Advertisers on a Rescue Mission

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Despite daunting challenges facing advertising business in Nigeria, especially in the area of lack of priority attention of government to the pending institutional and regulatory matters impeding the growth and development of the advertising sector, stakeholders in the industry are confident that the future is bright, reports Raheem Akingbolu

For the second time in six months, advertising practitioners in Nigeria have admitted that there were dangers ahead, if players in the industry fail to take

the bull by the horn. Speaking one after the other at the maiden National Advertising Conference, held in Abuja, last week, with the theme; ‘Advertising in the Post Digital Age: The Profession, The Business and

Nigeria’s socio-economic Development’, industry leaders, including two former Presidents of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Mr. Biodun Shobanjo and Mr. Lolu Akinwumi,  and the current President, Mr. Ikechi Odigbo, x-rayed the challenges facing the industry and concluded that the time for practitioners to change the gear and put on core innovative cap is now. Few months ago, in Lagos, at the AAAN 46th Annual General Meeting with the theme; “The War Within: Solutions for Survival” another industry leader and Vice Chairman, Troyka Holdings, Mr. Jimi Awosika, gave a lecture on how to contend with various challenges facing advertising business in Nigeria.

Odigbo, who spoke on behalf of AAAN agreed with the Keynote Speaker at the event, Lolu Akinwumi, that globally, businesses and professions, including advertising industry are facing challenges and more so in Nigeria as a developing country. The AAAN president also alluded to the fact that most of the challenges are related to the profession while others are of general interest.

To be able to compete favourably in today’s market, Odigbo said as agencies, advertising firms must transit from being insular providers of templated ideas to client to becoming culture curators and incubators of ‘mamaput’ ideas that they could also take directly to the marketplace.

“We must reposition to extract more value and reduce client dependency by co-creating with relevant partners, content developers, innovators within the digital ecosystem. If we are to increase our relevance we must start to shift from creativity to innovation. The reason why we are not winning at Cannes is not that we are not creative. It’s just that we are not as innovative as we ought to be. Cannes recognises Innovation.”

Beyond Digitalisation

Though Odigbo admitted that digitalisation has impacted the industry very well, he was quick to add that creativity is experiencing devaluation due to its liberalisation by digital knowledge economy.

“Think about it. How many ads are being created daily by Googling for the same images, videos and case study references. Digital is commoditising and templating creativity. Innovation for us does not mean isolated sparks of technological brilliance like building a rocket. It is simply nurturing a problem-solving culture within our businesses.”

For government and relevant authorities to give advertising the recognition  it deserves, the AAAN chief said when advertisers started solving business problems, and social problems, they would start earning their much- coveted desire for public and vibrant recognition as an indispensable sector.

Using Nollywood, the music industry and even the comedy industry as a reference point, Odigbo pointed out that the entertainment industry apparently has more clout in the corridors of power than many industries not just because it has glamourous and fun, but because it has witnessed outstanding double-digit growth, which has compelled governments and even banks to pay attention and want to join the party by giving out creative sector loans.

“This kind of growth trajectory cannot be legislated into existence. The fact that we don’t factor is humbling challenge for us to rise up and take our destinies in our hands. The recognition and stature we seek for our sector will only be attained by our commitment to providing creative solutions to problems that besiege society. Innovation triggers are found at the extremities of opinions, habits, trends, and conflicts not in the comfort of the majority position. A first step to fostering innovative ideas as leaders in our agencies is being big enough to welcome, explore and integrate divergent views. Let the ideas flow more freely from bottom up. The digital world is flat, democratic and respects only ideas not status. Let us keep the table round,”

While driving home his point, Odigbo, who is also the chief executive officer of DDB, shocked participants at the conference when he declared that, ‘finally the digital age will come and go’.

“Three things remain and will continue to create value and relevance for the times we live and beyond: and that is; Craft, Creativity and Innovation. So  it’s time to walk the talk. We need to stop talking about innovation and start embedding it in how we think, how we work, how we manage our processes and projects; how we resource our businesses; how we engage opportunities and client’s problems. Let’s make innovation culture,” he concluded.

Shobanjo on Payment Restructuring

While sharing his experience of over four decades in the industry, Chairman of Troyka Group, Mr. Biodun Shobanjo, touched on the need for contract payment restructuring, which he said would contribute in no small measure to the revitalisation of the industry. He proposed to the practitioners, which were about 300 delegates, 60 days duration for payment of media contracts by clients as an option of saving the media business.

The proposal is on the background to save the struggling media industry, that is facing many challenges, including effects of 2016/17 economic recession, budget cut by clients, inconsistent policies by government and multiple taxations, especially in outdoor sector.

He didn’t only advocate that interventions are needed in these areas, he added that the debt within the industry between clients, service providers, media owners and advertising agencies must be checkmated.

On adequate regulation within the industry, the senior practitioner, whose presentation addressed contemporary issues in the industry further called on APCON to play its regulatory functions without fear or favour. “A situation where interlopers are allowed to infiltrate the business as the case in many sectoral sectors must be stopped.”

“For instance, where the law prescribes that foreigners acquire not more than 25per cent equity in Nigerian advertising companies but this is circumvented by using unscrupulous Nigerians. This, I think must be stopped and reversed.”

Shobanjo challenged the practitioners to galvanise themselves to save the profession because if “we don’t, the possibility of the profession being endangered is obvious.  If you scan your environment and take a historical perspective of where you are coming from, the chances are that you can predict what will happen,” he said.

Explaining how the 60 days payment period can be achieved, Tunji Olugbodi, the CEO of Verdant Zeal, who endorsed Shobanjo’s suggestion that the 60 days payment period can also be realised through agreement with the clients.

Olugbodi, who is the Nigeria’s President of the International Advertising Association (IAA), also said that the clients need education and enlightenment to see things from the perspective of the  agency and agencies can also understand the financial situation of the clients.

He also suggested engagement with all the stakeholders and operators in the advertising value chain to address the debt challenges.

Self-regulation?

In a more unified voice, almost all the sectoral heads and top practitioners, who spoke at the conference advocated self-regulation as immediate solution to government’s nonchalant attitude towards the industry. Chairman, STB McCANN, Sir Steve Omojafor, who led the first group discussion at the conference said after all efforts to appeal to relevant authorities to impress the need for re-constitution of the APCON council have failed, stakeholders in the industry may not have any option but to approach President Muhammadu Buhari.

Besides, Omojafor expressed his concern over the less attention government is paying to the industry and suggested the idea of adopting self-regulatory approach to grow the industry.

Corroborating the position, the AAAN President, Mr. Ikechi Odigbo, said practitioners should move away from the familiar industry ritual of blaming their woes on the economy, the client and the lack of priority attention of government to the pending institutional and regulatory matters impeding the growth and development of the advertising sector.

“Indeed, it came through most profoundly that rather than focus on the external limitations, the times call for speaking truth to self in the other room, as the able moderator properly summed it. Redemption must come from within. Lots of brilliant ideas came from the panel, which recommended the constitution of a shadow council to cement the spirit of collaboration among practitioners, the agencies and various sectoral groups.

Going further, the myriad gaps and weaknesses highlighted at yesterday’s sessions pose an existential threat to our businesses and point to the need for us to have a more accurate capture of business reality in the digital age in order to successfully navigate and unleash our natural creativ  capacities to bear not just on client needs, but upon our businesses and operational challenges,” Odigbo said.

Steve Babaeko of X3M Ideas said APCON without a council is like flying aircraft without a control tower. Believing that the advertising industry can operate like the banking industry in terms of tenure of CEOs and capitalization, which could encourage M&As, he said the industry needed internal self-regulation.

Other members of the panel including Lanre Adisa of Noah’s Ark; Bunmi Oke, former president of AAAN and Femi Adelusi of MIPAN endorsed the idea of self-regulation in the face of government lethargy towards the industry.