Raheem Akingbolu takes a look at the growth trajectory in the nation’s marketing communications industry and expresses concern over how lack of succession plans by the founding fathers in the industry is making it difficult for firms to outlive their founders
Club 100, a documentary programme by CNN is always a delight to watch for people who are keen about brand building and growth as it chronicles, from time to time, brands that have lived, remained relevant and attractive for 100 years. Among others, brands like Guinness, Coca Cola, King Gillette and Panasonic, have been featured on this programme. According to its anchors and promoters, a successful business is about more than making money but about building a brand and the best brands go on to become household names.
Through Club 100, viewers have been given tips about the humble beginning of the many global brands. Guinness has been brewing beer for more than 200 years when Arthur Guinness signed a 9,000-year lease on the St. James’s Gate Brewery in 1759. Gillette’s shaving history dates back to 1901, after King Gillette created a personal safety razor to cut back on constant trips to the barber. In 1886, a pharmacist in Atlanta created a flavored syrup initially intended as medicine. Today, the Coca-Cola Company has more than 500 brands and 4,100 drinks around the world. Panasonic’s attachment plug launched the electronic giant’s 100 years ago and still relevant in the market. One interesting thing about the brands that have been x-rayed on this programme is that none of them has African background.
Beyond the Marketing Communications industry, experience has shown that most Nigerian indigenous brands in the real sector, hardly outlived their founders. This explains why what remains of the Abiolas, Ojukus, Odutolas and Dantatas are mere crumbs of their businesses. In some cases, most of the businesses have also folded up, while some are struggling to survive. In the marketing communication industry, the story is the same as many of the early Advertising agencies have since gone into oblivion. For instance, 30 years ago, agencies like Lowe Lintas, Grand Advertising Limited, OBM, Promoserve Limited were the agencies to watch but today, they exist only in name. Though Lintas still manages to do a few businesses but it is a known fact that the creative firm is already in the Intensive Care Unit, awaiting its final knock-out. This is also the case of agencies like STB McCann and Rosabell that are now in state of comatose. There are many others that are already patients, awaiting surgical operation.
A case of greed and ambition
The questions are; is it lack of visionary leaders or bad employees? Are Africans not capable of managing brands or the market not favourable for advertising business growth? Reacting to these questions, the Deputy Provost of the Nigerian Institute of Journalism, Dr. Jide Johnson, reasoned that the problem is complex. In an interview with THISDAY, Johnson blamed agency owners for always building businesses around their family as well as blaming some young Nigerian professionals who are always eager to be independent of their employers.
He said, “Is it lack of visionary leaders or bad employees? Yes. Are Africans not capable of managing brands or the market not favourable for advertising business growth? No. Let me start by saying that agency owners in Nigeria live as if they will not die again. The problem is that everybody is wise in Nigeria and that is why Nigerian business owners, including the agency owners think only of themselves and their families alone.
“As a result of this, the moment they see a young man or woman they employ few years ago growing, they start suspecting him or her. The next minutes, the guy or lady get axed as a result of suspicion that such a person may end up hijacking the business. There is no way we can build an agency brand of the future if we don’t allow experienced people working in the agency to get a buy-in in the business after decades of working to grow the agency.
“This is not to say that some of the employees are not liable too. Nigerians are always in hurry to be independent and that is why we see proliferation of agencies. Of course, if it’s discovered that Mr. ‘A’, a Chief Operating Officer in agency ABC is diverting briefs to another agency by proxy, it will be suicidal for the owner of the business to keep him. Finally, for Nigerian agencies to be transferred from one generation to the other, there must be a well cut-out sustainability theory. Without that, we are just scratching things in the surface; we are not there yet,”
Also speaking on the issue, the Managing Director of Media Edge, a Public Relations firm, Mr. John Ajayi, believes that most of Nigerian agency owners don’t groom new leaders. But like Johnson, he blamed many successful professionals in paid employment arrangement, who always see themselves as competitors to the business owners.
“If we must build strong brands in the marketing communications industry, people must grow, they must be trained and they must be prepared to take over. Yes, they will make mistake because nobody is totally infallible but they will learn from it and master the business. Above all, after spending a quality time on the business, they should be allowed to be part owners. It is through this that Nigerian business owners can be immortal like the Arthur Anderson or the Ogilvy of this world.
“Having said this, I must confess too that some Nigerian agency owners have genuine intention to make their businesses outlive them, but for the lack of loyalty, distrust and internal competition on the part of the employees. Let look at the most celebrated case in this regard which involved a respected practitioner many years ago, Chief Kehinde Adeosun of the Promoserve fame and Mr. Allan Olabode, who later set up an agency called 24 Century Advertising Limited.
“Adeosun, genuinely groomed Olabode to take over from him when he thought he had reached the peak of his career but the latter stabbed the old man on the back as he wanted to wash Adeosun hands off the business. Allan Olabode was bent on taking over the business but men and women of goodwill in the advertising industry stood with Adeosun and pushed out Olabode.
“He was later blacklisted today which explain why you don’t see him involve in the activities of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria and other relevant professional bodies. The rest is history as both Promoserve and 24 Centuries Advertising died with the crisis. The existing clients couldn’t continue with Promoserve because Olabode had moved with the largest chunk of the staff. Of course, the clients couldn’t trust Olabode either and that ended the life span of Promoserve, a successful advertising brand,” Ajayi stated.
Today’s agencies and fear of the unknown
Insight Communications, Rosabel Advertising Limited, Promoserve Limited and Centrespread Advertising Limited. These names belong to agencies that carry the baton of second generation advertising agencies. They started in the late 70s to the early 80s.
For instance, Insight Communication was built and nurtured by Biodun Shobanjo. Insight has not only built brands but has equally become a brand on its own. Today, the agency and the likes of Centerspread, SO&U, Prima Garnet and five others have also been caught in the web of succession. With available information at the disposal of our reporter, the owners appear to be confused on what their future look like. While some of them seem to have made mistake of wrongfully identifying successors, some are preparing the ground with for their children to succeed them.
Insight is an agency that has groomed many top managers, who are currently doing well in either client or agency side. Between 1998 and 2018, exactly 20 years, when the agency groomed and developed talents like Olu Akanmu, Emeka Okeke, Christian Idahosa, Lawrence Mba, Kayode Oluwasona, Feyi Olubodun, Joachim Aguzuo Atunwa and Sam Osunsoko, many thought the business owners should have identified an ideal Managing Director that would take it to the next generation from the list. Unfortunately, many of the above mentioned consummate professionals allegedly left the business unceremoniously as a result of suspicion or internal politics. In the same way, the Public Relations arm of the business – Quadrant MSL, has done away with two Managing Consultants, in the last two years. For Nigerian agencies to survive the scourge, many business analysts have advised the business owners to look beyond emotion and sentiment while thinking of successors. They have also been advised not to get carried away with family business syndrome that have compelled a few of them to appoint their children as either Chief Operating Officer or Managing Director.
To buttress the point that children may not necessarily take after their parents, a Public Relations practitioner, Mr. Ganiyu Olowu, made reference to the case of the First managing director of Nigeria’s first advertising agency, Lintas and founding member of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), Chief Ifeanyi Moemeke. According to him, the then Lintas MD thought of preparing one of his children -Chukwudi for the future but the plan failed.
“Like many Nigerian business owners, the late Nigerian creative titan, Chief Moemeke had prepared one of his children –Chukwudi and in fact encouraged him to study Mass Communications. The young man obliged and graduated with a degree in Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. As soon as he finished NYSC programme, he was drafted in but the zeal and craft for advertising business were not there. Aside the fact that he couldn’t take over from his father, he didn’t even stay long to grow through the rank to the top,” Olowu said.
With new technology and trend that have naturally created barrier for the old practitioners and lack of sustainable model, the future appears bleak for the nation’s marketing communication industry.