A Bunch of Time-Wasting, Blood-Sucking, Worthless Leeches

It’s a somewhat contentious – tendentious even – title. So much so in fact, that I’ve been asked once again to stress that these are my opinions and not eyeforpharma’s. But I would like to examine the case for and against the Procurement Manager in the modern pharmaceutical industry.

First I would like to present the case against.

Let us examine the current situation in healthcare that is increasingly taking hold. Gone are the days when you presented your credentials to the Expert in Charge and persuaded him / her of the merits of your new product. In those halcyon days, the expert in question would review your presentation, weigh up the evidence supporting your case and, assuming that the evidence merited the product’s adoption, would decide pretty much there and then that this new-fangled product was a beezer thing and start using it.

This did not require reference to a medicines management committee, the involvement of ‘Stakeholders’ (if ever there was a word to have a sane man reach for the barf bag…), the sign-off of the management board, etc. etc.

Funnily enough, in those days when (we are told) profligacy was rife, people had a habit of getting cured of things and it cost less money to do and took less time. The UK health system is a case in point; two successive governments have spent £30 billion every year on a bunch of gatekeepers, stakeholders and other people with emetic platitudes for job titles whose sole responsibility is to save £5 billion every year.


Ah, I hear you say, but that’s the health system. What’s that got to do with the industry? Well, everything I’m afraid.

My first encounter with a Procurement Manager was when I was a tender European Marketing Manager. Up until that point, I used to submit annual marketing plans in which I would pitch for my budgets and have to justify them to senior management. They would then agree to the budgets based on the strength of my argument and the supporting evidence provided.

Once granted, I would then go off and spend my budget as per the plan. In order to make this happen, I would engage agencies who I knew would be able to deliver on time, on budget and with whom I knew I could work at a personal level. One develops a sort of chemistry with your suppliers and – as should be expected as part of your professional duties – you nurture and protect that relationship. That way, you can ensure the most efficient joint working and call in favours when you really need them. And God knows we need them from time to time.

Then another European Marketing Manager was made redundant. Truth be told, his product was a dog with a terminal disease and his and his career’s faith in it were woefully misplaced. The company, rather than spend cash on putting a redundancy package together for him, reassigned him to this new role: Procurement Manager – European Marketing. After that, things went downhill.

Suddenly, the budget which had been assigned to one was no longer in one’s gift to just spend – irrespective of one’s knowledge of the market, the product, the suppliers, or anything else. From that moment on, one had to start filling in Purchase Requisition Forms and he would decide which suppliers to use.

The first meeting about this elicited the question – asked politely but, I concede, through clenched teeth – ‘based on which criteria, exactly?’ The response long-windedly chundered on about setting up proper procedures for tendering, establishing procurement Task Forces to which all the appropriate stakeholders (“yeuch!”) would be invited, selecting the suppliers based on key criteria including cost.

Any other criteria? Oh yes, lots. But cost mainly (I see…).

And what of the supplier relationships I have at the moment? Well, of course they will be allowed to continue. Pending the review…

Review? What bloody review? Well, we will have to review their performance… Balls to their performance! They respond to the brief I give them. If their performance is poor, then it’s my fault and nothing to do with your procurement criteria. Is it? (Okay, by now I was crossing the line from assertive to aggressive, but he was starting to get on my nerves.)

The final question I asked nearly got me death threats. Okay then Mr Procurement Manager – European Marketing: if the company is paying you the equivalent of £200,000 a year in salary, car, petrol, bonuses, health insurance, pension, tax and life insurance, how much are you tasked with cutting the budgets by?

You misunderstand my role. I am here to ensure that budgets are spent in the most efficient manner. Again, based on what criteria? Are you questioning my professional credentials? Given that you have usurped one of my basic roles and responsibilities, yes! The relationship went downhill from there after that. 

A shallow gene pool of creative talent and a brain drain of conceptual thinking…

Many large companies employ third-party agencies to do the procurement for them including engaging creative agencies, medical communications, etc. What possible knowledge or experience they could have I am at a loss to know. It may give the Head of Finance a hard on to think that the cash is being spent with ruthless frugality. But what does it leave us with?

Marketing campaigns that are so woefully behind the curve that our customers are left to think that we don’t know anything about their needs or how to address them; marketing professionals who are getting less and less depth of experience relying instead on hand-me-down received wisdom on which to develop the next generation; a shallow gene pool of creative talent and a brain drain of conceptual thinking; the inability to react quickly to any situation because these agencies can’t do anything in under three weeks.

Pharmaceutical marketing used to be a hothouse for strategic, creative and problem-solving skills. Today, it has been defoliated by the agent orange of Procurement.

And now the case in favour of Procurement Managers.

There isn’t one!


Since you're here...
... and value our content, you should sign-up to our newsletter. Sign up here