Marketing Communication on Upward Swing

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Raheem Akingbolu writes on the growth trajectory of the marketing communications industry in the last 58 years of Nigeria’s independence

The 45th Annual General Meeting of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, (AAAN), held recently was used by players in the marketing communication industry to review the industry and reflect on how businesses were faring. This was made possible because of a special platform created for old generation advertising practitioners to rub mind with top players in today’s market.

It was a moment of stocktaking as the veterans who dominated the Nigerian glamorous advertising world of yesterday took turns to reflect on the challenges of the creative business in Nigeria. The admen, most of whom were past presidents of AAAN include: Chairman, STB-McCann, Sir Steve Bamidele Omojafor, Group CEO, Centerspread Grey, Mr. Kola Ayanwale, former Chief Executive of LTC Advertising, Mrs. Bola Thomas and a former APCON chairman and Group CEO of Prima Garnet, Lolu Akinwumi.

Among other issues, the practitioners spoke on the humble beginning of the industry, when marketing business was in a single basket, with foreigners playing major roles. They spoke on how the indigenisation policy of the 70s enabled local players to start having stake in the business. From there, the industry graduated to withstand specialisation and affiliation.

In a recent interview, the President of Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR), Dr. Rotimi Oladele, told THISDAY that 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 suppose 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).

Specialisation
The need to deepen professionalism gave birth to specialisation. For instance, 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 to what is happening in the market today, 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 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.”

“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.”

Digital marketing
Compared to the analogue days, the growth in Internet users has impacted the marketing communication industry so well that traditional practitioners have been compelled to up their games. However, rather than be a threat to traditional Ad revenue in Nigeria, top advertising practitioners and communications experts, including the President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Mr. Ikechi Odigbo, have predicted a boost in the nation’s economy as a result of online advertising revolution if it is well harnessed.

Recent survey puts Nigerian internet users at close to 100 million. The Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), had early this year disclosed that internet users increased by 98,391,456 in December 2017 from 94, 818,553 in November showing an increase 3, 572,903, a situation which many analysts believe would turn the table in favour of digital advertising and create a bleak future for traditional advertisers .

Speaking on the new trend in the marketing and communication industry, the Communications & Public Relations Manager, West Africa at Google Africa, Taiwo Kola-Ogunlade, told THISDAY that Marketing communications is in the midst of a sea change as Marketing and Branding executives have begun to hire developers and creating beautiful, interactive apps to further deepen their relationship with consumers.
The Google Africa Chief however stated that the advent of the web has a large impact of offline advertising, arguing that the most interesting and dynamic times are yet to come.

“As marketing and media move headlong into a digital future, Nigeria’s marketing communications industry will have a unique opportunity to build a future that helps drive our economy, and the web, forward.
He stated that the world was changing in line with new communication trend and that it has changed the way brand owners are reaching out to consumers.

The President, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, Mr. Ikechi Odigbo, though admitted that in the past seven to ten years, there has been continuous erosion of value within the advertising industry where most clients have begun to divert most of their marketing styles towards activation and also digital campaigns, he argued that the situation will only complement the role of traditional advertising practitioners in the country.

According to him, creative agency still controls the space as promoters of other platforms rely on them for contents.
“It’s the same creativity that is required for your campaign on the mass media that will be required to also be effective in terms of digital advertising. To me, the important thing is that ad agencies need to think even beyond just beginning to dominate the digital space to begin to see their business more for a holistic point of view.

“Today, the time requires that we begin to see ourselves not just as agencies but as creative business solution providers. It is when this is done that we will begin to now reposition ourselves more strategically to be relevant to the clients’ businesses in a way that we can engage their problems not from a channel based perspective but from the solutions based perspective,”
Odigbo said in today’s market, if it will require a digital platform to meet the marketing needs of a client then advertising agency should be in that position to say, “yes we can work with eco systems partners to proffer the solutions.”

“So, I believe the advertising industry is going through an evolution where agencies are beginning to appreciate that they need to change to reposition and become a strategic partner.
“As a strategic partner, we can now sit down and apply a specific approach to solve the client problems rather than going with the impression of a carpenter that every problem needs a hammer and a nail to be solved instead of looking at it holistically and practically address the challenges,”

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 the entire marketing communications industry for instance, while major players have hit the billions of naira billings mark, the collective billing for the industry has since jumped to over N200 billion.

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.

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.

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.