) and be competitive (79% agree).

This is never more the case than in advertising and content.  Advertising is all about creativity and the people who generate it – whether that is creativity in the traditional sense (impactful content), or creativity of strategic thought – it’s what clients pay money for.

Yet so often bad industry practices (from clients, agencies and procurement teams) are damaging wellbeing and, in turn, limiting creative potential. This might be why 64% of UK media and advertising employees have considered leaving the industry because their wellbeing is affected by work; and why the ad industry has a 30% staff turnover compared to a 10% UK average.

If our industry is to thrive, creativity needs to be protected at all costs, which is why Crown Commercial Service and Social & Local have launched Brilliant Creative Minds, with support from NABS and IPA.  The campaign seeks to change client, agency and procurement behaviours to protect employee wellbeing and, in turn, creativity. No one player has full control but together we can make a change

With key industry stakeholders including Tessa Gooding, director of communications at IPA, Tom Knox, chair of MullenLowe, Adam Skinner, CEO at OmniGOV, Manning Gottlieb OMD, Annie Gallimore, MD at Engine, and Tim Doust, founder at R&D Partners we are discussing the ways in which industry behaviour – our own included – affects employee wellbeing in a bid to find effective solutions.

For my part, I believe we need a radical rethink of the procurement process. The current model is broken – from both a wellbeing and output point of view, because, of course, you cannot separate good work from healthy, happy people.

Yet often it feels like the output gets lost in the process. Years ago, when I was working for a big corporate client, we appointed a lead creative agency in 14 working days. At the time we were patting ourselves on the back for turning everything around so quickly. But we shouldn’t have: the creative was rushed and nowhere near as good as it could have been, and the agency was burned out before even being appointed.

The current process where a multitude of agencies compete to get through a longlist, shortlist, chemistry meeting, then pitch isn’t any good for anyone. Certainly not for the agencies. Without a proper relationship with the client, access to their years of experience, research, and insight, the pitch is simply guesswork. One big, exhausting, time consuming, inefficient piece of guesswork.

When you think about it, how often does the pitch process ever result in a creative output that has actually been taken to market? I would love to know the answer, but there aren’t many examples that I can think of. So much energy, emotion, resources wasted – and that’s just for the winning agencies, don’t forget that every unsuccessful bid has hundreds of hours of work and personal sacrifices behind it too.

We need to shortcut the process of identifying agencies that clients want to work with. Only then should we start even start looking for creative answers. Let’s minimize the noise and maximize the output. Creativity is an iterative process – it takes time, conversation, working together. Without that ongoing discourse you won’t get there. And let’s be honest, you can’t have an in-depth, ongoing discourse simultaneously with 3 or 4 agencies through a pitch process. Why not appoint an agency who you think you’d like to work with, and then work together on the creative solution?

It's not how we’ve done things before, but that doesn’t mean we can’t change things now – putting people and their wellbeing front and centre, whilst drastically improving the creative output at the same time.

Simon Soothill is Category Director – Marketing, Communications & Research at Crown Commercial Service. Brilliant Creative Minds aims to stamp out behaviours that impact employee wellbeing and diminish creativity in the advertising and communications industry. By bringing together senior leaders from the client, agency, and procurement worlds the goal is a new Code of Conduct which eradicates practices that compromise mental health and wellbeing. The ambition is a diverse industry where people can freely develop their creative capability in an enriching work environment.

To help inform the development of the Code, Brilliant Creative Minds is looking for stories of good and bad practice from across the industry. Please visit: to share your views.

Last updated 01 May 2024