Ajufo:   Govt Has Made Outdoor Advertising Costly

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Emmanuel Ajufo

The Managing Director, Opportunity-to-see Limited and President Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria Emmanuel Ajufo, in this interview with Adedayo Adejobi, speaks on what he’s doing differently at the helms of affairs and challenges bedeviling the industry. Excerpts:

 

What will you be doing differently as President of Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria?

The first major task is to complete the ingoing-projects that my immediate past president started and that is because I’ve had a wonderful working relationship with him. I’m also aware of most of the things we tried to accomplish. What we need to do in no particular order is to get our research done. Everywhere you go today, you are told that people don’t know what they are paying for in terms of value they get from outdoor. We want to put an end to that and give the industry more robust reasons to patronise us. Our business is outdoor and so we gave to relate with the government. Our relationship with government at the various tiers needs to be improved upon. We would be engaging government more such that they begin to see and appreciate or value beyond pecuniary gains, political campaigns.   We pay multiple taxes, employ staff and contribute our quota to the economy. And so we are going to be engaging government.

We need to also engage the industry as we have various specialisations in the industry like the ADVAN and MIPAN. The debt crisis is so much in the industry. We need to talk about it more. There was a time it was prepaid. But even if we are not going the route of prepaid, we need to have a working contract. It came to 45 days and over to 90 days. It has gone beyond 90 days. The truth is when people begin to take contracts that have these crazy timelines, what you see it people cutting corners.

We would also engage them on our sectorial group meetings. You will recall that in the past, we had Head of sectorial groups. When Charles Chijide was President, then I was General Secretary, which was when we had the issue of the APCON council not being there. As you know for four years now, we’ve not had APCON Council. And if you don’t have the council, then practice is without regulation. We intend to push that the HASG comes back and see the platform to talk to government to see how it can bring council back to us.

 We also need to have internal cohesion, because practitioners ask why we are in OAAN when a lot of people who are not are practicing. I think the questions keeps being raised because of the disunity within our fold. If we are united, we can then talk about those who are outside. Today the APCON doesn’t allow for people to practice without being in either tier one or two membership. As you are aware the sectorial body is the tier one membership and then those who standalone and get registered by APCON are tier two. But we have a lot of them who are outside. We’ll be asking ourselves the question on why we are in OAAN. And the moment we find the answer, we can together fight those who are outside.  In summary, we’ll be using the carrot and stick approach to engage. And when we need to use the law in addressing the issues regulators have brought into place, we may need to ask them to follow the laws they have made, because they make laws and they don’t follow them. For instance in Lagos State Signage and Advertising Agency (LASAA), there is supposed to be a board where people can appeal in a case where the management of LASAA has not treat any of us fairly, we do not have any place to appeal to. It’s not good. It is their law; they should obey it by constituting a board.

The issue of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Debt has been there for some time. This last regime tried to get it out; we’ve not been able to. We’ll talk about and address it because a labourer deserves his wages. We worked and we deserve to be paid.

 

 In most corporate organisations, the Integrated Marketing Communications spend is usually the first affected in the overall budget. And with the emergence of technology, digital seems to be taking a large chunk of the budget, even though it hasn’t proven to convert to sales. The industry has no doubt suffered a huge blow from regulators, client budget cutsin the seeming recessive economy. How have stakeholders been coping?

It has been very difficult for us and that’s why we have a lot of vacant billboards. No one would take delight in building a house and not having a tenant, so it’s very painful. We are not unmindful of the fact the out-of home budget seems to have been eaten up. And like I alluded earlier, some of the clients claim that they cannot immediately relate our service to value they get, and that is what we are addressing.

But that is not true, or is it?

It’s not true, but when you don’t have anything to justify what you are talking about it, becomes difficult.  During our annual general meeting, we got a gentleman who spoke to us about outdoor opportunities and he also alluded to digital and we disagree with him. We told him that it’s not about carrying phones, but about what it translates to.  We would however carry out research because in other climes, what we get is that outdoor advertising is growing, and so we don’t understand why ours should be dwindling.

Whatever digital billboards you have outsides Nigeria, we also have here. We are looking inwards to begin to do a lot more by applying the platforms to delivering more in terms of data-driven advertising. OAAN believes in training. Once there is a recession, marketing communication budget drops. But our own situation is a bit peculiar in the sense that in the past these regulatory agencies were not slamming us with a lot of money. Now, they have turned regulation to internally generated revenue and made our services very costly. We have planned to engage government to sees that what it charges our members in multiple taxation is ridiculous. Beyond the value, the cost of having those boards out is enormous and that is what translates into having their ads of some other digital platforms. Seventy per cent of our costs go into power. It’s a lot of money and that has to be addressed. Although digital is dotting the landscape, but there are still some cities in Nigeria you wouldn’t dare put up a digital board because you wouldn’t have a client. As much as digital is growing, it has to be done with caution because of our peculiar challenges.

 A major issue raised by some stakeholders in the industry is that your association has allowed big international unregistered players with huge financial power and government backing play in your industry without adhering to ethics of the profession as the case should be globally. What are you doing in that regard?

 When we noticed JC Decaux came, we took it up with the industry and APCON has been very supportive. We needed to make a statement and so we took them to court. As we speak, the case is in court. They have come to negotiate, whilst we have also given them our conditions and they seem to be willing to come to terms with the terms. We are not against foreign companies coming into Nigeria to practice, but they should not be given undue advantage over Nigerians. If we did not get the industry to this level, they will not be attracted to come in the first place.  The last meeting we had, the regional Director from South Africa was there and they assured us that their intention is to practice fairly.  I think it’s victory for OAAN.

 Although we have rumours that government was backing them and the reason its believable was the impunity with which they went about their affairs, and clinching sites that were disallowed for our members before. All those added to the suspicion. But we are at the table discussing now whilst the case is still in court. We hope the issue would be sorted out and subsequently any foreign company coming in would respect our laws.

 

Do incoming big players pose any threat to the industry?

If they play according to the rules, I really do not think that they pose a threat. We are not afraid of competition. You know that Global Outdoor and Primedia also came and they are also agitated with JC Decaux’s presence.  I do not see them as threats if the government does not treat them better than us. Our economy has a way of levelling everybody in check.

How did you get involved in the out of home business?

I started outdoor advertising in 1990 and had the opportunity of working in the bank then. My first Director asked me about who I’m, of course I was at the stage of discovery. He then advised me to stay in this profession and so I stayed. I’m happy I listened to him. I started with the best- Optimum Exposures. From there I went to Invent Media and moved to Marketing and Media before I set up my own company-Opportunity-to-See.

What have been the challenges so far?

As a trainee we were using starch to work. And because I wanted to be well-trained, I learnt the ropes from the scratch. So when I see today’s operations staff that have everything to do very well and they are slacking, I laugh. Then as the Area manager in charge of the north, there were no mobile phones, but my boss’ were never in bad shape. We didn’t have large formats. The highest was 40 –sheets. We were called all-sorts of name like carpenters. There was an initial shame attached to it, but we brought some fun, innovation and prestige to the business. We have had positive changes; the environment is better. When we started, it wasn’t so much about money.  The industry has grown into a multi-million-naira business. It also comes with a lot of hard work and challenges. I’ve had fun. It’s a job for those who like to be on the road and socialise.

 

From your perspective, what creative elements/characteristics make for an effective OOH campaign?

Whilst being trained, we spent months in the creative agency then. An outdoor campaign should not be more than five words. The idea being that as you drive, the message should be simple and catchy for those who drive past. The good and creative use of colour also make for an effective campaign. I still look out for the qualities of brevity, simplicity and good use of colours amongst others.

What do you see as the biggest challenges facing the industry today?

 

The first is infrastructure. Regulation is not at par with global best practice, and turning regulation into internally generated revenue poses the biggest challenge for the industry. One of the meetings we had outside the country with the former LASAA helmsman outside the country, he went to some cities and found out that the highest they charged for regulation abroad for was 17 per cent of earnings. But here they charge us without any recourse. Permits are not supposed to be that crazy, even when it’s not yearly. With the advent of digital, training is also essential. Multiple taxation also poses a big challenge when regulators and other appendages of government collect all forms of levies- states and local governments.

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