Odigbo: Advertising Agencies Should Begin to Operate as Creative Business Solution Providers.

Ikechi Odigbo
Ikechi Odigbo

The President, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, Mr. Ikechi Odigbo, in this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, speaks about the place of digital in today’s advertising and the need for government to institute a strong council for the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, among other issues.

For over three years now, the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has existed without a board, what step is the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) taking to persuade the federal government to constitute the council?

For us, the proper constitution of the APCON council is a very major priority not just for advertising industry but for the entire media and advertising sectors because we are looking at APCON -a body that oversees not just the professionals in advertising sector but also oversees the advertising sector, media sector and the marketing sector. We see it as a major priority because we believe that for the advertising code to be fully activated; there is a need for us to have properly constituted board. The board has been dissolved for about three to four years now and we believe that it’s not just good for the industry. Over the years, the industry has produced accomplished and experienced practitioners who have been in the industry and who will be able to advance the profession that APCON will oversee. Having stated this, we are eagerly looking forward to having a properly constituted council for marketing communications industry and we are sure of having a highly competitive board. Therefore, we are only waiting for the nod of government to do the needful at the appropriate time.

We are in the digital and technology era and it’s believed in some quarters that digital poses huge challenge for traditional advertising practitioners, what is your view?

Well, 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, but even at that the situation has only complemented the role of traditional advertising practitioners in the country. Till date, creative agencies still control the space as promoters of other platforms rely on them for contents.

Check it out. 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.

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.

This is becoming even more imperative when you consider the fact that most of these clients are working with specialist shops or boutiques in the Public Relations space and other tools of marketing. Therefore, for agencies to differentiate and stay relevant, they must be in that position where they must draw strategies to client. Not just the impression of creating headlines or coming up with a creative material. This is possible because as a consulting backbone, we have more understanding of our clients and where their businesses are heading.

Some small and medium scale firms believe advertisement is for the big and multinational companies and would rather engage low-end outfits for their promotions. What is your take on this?
The truth of the matter is, in good times and in recession, advertising is critical to business, whether SMEs and micro-businesses or the big companies. Business from the way I see it, is about two things: innovation and marketing, and the ability to offer a distinctive product that satisfies a need or generates demand in the market.

Doing this, the advertising agency is strategically positioned through the creation of awareness for your product.
It helps build the brand that distinguishes your product for competition and also develops campaigns that not just creates awareness, but creates fidelity; fidelity in the sense of winning the share of hearts and minds of the public.

It is important to achieve success in your first trial, it is also important to sustain demand and doing this involves a whole circle of creating awareness, winning share of mind and top of the mind awareness.
So, in good times you need to take advantage of the available disposable income. And to continue to win the greater share of the market, you need a greater share of voices out there. Once you lose your share of voices, your competitors will encroach into your share of the market.

In bad times, you also need to advertise because if you do not advertise then as consumers reduce their range of choices, the propensity for them to choose your brand will begin to decline and then go out of the radar of their selection
In that wise, advertising is critical to drive momentum in terms of economic prosperity and to maintain stability even in recession. Having said that, our business environment is populated by SMEs and micro-businesses that probably do not have the resources to engage the services of an advertising agency.

Some agencies have identified that gap and are beginning to look at ways to help such small businesses build their brand, put their products or services together in such a way that will make them have optimal advantage of the market. This is because brand building is not only about business; it is also about the individual. Supposing I am a one-man business, my abilities to access opportunities is not just dependent on me, but also dependent on my personal brand.

You recently assumed office as President of AAAN, considering your busy schedule as the Managing Director of a creative agency, how have you been reconciling the responsibilities of the two offices?

With my leadership post in DDB, well known not only in Nigeria, but also in West Africa, as the group managing director with a great sense of responsibility that means I’ve taken the task of providing leadership for the agency and its businesses. On the other hand, AAAN, as a body of distinguished professional agencies that have been able to help nurture top marketing professionals, a lot is also expected from me to sustain the tempo. Don’t forget, I’m not alone as I’m surrounded with quality individuals who have also succeeded in their businesses as executive members. My distinguished colleagues on the exco are competent and with their support and support of other stakeholders, I look forward to achieving the goals of the association in the next coming years.

On whether my functions and operations could clash, that is not possible because it depends on how one plans his day today activities. I will say we multi-task as young men and this is the time to do it. By the time we are old, we will slow down and into full time retirement. Now we have full time and energy and it’s time to work and we are doing the work both for our company and our professional body.

What is your vision for the organisation and the industry?
Our industry has been going through significant challenges in recent times with the economic recession, which we are beginning to navigate.
Our members have been severely impacted by dwindling economic fortunes, just like any other sector of the economy, and that implies we need to create a more robust framework for businesses of our members.

One of the ways we believe this can be achieved is by engaging our partners, colleagues in the business sector, especially advertisers most of whom belong to Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN).
We want to create a very strong friendship with ADVAN, with a view to ensuring that engagement between the agencies and their clients is standardised and a win-win posture is adopted, rather than some growing trend of random and arbitrary practices that we are beginning to see.

We see instances of idea theft, where in some instances, pitches are called and an agency comes up with the preferred proposal, but does not have the connection, and the preferred agency is now given the idea that was presented by the other agency to go and improve on; that is becoming very rampart. We also have scenarios where services of our members are engaged and a few months down the line the clients makes a u-turn and says I cannot afford to pay anymore think what we can afford to do now is 50 per cent of the agreed fees; and it now becomes a question of do I go ahead or do I walk away and go with nothing?
We are looking at this to create the right frame work and standard. We want to put in place a professional and standardized way of doing business.

Can you throw more light on the industry’s professional ethics and the role of AAN in this regard?
The AAAN is not an association for big agencies; it’s a level platform for the advertising community to come together to promote common interest. I can assure you that it is the reason for the existence of the association. Any small agency not fully optimising or taking advantage of the association because of such perceptions is undoing itself. We have a Professional Practice Committee (PPC) that listens to the conduct of member agencies and where such conduct as expressed is found to exist, the necessary disciplinary action would be taken. Also, APCON is a properly constituted association with the necessary structures to promote ethics and standard of advertising in Nigeria.