Surviving Against the Odds

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Raheem Akingbolu writes on how specialisation has deepened professionalism in the marketing communications industry in the last 57 years of Nigeria’s independence but concludes that government is yet to give the profession its due recognition

At the beginning, marketing business was in a single basket, with a single agency handling all legs of communications. According to the President of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Dr. Rotimi Oladele, the foundation of what is today known as Marketing Communications industry in Nigeria was laid by the colonial masters, who used their established broadcasting stations as platforms to relay their programmes and activities.

‘’It will be difficult to discuss the evolution of marketing communication industry and how communication helped midwife the Nigeria nation without making reference to the role played by the colonial masters. The British colonial administration in Nigeria prior to 1960, established media organisations to convey the queen’s wishes to Nigerians. If we look at it very well, an organisation like WNTV was playing PR roles in the colonial administration and that is why I have always insisted that one of the roles that supposed to be played by various media organisations in Nigeria is Public Relations roles. They should be able to position their founders and influence opinion and perceptions. This was exactly the role played by the Daily Times and the New Nigeria when the newspapers were still relevant in the market. To this end, I will say that the modern marketing communications we are having today in Nigeria sprang from the seed sowed by colonial masters through their media platforms,’’ he said.

Advertising at the beginning
Many schools of thoughts in the industry have agreed that professional advertising started in 1928 with the birth of West African Publicity Limited. The company was said to be an offspring of UAC to cater for the needs of the colonial masters in Nigeria and West Africa. In 1929, the company transformed to an advertising agency named Lintas with two other subsidiaries; Afromedia, the outdoor medium and Pearl/Dean, the cinema arm. In the 1950’s new advertising agencies emerged. The medium of advertising was in its infancy in those days Federal Government owned National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) which was the only television station that operated in the four regions of East, West, North and later Midwest. With the increase in practitioners, an agency regulatory body had to be formed to standardise their practices. A meeting of the agencies held at Ebute Metta, Lagos in 1971 led to the formation of the Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria (AAPN) with the objective of protecting practitioners against unfavorable business. The association was later renamed Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN).

In an interview with the Chief Executive Officer and Registrar of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Alhaji Garba Bello- Kankarofi, he said the need to establish APCON by Decree 55 of 1988, later renamed Act 55 of 1988 by the civilian administration on November 1989, brought about the first meeting of the association held in Lagos and culminated to the birth of APCON.

According to him, in the 1990’s the sector came alive, it began to expand beyond advertising as full services public relation firms.

‘’Also the era witnessed the mad rush of foreign affiliations. Media Independent Practitioners Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN) later emerged. Today, Nigerian advertising industry is making efforts to ensure that they measured up to global industry practice. Affiliations also avails them of technical knowhow in the areas of creativity and training. The industry has grown to shooting their adverts locally and injecting a lot of local content in their campaigns the regulatory body of advertising, APCON, is living up to expectations by the measures put in place to sanitize the industry.

‘’Of note is professionalising the practice to ensure that quacks are reduced if not flushed out completely. Again measures are adopted to ensure practitioners operate within set advertising standards. This was what gave birth to sectional associations like Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Media Independent Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MIPAN), Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), Newspapers proprietors Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN),’’ he said.

Specialisation
The carving out of Media Buying agencies from the general advertising business was a step towards widening the scope of the business. Though the decision seems to have today created array of problems to the traditional agencies as a result of threat pose by the former but it has also deepened professionalism.
Sometimes in the early nineties, an agency chief executive would expect his head of strategy to prepare both media plan and public relations support for client.

Fast forward 2013, a clear twenty years after, there exists a different scenario in the conduct of the business of marketing communications. Today, the days when one outfit prepares the creative material, plan its exposure in the name of media planning, organises public relations support for the campaign seems to have gone and gone for good.
In an interview with the Chairman, of TPT International, Mr. Tokunbo Modupe, in the last ten years, the client has had to deal with different ‘agencies’ with specialisation in these areas.

‘’Now there exists in the market outfits whose sole business is media planning and buying and the same vein, there are PR firms whose main business is helping organisations sending their corporate messages across to their targets via third party channels. They also help organise media presence and engagement for brands and also help shore up the image of both brands and corporate outfits

“Gradually too, there is a slow but growing emergence of shops which main business is generating creative materials for clients. They do not bother themselves with other variables in the marketing communication mix. Also, there are brand activation agencies that involve mainly in direct marketing. Aside the fact that these set of people are into what is loosely referred to as experiential marketing, they get instant feedback from consumers.’’

According to the President of Experiential Marketers Association of Nigeria (EXMAN), Mr. Kehinde Salami, in an economic environment whereby consumer resistance is on the rise.
‘’It is no surprise that most of the companies that are into experiential marketing are doing well as many brand owners want to reach end consumers directly by cutting off the stress of going through media advertisement or public relations support,’’ he said.

It is the above scenario that has left many to begin to wonder if the traditional agency is not on its twilight. While many are complaining of low business and lack of jobs as far as the traditional agency is concerned, the fact is that most of its businesses have been taken away by the emergence of these specialised areas in marketing communications outfit.

Industry worth

If considered from the point of view of business billings and proliferation of agencies and media houses, then one can conveniently say the Marketing Communications industry has witnessed tremendous growth in recent times.
In advertising industry for instance, while major players have hit the billions of naira billings mark, the collective billing for the industry has since jumped over the N50 billion targets of eight years ago. But in the last two years, things suddenly took a dramatic trend when first rated agencies started recording decline in their businesses as a result of the harsh economic climate that has bedevilled the private sector where the industry draws its revenue. Asides, practitioners have also been criticised for not upping their game in the area of creativity, a situation which has made them lost businesses to foreign and younger agencies.

For instance, leading advertising and PR agencies that used to be among the top five in the industry are now grappling with challenges of retaining their prime positions.
In international rating, Nigerian agencies like, DDB Lagos, Noah’s Ark Communications Limited, Insights, PR Nigeria, Leo Burnet Lagos and X3M Ideas have made the country proud in the recent times by attracting international recognitions.

Indices for growth

The growth in the entire marketing industry in recent years could be attributed to the recapitalisation exercise by banks, a directive of the apex bank –The Central Bank of Nigeria and liberalisation of the telecommunication industry which broke NITEL’s monopoly thereby attracting private investments in the industry. The two key economic development engendered tremendous marketing communication activities with agencies raking in millions of naira worth marketing billings. In short, it has witnessed significant growth especially in terms of billings and number of agencies. But the sector has also witnessed many challenging moments from 1960 to date.

However, contrary to the N103.858 billion spent on traditional advertising in 2015 by advertisers in Nigeria, the 2017/18 Nigerian Media Advertising Guide (NMAG), published by Media Perspectives, has revealed that the figure dropped to N80.446 billion in 2016. This expenditure represents 23% decrease on 2015 traditional advertising spending. The decline was said to have largely caused by 2015 elections coupled with the recession of 2016 in Q2.

Challenges
Cutting corners among practitioners, influx of quacks and indifferent attitude to regulatory authorities are persistent problems in the marketing communications industry. But despite the odds, the industry has recorded tremendous growth over the years. It has also thrown up many professionals and contributed in no small measure to the nation’s economy. Besides, digital technologies have redefined the industry and boost its global profiles.
Aside weak regulations that still stand as barrier, poor entry requirements and proliferation of agencies, are also posing challenges to the growth and development of the marketing communications industry.

Stakeholders are still concerned about how the gap between the second generation agencies and the new ones has continued to wide by the day. Record shows that major advertising businesses in the market are still under the control of the top agencies with the smaller ones feeding on the crumbs.

The outdoor industry has also grown from the era of pasting posters on the wall and the period of erecting planks along the roads. The trend has now gone digital; with local and international agencies making efforts to catch up with the global phenomenon.

After years of misconception about public relations and its practitioners, the profession is beginning to earn credibility and attract local and international recognition. As a result of this, hardly there is any company in Nigeria that has no link with one or two PR agencies to manage its affairs.

Speaking on the major setback in the Marketing Communications Industry, the Deputy Provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Dr. Jide Johnson, said the poor utilisation of public relations by the government and its agencies is still a big problem of the industry.

He said: “All over the world, government is the highest spender and a situation where it looks away from local communication practitioners will not augur well for the industry. This also affects political parties and candidates during elections that often resort to PR or Advertising only when they are in crisis. There were very few structured political communication campaigns properly anchored by recognised agencies under the AAAN and PRCAN folds. It is believed that trained Advertising and PR practitioners can help government agencies and politicians communicate their programmes better to the public.’’