Low Moment for Agency Owners

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Emeka Okeke

Despite the expectation that 2018 would positively reshape the marketing communication industry and give birth to new brands, the opposite has remained the case, writes Raheem Akingbolu

Perhaps what best describes the outgoing year was the declaration by the Group Chief Executive Officer of Media Fuse Dentsu Aegis Network, Mr. Emeka Okeke, that contrary to the popular euphoria that economic recession has subsided, happenings in the market in 2018 have proved otherwise.
With what he could make out of marketing activities in the outgoing year, Okeke, who oversees the affairs of one of the biggest global media buying agencies in Nigeria, in an exclusive interview with THISDAY recently, had argued that the Nigerian economy was still in recession.

“The assertion that we are out of recession or coming out of recession is political economics if all we witnessed in 2018 is anything to go by. Looking at activities in the Nigeria market, it is obvious that current business trends don’t support that view. How many new meaningful companies came to Nigeria this year?
“How many agencies can boast of new good accounts while the year lasted? I woke up two months ago to visit Berkley Bank office in Lagos, where parents who have children abroad pay school fees, only to find the place under lock and key. The bank’s liaising office in Nigeria had been closed. I called my account officer and he simply told me I could only do online services.

“The second one is the prices of commodities that have sky rocketed. A week ago, I called my younger brother in one of the states in the south-east to help me find out the price of rice as I prepared to donate to about 30 widows in my village in line with my annual personal CSR. I was shocked when he told me the price down home was N22, 000.
“I had to call on my wife to reach out to her friends in Dalekan market and other places in Lagos to get cheaper prices and ship them to the east.
“Above all, Nigeria is one of the toughest countries in the world to do business as we are daily facing infrastructural challenges, especially in the area of power and transportation. All these have negative effect on marketing communication and the economy as a whole because everything is interwoven,” Okeke argued.

Also speaking on 2018 and marketing communication businesses, the Publicity Secretary of the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria (PRCAN), Israel Jaiye Opayemi, admitted that the year has been tough for practitioners.
“2018 has been a bit tough for players in the marketing communication industry. The worst part of the story is that the lull in businesses has led to closure of some advertising and Public Relations firms. But beyond that, our people have creatively raced the game this year to be able to serve their clients better despite the challenges.
“Like I keep saying, the nation’s marketing communications corridor parades some of the best in this part of the world as we have grown so well in capacity, innovation and creativity,” Opayemi stated.

What Okeke and Opayemi painted was a reflection of the thought of an average marketing communication practitioner in the country. Few months ago, the hope was high that engagement of local practitioners by politicians and their parties could be the magic wand as the year approached the end.
They however got the shock of their lives when the news was dropped that both APC and PDP, the leading contenders in the next year’s election, have started planning to engage foreign agencies.

At the beginning

January 2018 ushered in hope for marketing communication practitioners in Nigeria. Knowing well that the economic recession that almost crippled their businesses in the previous years had finally been laid to rest; players in the various fields of marketing foresaw a boom in the New Year. But six months after, the hope is still rising without a clear picture of what the rest of the year would look like.

Another major challenge the industry is yet to overcome is lack of leadership and operational board at the apex regulatory body of the industry –the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).

However, in terms of industry structure and development, there has been tremendous growth in the last six months.
For instance, the advertising community has attracted global recognition with the inauguration of the Nigerian Chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA), while other sectoral bodies, like NIPR, PRCAN and EXMAN have also instituted various programmes to promote capacity development.

Looking at the last 12 months, Publisher of Marketing Edge, a wholly Marketing Communication publication, Mr. John Ajayi, agreed that it is not yet uhuru for the industry. He told THISDAY that the hope of marketing practitioners that this year would be better has remained hanging.
While blaming the late passage of the budget by the National Assembly for the lull in the economy, he called on practitioners to quickly braze up to attract available opportunities next year.
“It is sad, but the reality is that the high expectation in January has become high frustration because things have not moved the way they should be for practitioners. First, the delay in signing the budget into law at the critical period, when it would have been used to invigorate the economy through the real sector cost the marketing industry a lot. “Things have been tough in the last six months because there is no money in circulation, consumers purchasing power have reduced while the manufacturing sector, whose activities would have had cumulative impact on the marketing communication has been in comatose,” he added.

Impact of the World Cup

Beyond growing sales, many brands, especially those with global clouts leveraged on this year’s FIFA World Cup for men that was hosted by Russia, to further strengthen the equity of their brands. While the tournament lasted, a lot of activities by many manufacturers of goods and service providers were geared toward the global competition to boost their brands visibility in the market.
Of course, this also boosted activities in the marketing communication industry since they relied on the industry for conceptualisation of promotional ideas and campaigns.
As a global partner of FIFA since 1978, Coca Cola was not left out this year. To identify with the Super Eagles of Nigeria and its Nigerian consumers, the global soft drink brand domesticated some of its global campaigns and engaged local marketing communications practitioners for activations. In fact, to promote the ideals and strength of the Super Eagles, both Coca Cola and Pepsi launched ad campaigns ahead of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
The campaign for the national team to win the 2018 FIFA World Cup received quite an overwhelming support from global and indigenous brands as well as the Nigerian government. At least, six big brands supported the Nigerian football national team with over N6 billion in its campaign to come out top at the 2018 global football event.
Out of these brands were two major beverage manufactures- Coca-Cola Nigeria and Nigerian Breweries plc, that funded the Super Eagles campaign with over N2 billion.
Other brands that identified with the team and end up boosting activities in the marketing industry are; Hero, Trophy, Multichoice and Amstel Malta.
Outdoor sector

In the out-of-home sub sector of the industry, the last one year has been rough. According to industry source, more agencies have downsized as a result of their businesses that nosedived in the last 12 months.

To say the last 10 years have been difficult for outdoor practitioners is like stating the obvious. Aside facing challenges of multiple taxation and unfriendly rates, the fear of likely takeover of their businesses by foreign firms has remained a recurring decimal.
In Lagos, where they have the largest chunk of their businesses, the challenges have been tougher than other places, especially since 2006 when the state government decided to create a parallel regulatory agency -The Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA), to rival the federal government’s owned Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON). Despite efforts by stakeholders to mend the wall between the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN) and LASAA, the relationship is still a cat and mouse one.
Speaking on the performance of the sub-sector in the last six months, OAAN General Secretary, Femi Ogala, didn’t mince words in stating emphatically that the last two years have remained the worst for out-of-home practitioners. Ogala didn’t only blame Lagos State and her agency –LASAA for double standard; he also condemned the agency for introducing unfriendly payment pattern to frustrate local practitioners.
‘’For outdoor practitioners, 2017 and 2018 are bad years and nothing have changed, no thanks to LASAA and the Lagos State government that boosted the activities of a foreign firm -JCDecaux Group, at the expense of the local operators. As I speak, major streets in Lagos like Ikorodu road, 3rd Mainland Bridge, Oshodi, Ojota and others have been ceded to the foreign company. Our members are particularly sad because some areas where the state had initially marked untouchable are now being controlled by the company. Besides, the rates being given to us are not friendly, even after the recent reduction. For God’s sake, where do you get money to pay when the campaigns are no more running. It is when our works add values to clients’ businesses that we will be paid and get money to pay government,’’ he said.