The immediate pastÂ Commissioner for Information inÂ AkwaIbomÂ State, AniekanÂ Umana, was a consummate advertising practitioner before taking up the job of image maker for his state. In this interview withÂ Raheem Akingbolu, he speaks on how best to build the Nigeria brand and the impact of the recession on the marketing communications industry. Excerpts:
How do you see the advertising industry and the impact of recession on the industry?
I must say that the advertising and media industry like every other business in Nigeria got hit by the punch of recession. For a country that lost over 60% of revenue and income base, you can see that it was almost like hanging on a cliff. And it was compounded by dwindling oil prices at the time. Many things went wrong; our GDP went below expectation, oil prices went down, income erosion and all that. So the industrial and financial base of the country witnessed erosion. When that happened; we saw an unstable foreign exchange regime which got to a point that Naira was exchange over N500 to a Dollar. So for an industry like media and advertising, it became the first to be hit and hit worst because almost every impute that comes to it is foreign exchange based. So advertising like every other business plummeted but was hit worst because itâ€™s the first budget that is cancelled when there are no sales. So rather than pup up advertising to see it could add to sales, different is always the case in a market like ours. When you are in trouble is when you tell your story more to find a rescue, but unfortunately, itâ€™s the reverse here and this is something we must bring to the consciousness of budget operator for different sectors. For instance, in 2014 to 2015, the advertising spend stood at about N97billion and of course, you know clearly towards the end of 2015, it has started going down. By mid-2016, we recorded less than half of that number. That throws up the challenge. We can see clearly even it terms of TV, radio and outdoor, most global organisations down their outdoor size including the telcos that accounted for almost 60% of the spend at the time. 2014, we had N93.1billion, 2015 grew a little bit perhaps because of political activities. But again if the economy has no valve it couldnâ€™t have been so even with the political activities. So that now calls for serious concern for industry operators who must now start to reinvent the processes.
Narrowing it down to the media, how will you say all these have impacted on the media?
Look at television, prime products running on prime time are coming down. You find like one insert staggered over a period not creating the desired impact. This means that the revenue base is not helping that. The return from sales is not helping investment. Itâ€™s a double edge sword. So the question is where do we get money to invest in more advertising? Itâ€™s a tricky situation but there are several ways of doing it. So many companies have had to look at experiential marketing, unorthodox means, and digital platforms. And with over 70 million Nigerians on the internet, we can also see that itâ€™s providing a very strong platform that is cheaper. The industry is in comatose but we are happy that it is beginning to show signs of improvement. And we hope that this will be sustainable. If we can find a single regime that is stable for long time, that would help for planning and we would find stability. Every investor became very careful from the end of 2015 because it was like delving into the unknown. If you look at the over hundred known print titles, can we point at thirty today that are truly surviving? Iâ€™m not talking about the mushrooms that fill 16 pages once in a blue moon in the name of publishing. How many televisions and radio stations today can truly say they are standing on their feet? Outside of the big ones, the others are just merely hanging in there. The radios are looking inwards into local content and local programming. I also know what NBC has done with the segmentation to allow for city based radio which is now helping. The licensing is now more of city based radio so that people can begin to look at content within the locality to survive. For outdoor, itâ€™s almost totally bad story. Everywhere you go across the country, the boards are empty. Even the telcos are now very selective and many of them are not even paying. That brings us to the issue of debts. For the media to be able to survive, companies, agencies must pay the media what they owe them. The days of trickery are gone. It must be doing what you can do and paying for what needs to be paid for. Why do we have to get people to borrow money from banks and buy space and air time, run advertising and owe them for six months or one year?Â Thatâ€™s killing the industry. Thatâ€™s why several media organisations canâ€™t pay salaries as at when due which is not good. So agencies must be responsive to their bits and clients responsive to theirs. So when these relationships come together with truthfulness and sincerity, the media would survive.
Having worked with the former governor of AkwaIbom and the present one, can you please compare brands Akpabio and Udom Emmanuel?
These are super brands. They are gentlemen with pedigree and zeal for development. And I started by telling you that Akpabio came with zeal and commitment to the development and transformation of AkwaIbom Sate. And he did that under is uncommon transformation scheme in an unparallel manner in this country so far. That is one brand that pushed up a state and showed that it is possible for states to work; to transform a state form infrastructure zero point to an enviable enclave where Nigerians and the global community can come into. He transformed the state in terms of infrastructure and even sports; the GodswillAkpabio International Stadium alone is an infrastructure that no state in Nigeria has dared to match in term of investment. Thereâ€™s no way you can talk about stadia even in Africa that you would not mention the stadium, medical infrastructure, roads and lots more. He built an enviable brand for the state and himself. To that extent, Akpabio is a super brand and he has taken that into the senate. You can see the candour, professionalism and, maturity he has brought into it, creating stability and looking at governance and issues that will benefit Nigerians even as an opposition leader. Other would have thought that he would be about shouting down the government, but no. The development and growth of Nigeria is number one. When things are wrong, we say it and when itâ€™s right we say it. So he has now moved from an executive brand to a legislative brand which continues to tosh up his profile. For the incumbent governor, I also describe him as a super brand. He has established himself as a super brand in the commercial sector: both his role in the International Finance Corporation as director of IFC, to his role as Executive Director in Zenith Bank and all of his strategic intervention in corporate governance at the time up to when he came in as a governor. He designed a programme that will sustain and add to the development that will leapfrog AkwaIbom to the next level.
Positioning brand Nigeria has always been difficult, how can we market the brand given all the disturbing signals?
I donâ€™t know if Iâ€™m in a very good position to analyse Nigeria but I would say that clearly, we lost it and it has been more of a leadership problem. The day we get the leadership question right and begin to do things as a nation, not as captive group of people, not as hamlets. When we begin to see our national interest from collective self point and understand that if it works in Oshogbo, Uyo, Maiduguri, the summation of it is that Nigeria works. If we see Nigeria from the stand point that if Ade is a successful medical practitioner and Usman is successful engineer, and Ekpo is a success doctor, and Ikenna is a successful businessman and we aggregate all and bring our diversity together in a pool, we would propel and grow Nigeria. Today, were not allowing our diversity to be our strength, we are allowing it to be a disuniting factor. The signals we are getting today from different parts of the country is not portending well for the unity of this country. That is why I must commend the acting president for the intervention in beginning the consultation that would stem the tide. Brand Nigeria can be better if we exclude nepotism. Brand Nigeria can be better if we invest in the collective goodwill of Nigerians and begin to see infrastructure and wellbeing of Nigerians as a must.Â How can a country with 180 million people and enormous resources not have power supply since 1960? No rocket science in it. Others have achieved it, why havenâ€™t we been able to achieve it? Something is wrong with brand Nigeria. We must begin a surgical operation and will lead a cleansing process for us to beginning to see Nigeria as a proper brand. If we donâ€™t, we would continue in this lackadaisical dance around the political space and at the end of the day not achieve anything.
Can you shed more light on your newly established company – African Media Network?
It is basically about our plan to announce a new media optimisation interactive programme that will enable people understand how we can create the hybrid between the traditional and the new media. See the possibilities, challenges and how to curb the electronic vandalism that is raking organisations, families that are creating all sorts of problems. How do we cage this new form of terror within the cyber space? These are some of the discussions that will take centre focus in the discussion we would be holding sometime in July. Thatâ€™s where we are going with the African Media Network.
What are other things that this network will be doing because especially as it concerns advertising?
The advertising business that we are in is a totally different thing. The Executive Option and the Billboard World are the advertising business. The African Media Network is a trusteeship with membership from different parts of Africa. We have members from South Africa, facilitators from Kenya, we have network partners from Ghana, from Cameroon, we have partners within Nigeria with the leadership of it coming from Abuja and coordinating the continental activities. The key for us is stimulating growth and opportunities within the continental media. And we would do that by driving synergies, building knowledge and closing skill gap for media people and organisations. And more importantly, stimulate and grow content for the continental media.