Sign up here for the latest articles
By Leah Montebello
Maria Antonova, Global Procurement Manager – Advertising Agencies at Teva Pharmaceuticals, discusses the major ideas in “the exciting world of buying marketing services”
Workng with Agencies
“Moreover, in the fast pace of the environment changes and the changing customer behaviors we are experiencing now make it important to have swift and easy access to specialized and niche expertise”
Maria Antonova is the Global Procurement Manager at Teva Pharmaceuticals.
Based in Moscow, Russia, her role focuses on Advertising & Communications Agencies globally, with a particular focus on the US and EMEA markets.
Like many marketing procurement experts, she describes her initial introduction into the discipline as one of “pure chance”.
She had been working at ABB, the leading global technology company, in a local procurement role in Russia, and simultaneously studying for her part-time MBA with Grenoble Ecole de Management (Grenoble Business School), when she asked her manager if she could start putting some of the new skills into practice.
From there, she was offered the role of Sourcing Manager Indirect Services Europe (Marketing and Communications) and became part of a global procurement team, where she got to see what she calls “the exciting world of buying marketing services globally” for the first time.
Within this role, she reassessed European Print spend from scratch and created a new category strategy by introducing a Print Management Company (PMC), which brought transparency and optimised printing expenses for the Europe based offices. She also conducted RFQ for a preferred global media provider and led European media spend consolidation. Additionally, she explored and enhanced the creative agency roster globally, which gave her the experience that ultimately led her to landing the Global Advertising Agencies Procurement lead role at Teva Pharmaceuticals back in 2019.
As one of the biggest pharmacy companies in the world, Teva has a portfolio of around 3,500 products, and supports nearly 200 million people in over 60 countries with their Teva medicines.
Having worked in the pharmaceutical sector for two and a half years now, Antonova is grateful for “doing something truly meaningful for society and contributing to improving patients’ lives across the globe” with her work. As a sector that is also highly regulated and competitive, the role of marketing procurement is even more complex than most: balancing red tape with creative solutions and cost effective innovation.
On a personal level, Antonova thrives in this environment, emphasizing her enjoyment of working within cross-cultural and international teams. “I must confess working in these diverse multicultural teams is the most exciting part of my professional and personal life…Professionally, it is interesting to see how I can support my brand leads, establishing what is meaningful for them, and finding a specific solution for their problem because the way business is done from region to region is so different”, says Antonova.
Working with agencies at Teva
Crucial to Antonova’s role at Teva is seeking efficiencies and synergies with external partners and building strong relationships with global and regional marketing and communications leaders to support them in creative journeys that include creative strategy and development, public relations, and creative production.
In terms of agency models that fit within this, Antonova notes the industry-wide trend of consolidation and reducing the number of agencies used: as she explains, for brands, “it is easier to manage, standardise and align on the creative output”.
However, at Teva, the approach has been slightly more nuanced. “I don’t want to say we avoided this trend completely. But instead, we tried to understand that there are pros and cons of consolidation, and the solution doesn’t work for all, especially for specific regions, brands and scopes”, she explains, “Moreover, in the fast pace of the environment changes and the changing customer behaviors we are experiencing now make it important to have swift and easy access to specialized and niche expertise”.
So whilst there is some element of consolidation with their approach to agencies, Teva has built flexibility within their agency model and teams. For example, the local procurement teams select their pool of local providers for local creation and adaptation of the global materials, factoring speed and price on a local level if needed and taking into account guidelines from a global perspective.
“We have tried everything from being very fragmented, to consolidating every single piece. Now we have found our ideal middle solution, which is a reasonable and balanced blend of the two”, Antonova emphasises.
In her view, the main thing that needs to be asked when deciding the framework of an agency model is ‘does this setup make sense?’, and the rest should follow.
Managing agency relationships in a global role and remote environment
Key to success in Antonova’s role is managing and fostering value out of relationships with agencies.
Antonova recognises that building a meaningful relationship with agency partners is about aligning on priorities, key performance measurements, and formal frameworks, which allow managing the relationship in a more coordinated manner.
No less important from a procurement point of view in a client-agency relationship structure, especially when collaborating on a global level, is understanding who the points of contact are: “We need to know who to go to if we have issues and how and when we’re assessing each other and the progress of our work. It should always be a mutual review, in order for each of us to understand what needs to be done to make the relationship even more successful”.
She continues, “You certainly don’t want to put your relationship with your global strategic partner at risk and I would err on the side of transparency with teams to iron out any problems from the beginning – this is where procurement should take a leading role as a facilitator”.
All of this essentially feeds into her supplier relationship management (SRM) strategy, where she focuses on formalising key parts of the supplier relationship, and “puts everything together in a high level way – a so-called relationship map”. Indeed, her SRM hinges on establishing lines of feedback and ensuring that any issues are handled and mitigated for future instances. This may mean meeting regularly, virtually or in person, establishing clear methods of communication.
“Covid did not leave us a chance to meet in person in the last 1.5 years, however we established a cadence of virtual meetings with the agenda that allows us not only formally review progress on the projects to date and discuss any specific matters, but also provides a space for a live exchange about our successes, achievements and milestones as a client-agency tandem, endorsing communication that we lack so much these days”, she says.
Alignment at all levels
However, the key to strong negotiations is being open with agencies about priorities. For Antonova, this can be split into three main tenets.
The first is being clear about what the brand needs are, and what she calls “internal alignment” on a regional or global level. This will involve having a deep understanding about what our goals look like, ultimately looking at how an agency will help us achieve it. This will ensure that neither side is wasting their time in a negotiation or pitch process, but we get the expertise and vision we seek.
The second will be market analysis, which really hits the procurement side, and requires a deep-dive into spending and market analysis. For Teva, this is where benchmarking comes in, and tools such as RightSpend, are invaluable: “Spend management tools can be another great source of information to do your procurement homework well and get more insights into agencies’ compensation models and market situation”, Antonova urges.
With rate cards specifically, Antonova believes benchmarking is crucial. She explains that whilst companies can use internal market intelligence, it is really important to ensure that when looking at specific roles within agency structures that you are also looking at the same seniority and level of experience in order to make effective comparisons.
Hence it is important to use market intelligence resources that can “connect it all so you can identify and build good rate cards appropriate for your current or future needs and benchmark those against other agencies”, she explains. “It makes our work as a procurement function much easier and allows more transparency and structure of the commercial terms”.
The third and final piece of advice Antonova offers is about being “open and finding a win-win for all”. This is a value that companies often miss when they just look for “a quick fix, not a solution”, she states. Ultimately, the solution is looking at building a long-term relationship with the agency partner, rather than focusing purely on short-term needs that don’t have endurance and miss the longer strategic vision.
Going beyond cost savings and adding value
As an advocate of championing procurement driven innovation in a small team of procurement innovation enthusiasts at Teva, Antonova is eager to note that this goes way beyond cost saving. “Our team realized we should be looking beyond classical financial metrics and start asking questions like, what additional value can our partners generate with us and for us? What are the emerging trends?
Essentially, this means marketing procurement should be constantly questioning how the team can be better, examining their internal and external relationships, and be connected to the outside world and industry: for example, WFA and ANA consolidate all recent market trends and provide a great forum for global networking. She explains, “When we speak about innovation, we realize how crucial it is to build it into our culture. It is a culture of trying new things and not being afraid to fail, thinking long term rather than short term, the culture that entails a continuous learning journey”.
Whilst she believes that Teva is on the road to fostering this culture, for instance with company wide surveys of how the company can improve and by welcoming all possible ideas, even most creative and extraordinary ones, she says it must go further, into a day to day activity of a procurement professional, eventually becoming one of our key targets.
So in terms of where she sees her role in five years time, Antonova believes it will have a distinct focus on “strategy”, looking at how procurement can really disrupt the industry at large.
“There is a lot of talk about procurement coming to the forefront, so I am really confident that in the next three to five years this will be even more important for us to be there and to be at the table with the marketing teams to make the decisions. We will be trusted advisors for them…we’re already heading that way!” Antonova concludes.
The Masters in Procurement insight series is published in partnership with RightSpend
Thank you for your support in helping to inform our industry.