AAAN: Losing Steam and Comradeship

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Sobanjo Oluwasona

Raheem Akingbolu, who was in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, for the 43rd Annual General Meeting of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), reasons that the undercurrent that led to the emergence of new executive members and the lackadaisical attitude of AAAN founding fathers towards the AGM are taking away the steam and tempo that characterised past regimes

In what looks like the least competitive election ever, the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) ushered in a new set of leaders during its 43rd Annual General Meeting held at Le Meridien Ibom Hotel and Golf Resort, Uyo, recently. Though the AGM has come and gone, questions and debates that trailed the event are still fresh. Two major things that triggered the debate were; the manner in which the new leaders emerged and the absence of top practitioners at the meeting.

The first noticeable trend was that the founding fathers of the industry tactically distanced themselves from the association’s 2016 AGM. Save for Mr. Ayo Owoborode, the current chairman, board of trustee and Mr. Udeme Ufot, no other past president turned up for the AGM – not even the most recent leaders like Funmi Onabolu, Rufai Ladipo and Bunmi Oke. Though the association is not new to such attitude given the manner in which the likes of Senator Akin Odunsi, Biodun Shobanjo, Kola Ayanwale and Enyi Odigbo have kept a distance in recent years. The absence of familiar faces like that of Lolu Akinwumi and Mrs. Bola Thomas made the vacuum noticeable.

The effect of the harsh economy also showed in the number of advertising agencies that appeared to have been delisted from the association’s list. A source within AAAN confirmed to THISDAY that the delisted agencies have refused to honour their outstanding financial obligation to the association, a situation which led to their being sacked from AAAN. They include; Omooba Segun Adewale’s 24-7 Communications Limited, Comex Limited, Grant Advertising Limited, Media Plus International Limited and Adpure Limited. Others are BTAS Communications Limited, Novitas Limited, Sloane Communications Limited, Pemetad Limited, Elsia Communications Limited and Platform Branding Limited. The rest are; Campaign Palace Limited, Alder Media Limited, Angels Communications Limited and Tunde Thanni’s Explicit Communications Limited.

Meanwhile, investigation also revealed that the immediate past executive of the association, struck out the name of Mr. Sule Momoh of 141 Worldwide from its board for poor attendance at exco meetings.

At the end of the three days activities in Uyo, the association eventually elected the Managing Director of Harmonee Concepts Limited, Mr. Kayode Oluwasona as president, while the CEO of DDB Lagos, Mr. Ikechi Odigbo, was elevated from his office as Publicity Secretary to become the Vice President. Other members of the executive are Wale Akintunde –Treasurer, Steve Babaeko –Publicity Secretary and Mr. Onuora Molokwu as Asst. Publicity Secretary.

However, the circumstance that led to the emergence of the new executive has continued to attract debate from analysts, who were familiar with the past politics of the association.

The Intrigues within

Beyond the statutory aims and objective of AAAN, event over the years have shown that the association is an umbrella body that is deeply rooted in intrigues, suspicion and deadly rivalry. The early fathers of the association decided to create this elite club in the early 70s as a way of standing out of the crowd by belonging to the then AAPN. With that, they saw anybody who is in the business of advertising without the AAAN lapel pin as being inferior. As a result of this, practitioners without AAAN badge were alienated from enjoying certain privileges, like the agreed percentage commission from media houses, invitation to certain pitches and so on. But even at that, members who are registered still go ahead most times to circumvent the original noble objectives of the association by maneuvering and backstabbing themselves while looking for business. In some cases, they resort to bribe or go behind to run colleagues down. Over the years, this has created bad blood and gap in the association. Therefore, the spirit of unity and comradeship that once united them is no more there. Some of these unethical business behaviours and rivalry have in many ways affected Nigerian advertising fortune. The old agencies that are up there have created class within class and so do not want the younger ones to compete with them. This has gone to the extent that the younger ones now see the big ones up there while they (the younger generation) are down here. Unfortunately, in the cause of their glory, the bigger agencies, fail to plan succession because of greed and this became a natural setback for them. Today, save for Insight and DDB Lagos, the rest are only struggling with the younger agencies.

Troubles of Affiliation

Another factor that created the bad blood in the industry is the issue of affiliation. Record has shown that almost all the big agencies clashed at one time or the other, over the choice of foreign alignment and preference. At the moment, there is a subtle war going on between Rosabel and Insight over the recent business relationship between Publicis and Troyka Group. Few years ago, a similar bloodless war pitched Lolu Akinwumi’s Prima Garnet against Ogilvy & Mather then headquartered in Yaba, Lagos and headed by Femi Adeniyi-Williams. The decision of Ogilvy to drop Adeniyi-William’s agency for Prima Garnet created a bad blood between the two practitioners. That was also the situation between the late May Nzeribe’s Sunrise Marketing and Rosabel over Starcom Mediavest Group (SMG) partnership. Others are the crisis that trailed Udeme Ufot’s SO & U marriage to Saatchi & Saatchi affiliation, which was formally residing with the then MC & A Saatchi & Saatchi. MC & A was then a subsidiary agency of Insight Communications. Mr. Kola Ayanwale’s Centrespread had its share of the politics when he brought in FCB Draft Cone to the country but lost it to DP Partnership, headed by Odun Fadoju.

Looking back, it is easy to conclude that intrigues that trailed all these affiliations had eaten deep into the peaceful co-existence of members of the association.

Undercurrent of 2016 AAAN election

Over the years, the ‘big boys’ in the industry, who are now old, have always been the ones to determine who leads AAAN and this has affected loyalty and commitment of members. Because of the class within class structure that have been created by the early practitioners, the young ones have always wanted to lunch a rebellious struggle to take over the leadership of the association. Meanwhile, the old ones appeared to have overreached themselves, not knowing the plan under rap until two years ago, when Lanre Adisa of Noah’s Ark, backed by some dynamic young men, tried, though unsuccessfully, to challenge the status quo. Though the old men still had their way by installing Kelechi Nwosu of TBWA Concept, the deep wound created by the move is yet to be healed. The so called ‘big boys’ of the industry were smart enough to have quickly ganged up against Adisa and his co-travelers to check the radical movement. The keen contest threw up acrimony and exposed divisions within the industry. Since then, things have literally fallen apart.

Prior to the gathering in Uyo last week, efforts were made to lure in one or two chief executives of the vibrant agencies but none of the agencies was ready to let go of their CEO because of the competitions ahead. Now that most of them (old agencies) are struggling to survive, they feared AAAN activities could be a huge distraction.

For instance, a top advertising practitioner confided in this reporter in Uyo last week that Ikechi Odigbo would have been pushed to lead the association but his group refused on the basis that the load of the office could affect Odigbo’s commitment to DDB. Having been around for years and won new businesses for the agency after his elder brother –Enyi stepped aside, he was considered an ideal president in the making but the rest is now history. The source further stated that the founding fathers of AAAN were forced to settle for Kayode Oluwasona to prevent the radical guys with big businesses from taking over.

As things are, the belief of elders, who decided to tolerate Oluwasona, is that he would have enough time to reorganise the association. But there are insinuations in some quarters that the new president lacks the needed clout to lead AAAN.

In the overall assessment of the Uyo AGM, many observers commended the planning committee headed by the CEO of Strategic Outcomes Limited, Mr. Jenkins Alumona, and members of staff of the AAAN secretariat headed by Mr. Lekan Fadolapo. Also commended was the involvement of Mr. Ufot, who used his influence to fully draft in the state top government functionaries, including Governor Emmanuel Udom.