II part: Creative agencies in Estonia on public tenders: surely it’s not rocket science?

Read the first part here: “Creative agencies in Estonia about public procurement: is it now time for technocrats to shine?”

What makes public tenders so complicated in the eyes of creative agencies in Estonia? Why isn’t it that organisers smoothly handle tenders and bidders stay happy even when they don’t win?

Everyone agrees that the tender organiser must follow a value-based framework to achieve the best outcome. Let’s list some of these principles:

Fairness and transparency in public tenders

The aim of public tenders is to ensure that companies, regardless of size or background, get an equal shot. This requires clear, corruption-proof rules. Yet, sometimes a bidder is met with silence, not understanding why their proposal scored lower than a competitor’s. Such secrecy signals that something’s amiss.

Mario Sõrm from Sorainen law firm: “Regarding secrecy, the law requires the organiser to provide certain information (note the wording): to the bidder who submitted the accepted proposal, the names of the successful bidder or bidders, and data characterising the successful proposal that gave it an edge. If the advantage is in higher scores for a qualitative criterion, the reasons for the score difference should be explained.”

Fortunately, there’s some guidance from the Dispute Committee (VaKo) and the European Court about what needs to be clarified. A bidder should understand why they scored as they did. If only scores are provided and it’s not just a cost-based evaluation, the bidder can’t deduce why they received such scores. Unfortunately, practice doesn’t always align well.

Mitigating risks

Public tenders always carry the risk of something going wrong, like supplier bankruptcy, quality issues, or unforeseen circumstances. Hence, tender processes should be designed to minimise these risks.

Specific requirements of public tenders

Some tender projects can be very specific and require careful planning. It’s baffling when creative agencies are expected to provide a simple campaign solution for less than 10,000 euros, with a reward of a 1,5 million euro framework contract, all discussed in less than 50 pages with scant attention to content context. It sometimes feels like bureaucrats put effort into forms (like those describing team members) but skimp on substance.

Why do most public tenders cause dissatisfaction for creative agencies in Estonia? Where are the pitfalls?

Limited understanding of the creative field and the work of creative agencies

Tender committees or officials may not be well-versed in the nuances of the creative field, leading to inappropriate conditions or criteria.

Tender organising requires specific knowledge and skills

If organisers lack the necessary understanding, mistakes can be made, leading to oversights.

Too strict technical requirements for creative agencies

Some tenders may have technical requirements too stringent for creative projects. It’s like a tailor-made game for someone’s advantage.

Insufficient resources for organisers

Despite being overstaffed, agencies might lack time, money, or knowledgeable personnel, leading to incomplete tender documents or procedures.

Problems with evaluation criteria – creative agencies don’t understand how they’re assessed

Criteria can be subjective or unclear. It’s “interesting” to read tender documents buying “something” indescribable. Expectations aren’t stated, but must be guessed.

Lack of communication

Poor or formal communication can confuse potential bidders. Creative professionals know how time-consuming and complex it is to devise creative strategies.

Inflexibility to changes

Tender processes can be rigid, not allowing necessary adjustments in the creative field.

Insufficient market research and planning

Understanding the market situation and clearly defining tender goals and needs is crucial. Sometimes, it feels like the organiser expects the bidder to be a clairvoyant.

In summary

It’s vital that public tender organisers in the creative sector understand its uniqueness and offer clear, open communication. Equally important are objective, measurable evaluation criteria and a willingness to consider flexible solutions for project success.

To be continued…

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