The good and the bad of public procurement – what could be done?

Signe Sēne, “Miltton Latvia” project director

From time to time we can read about various public procurements in the media. Often about those in which some problems have arisen – deadlines are delayed or there are conflicts with suppliers. Public procurements are announced every day in various sectors, including communication and public relations. Are there ways to improve this massive system so that clients can achieve their desired goals and service providers can deliver the highest possible quality?

Deadlines for both parties involved

Anyone who wants to participate in public procurement for a campaign, event or any other project often needs to arm himself with patience. If on average two weeks are given for the preparation of the offer, then until the conclusion of the contract or at least the announcement of the results, you may have to wait even months. In my experience, there have been cases when, after submitting a bid, you have to wait almost two months to… find out that the procurement has been terminated without results and will be re-announced. In addition, the long review process does not necessarily mean that the execution time will be extended. This only means that after the term, the activities and tasks must be carried out in a hurry, risking the quality of the service, thus both parties lose – both the customer and the recipient of the service.

To avoid such situations, the first thing that can be done is to start the procurement process on time. There are already public institutions that announce procurements at the beginning of the year for activities planned for the second half of the year. This facilitates all stages of the planned work – the customer has enough time to evaluate all submitted offers and choose the most appropriate one, while the service provider can immediately plan the resources for the project and prepare a well-thought-out time plan.

Development of technical specifications

Although most procurement specifications are quite detailed and understandable, there are still unusual cases from time to time. For example, I recently read a procurement in which it was requested to provide paid cooperation with a media that does not offer such a service at all. Service providers, seeing such a requirement, have two options – either not to participate, or to undertake obligations, already knowing that they are unenforceable, and hope that it will be possible to agree on changes when concluding the contract. So, either the customer receives very few offers, or risks the quality of the service received and complications during the project.

In addition, an inaccurate or incomplete technical specification has other risks. For example, if something very specific is required to prove from qualifications, it may be suspected that this was done on purpose, and the winner of the public procurement is actually already known for a long time. Even if it is not, other service providers may still challenge the procurement process, thereby increasing the time it will take for the customer to receive the service.

In order to avoid the mentioned problems, it is recommended to regularly update your knowledge on the preparation of technical specifications. Both customers and suppliers have access to various trainings in this matter. In addition, it is also possible to consult with industry associations. Also, before announcing the procurement, the goals should be clearly defined – what exactly do we want to achieve with the specific project? Thus, in the specification, instead of defining certain tools for use, it is better to focus on the desired result.

Evaluation of funding and requirements

A week ago I was reading the technical specification of procurement for a year-long campaign. A slight deja vu came over me as I read it – I realized that I had already read this a year ago. Quickly comparing the two specifications, the conclusion is as follows – the list of activities and requirements is long and almost identical and, yes, the budget is almost the same. It cannot be denied that the issue of costs is relevant for all of us. Inflation is high, prices are rising, and everyone, including companies, is looking for ways to save. However, at the same time, the prices of services have also increased. This should be taken into account when planning public relations activities. Therefore, it is recommended to look at previously realized activities, evaluate their results and decide whether it is really necessary to repeat them. Perhaps the budget should be devoted to a smaller number of activities or redistributed to something else, thus obtaining better quality results.

Admittedly, service providers are also to blame here. There have been several cases when it seems that these requirements cannot be fulfilled for the given amount. Certainly not with profit. However, there are still at least one or two service providers willing to work anyway. In such cases, the question always arises – at what expense is money saved? Is the agency’s own profit reduced, savings on cooperation partners, or reduced work quality? Whatever the answer, one thing is clear – often we, service providers, reduce or dump market prices just to get the right to carry out activities, and then look for ways to save.

Cooperation with industry experts

Not everyone who advertises a purchase can be an expert in the specific industry. That is why procurement is announced – to hire a specialist who can perform the necessary task. However, at the same time, the procurement procedure must be of high quality, so that the result is good and appropriate for the costs. Cooperation with industry associations can help here, as not only customers but also service providers are interested in successful cooperation and contract fulfilment. Twelve years ago, public relations professionals in cooperation with the Procurement Monitoring Bureau and the sworn law firm “Borenius” prepared and published guidelines for the organization of public procurement in communication management and public relations services. Maybe it’s time for everyone to sit down at the same table again and look for solutions to improve the procurement system?