The President, National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, Tony Agenmonmen, is a consummate marketing professional, who spent over three decades at the Nigerian Breweries Plc, where he retired two years ago to lead one of the nation’s foremost marketing institute. In this interview, he speaks about media debt and his perceived operational flaws of the Nigerian Lottery Regulation Commission, among other industry challenges. Raheem Akingbolu brings the excerpts.
The marketing communications industry in Nigeria is facing a lot of challenges, especially as it concerns media debt, how can the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria (NIMN) step in to help solve some of these problems?
Honestly, I don’t see any big role for NIMN as far as media debt is concerned. I believe that there are contracts of engagements between them; I believe everyone should stick to the contract of engagements. I am aware that this issue has been sticky for quite a while, and it’s sticky because it’s been difficult for a few people to reconcile the debts. And it becomes all the more sticky because documentation can be challenging. In a very dynamic marketing environment where you find brand managers move, marketing directors move, even account handling people in the agencies move, then it sometimes become difficult to even reconcile the payment. My advice to all parties involved, therefore, will be that they have to find a way to sit down and actually put a closure to it. They can’t have this thing hanging on for years and every year we talk about debt profile. If, for example, there is a dispute between an agency and a media house about an advert that supposed to be carried last week or last month, I think it makes sense to sit down when it is still very fresh and look at the facts. So, solve the problem of the past and make sure it doesn’t reoccur again, I don’t see any direct role for the Institute in all of that.
But the structure for solving the problem at the moment does not exist. And if you don’t deliberately create those structures then the problem will keep reoccurring?
Well, it’s a tricky one; but like I said there is no do direct role for us. I know how the debts accumulate. In most cases, it is not because the client doesn’t want to pay, it is because there is a dispute over whether the ad was carried or not, for me that should not be allowed to drag on for years if it’s a newspaper, they should be able to present the evidence of the publication, I think the one that’s pretty difficult is electronic media but I think we now have fairly competent electronic media monitors.
What do you think about the problem of over regulation and its effects on marketing duties of your members? For example, the recent conflict with the lottery commission?
The point we are making is that part of the marketing function is that once in a while they do consumer promotion or sales promotion and we are also aware that there is a law that sets up the National Lottery Regulatory Commission to regulate the activities of companies that are set up for the purpose of lotteries. Where there is a disconnect and, by extension, a challenge is that the Commission is interpreting consumer promotion and sales promotion to be lotteries and they are not. For our member association, their articles of association don’t cover such activity as lottery. So they couldn’t actually be doing lottery, if they do it, it’s illegal. But the commission is insisting that if you do sales or consumers promotions there is a lottery element n them. That has been a sore point. I know there have been some discussions and at some point there was a basic agreement. We did agree that we should continue discussion to close the gaps then suddenly we heard that they started closing up some companies for not complying which, for us, is not the right thing to do. Again, like I said that if they were right there are legal processes for driving their claims. I don’t think the lottery commission is a law court. If I don’t pay tax it is not for the tax office to start trying to bring me down.
Are you likely to approach the court for legal interpretation of the relevant laws?
You must understand the role of the marketing institute. That’s beyond our role. When it comes to litigation, we are not a direct party to the issue; even if we went to court today we would not have locus standing. It’s beyond our mandate.
What is your assessment of the current year in terms of economic performance and the marketing industry?
There is no doubt about it that it has been a tough marketing environment. I think those who survived best are those who are able to be creative in designing solutions to meet their consumers’ needs even in this difficult situation. But I can tell you, even within that difficult marketing environment, if you look round you will find a lot of companies that have done well because they have been able to create solutions to navigate through the difficult challenges. When the environment is in turbulence you have to ride the wave. If you don’t ride the wave you sink, if you ride the wave you survive, it’s as simple as that.
It’s now two years since you were elected president of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, how would you rate your performance so far?
I would have loved that you do this interview with a few members of the Institute and ask them what they think about where we were two years ago and where we are today. At the point when we came in the equity of the Institute was very low. Our members were low spirited, they didn’t believe so much in the Institute because of the inherited challenges. We were no longer getting significant support from corporate Nigeria because of the issues that we had then. So we needed to take the Institute back and, to a large extent, we have done that. If you were at the annual dinner and awards night that we just held, you would have seen the quality of membership. A lot of our members who otherwise had withdrawn from the Institute are coming back and they are coming back in their thousands.
You promised major reforms at the onset of your administration, including returning sanity to the Institute by ensuring proper certification for all marketers; can you give an update on how that has gone?
That process is on. From the beginning we said that our preference would always be for voluntary compliance and we still stick to that. We believe that voluntary compliance is the best way to get members to come in. Once members see the benefits that they are going to derive from being members of the Institute (the opportunities we create for training and networking) I am sure they will come in; as they are indeed coming in now. But whilst we drive voluntary compliance, in the end if there are some people who will not want to obey the law, we’ll be left with no option but to enforce the law. But at this stage we are encouraging voluntary compliance. We are also having interaction with a lot of partners, like ADVAN; we are also having discussions with NECA. That is the way we are doing it.
How has the formal Charter proclamation affected the NIMN membership drive?
If you have been following the Institute you would have seen the difference. If you were in Abuja and saw what we had during our annual conference, the place was filled up. People travelled from all parts of the country for the event. If you were also at the annual dinner and awards night, the place was equally filled up. Like I said, our members are coming back. I think they do now realize that the only thing that can happen to the Institute is to move up.
Are there any challenges that have made it difficult for you to achieve certain objectives?
Of course, there is. For us in particular, given the background from where we are coming, we need money. You cannot do anything without money. Our own situation is peculiar. We still have huge debt overhang which we have to manage as well as do the developmental things that we need to do to push the Institute forward. So it’s a delicate balance between having to do a whole lot of things and then of course to try to draw down the debts that we inherited. So, if you are talking about challenges, money is a challenge. But we are thankful because a whole lot of our members have shown faith in the Institute and they have made significant contributions to what we are now. Without their contributions, we probably would not have been able to have the secretariat that we are all proud of today.
Now that NIMN has relocated to a new office, what kind of effect is that likely to have on the institute’s service offerings and stewardship to its members?
You know brand building is not a destination; it is a journey. That same thing applies to the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria. So, having a secretariat that is befitting is just an aspect of all the things that we need to do in order to reposition the Institute. I think anybody who has been to the secretariat is proud of it. Our employees now work in a conducive environment. This, we expect, will lead to increased productivity from the employees. Then from our members’ side, when we are able to fully furnish it, we are going to have some training facilities there so we don’t have to always rent a room in a hotel to run basic trainings. We also want to have our library fully equipped with hard copies and e- copies of books so that our students and members can go there and have access to knowledge that is available.
In terms of your membership drive, what are your projections for 2019?
We have a nominal membership base of 9000+, before we came into office two years ago. I don’t think we had up to 1000 people who were active. However, that situation has changed tremendously. Every day, people are coming back because they can now see a new Institute that appeals to their interest, so I’m very optimistic that 2019 will be another defining moment for the Institute. In the last two years we had a lot of things to clear up; but we are in a stronger position in 2019 to build on the foundation of the last two years and that includes aggressive drive for membership. We get enquiries everyday so I have high hopes.
Can you speak on your plans and what you hope to achieve in 2019?
I’m sure that the Council has an encompassing plan for the year, whether I’m there or not does not define the Institute; what defines the Institute is playing its roles as a professional body. So, in the new year and the coming years, you are going to see NIMN playing increasing roles in the country; when issues of marketing arise you are going to be seeing NIMN. You are also going to see significant efforts in the training of our members as well as organising more programs to create more awareness. Personally, I am very hopeful.