Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Lolu Akinwunmi speaks on the changing landscape of advertising in Nigeria

Lolu Akinwunmi
Lolu Akinwunmi, Chairman of The Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), and Group Chairman of Prima Garnet speaks on the changing landscape of advertising in Nigeria.

The performance of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) over the last 40 years.
That we are discussing the subject of advertising today is enough proof that the AAAN over the years has done so much for the entire industry. Advertising has its formal history in UAC-related trading activities and the oldest agency, Lintas, was set up in 1928 as a UAC company to design and display billboards in Nigeria. The company was later divided and Afromedia set up from it. AAAN was founded by a body of Nigerian practitioners over forty years ago and has helped to professionalise the practice, such that today thousands of people legitimately earn their living from the profession.

As a former AAAN President, I can tell you that the association has helped to build some of the strongest and most successful brands in Nigeria. Look at the short list: OMO, Bournvita, Glucose D, First Bank, Etisalat, Star, Maltina, Harp, Guinness Stout, Guinness Malta, Milo, Nacet, UBA, Indomie, etc. Nigerians working in Nigerian agencies developed launch and follow-up campaigns for these and other brands.
In addition, the AAAN has partnered governments in the development of key branding projects. During the tenure of Prof Dora Akunyili as the Information Minister, the Federal Government Rebranding Project was initiated and the pioneer Secretary and CEO was a Nigerian AAAN agency head. Prior to this time one of the previous Information Ministers, Owelle Emeka Chikelu had also worked closely with AAAN agencies to develop social mobilisation programmes for the country.

From the APCON perspective, the AAAN has continued to play a leading role in ensuring that the government regulatory agency performs optimally. The 5th amendment resulted in the new Code and saw AAAN agencies participating actively at all stages of the developmental work. Indeed, our colleagues in countries like Ghana invited us to come support them in the development of similar initiatives in their country. You can say Nigeria is exporting something good.
Aggregating all these, we have a stronger, more respectable, better-known and appreciated profession because of the key role the AAAN has and continues to play.

APCON and advertising reforms in Nigeria
Amendments to the Code are not new. Today we have the 5th amendment, which means we have had the second, third and fourth. The Council by law is empowered to do this when we see a need for it. When I assumed the position of APCON Chairmanship in 2010, it presented an opportunity to actualise some of the visions and dreams that some of us within the AAAN had shared over a period. In addition, we got some help and support from the late May Nzeribe, a past AAAN President and the third APCON Chairman, who also had done some extensive work on advertising reforms in Nigeria. All of these became necessary so that we could move the profession to the next level. While the 4th Code was adequate, it didn’t quite take care of later and immediate industry and professional developments. In doing this, for the first time, we got all stakeholders involved and ensured very wide consultation. There were thirteen objectives, which covered the management of industry debt, the use of local talents in the film industry, the management of unqualified practitioners etc. It was far-reaching.

Striking a balance between protecting the industry from foreign invasion and encouraging partnerships that will aid the growth, capacity development and Creativity in the industry.
If I speak for the advertising industry, I don’t think this is a serious issue. APCON was set up by the government to regulate the practice so that we can develop professionalism and ensure there is no abuse. APCON was not set up to stop foreign practitioners from working or operating in Nigeria, and we have many of them gainfully employed and even managing their own agencies. The same government also has it as part of its agenda to ensure that it provides jobs for all employable Nigerians even as it encourages useful foreign investments. No government in any part of the world will want a foreigner to take away the job that its own people are qualified to, and can do.  And so APCON has reviewed the relevant sections of the Code in line with these expectations. Foreigners are allowed to work in Nigeria, as long as they pass through APCON and pass the necessary examinations and meet the relevant conditions, just like Nigerians. And for those who wish to set up own agencies, they can do this in partnership with Nigerians or go it alone. The APCON Code is a public document, which was passed through all official channels and presented to President Jonathan Goodluck by the Hon. Minister of Information, Hon. Labaran Maku. It has also been gazetted and is now part of the laws of the Federal Republic. Let me add that government keeps encouraging the participation of foreigners in this economy. However, it will be counter productive if in the name of FDI, foreigners now bring in their people to take away the jobs Nigerians can do. Every investment must have a plan to engage qualified Nigerians, and where such talents are not available, the investors must have a rapid plan to develop such local talents within the shortest possible period.

Resistance to advertising industry reforms
We have seen a few tepid and incoherent, indeed largely not very strategic attempts at raising some dust. While APCON was and is always ready to engage such opinions towards working together to achieve government objectives, we investigated these comments and discovered, and very sadly too, that they were being motivated by very selfish reasons.

We found out that a particular foreigner had spent lots of money engaging “PR” consultants and other hack writers in trying to discredit the reforms. Really, one would have expected a well and professionally coordinated contribution from these people, expressing their opinions and expectations. Instead, they have largely operated as faceless hackers writing a mixture of propaganda and untruths. Even when we made attempts to speak to them, we found out that their Nigerian arrowhead did not have any serious motivation beyond doing his master’s bidding and protecting his own daily bread. We feel very disappointed that a Nigerian, and indeed the group of Nigerians involved with this could not see beyond their mercenary and very selfish roles. APCON is still open to everyone who has a genuine appreciation of the role of what government is trying to do and wants to partner us. We are by no means perfect, but must insist that those who want to contribute to the development must do so with clean hands.

Expectations from sectoral groups in the advertising industry
Such expectations would be largely professional. Let’s work very hard to develop our various sub- sectors and continue to make ourselves relevant. I am not an advocate of lazy protectionism. I don’t want the government to simply protect any industry when it is clear the same industry is lazy, complacent and is not making any effort to improve itself. We need to recapitalise, invest in good people, train them, remunerate them well and keep on doing this. For example, I had a meeting with a foreigner, whose first words were, “I have come to take over in Nigeria”. Now what would make such a person utter such an arrogant statement? The advertising profession in Nigeria is mature within local and global contexts and has produced giants like Sylvester Moemeke, Olu Falomo, Ayo Owoborode, Segun Ogunbunmi, Mac and Dorothy Ovbiagele, Biodun Shobanjo, May Nzeribe, Akin Odunsi, etc. See the great brands we have birthed and developed over many years. So what would make a man from a much smaller and less developed country and economy to sit opposite me and utter such nonsense? The only way we can put such people in their positions is to ensure that we up the game and continue to deliver such a high level of value that would make us more relevant.

Collaboration between the Sectoral bodies in the advertising industry
It is good and APCON has worked hard in ensuring this. APCON has taken up issues that affect them with a view to providing solutions. For example we organised a media workshop to bring to fore the challenges the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN) members were facing. I led a delegation of the same OAAN people to the Lagos State governor where we presented the challenges they were encountering with LASAA. We keep doing all we can to enhance the relationship and create value.

Aligning to global best Practices in the Nigerian Advertising industry
We don’t have a choice. Advertising is a global profession and cuts across borders. And because of the size and strategic importance of the Nigerian economy, many local and foreign participants want to play. As you well know, advertising drives trade and commerce. And so, to continue to offer premium and relevant service to local and international clients, Nigerian practitioners must ensure the best global practice. This must be seen in the quality of people and work. Most of the global networks are here in Nigeria and are in various types of partnerships with Nigerian agencies and practitioners. This must continue because the cross fertilisation is good for the industry. However, the international partnering agencies must have a clear understanding of our expectations. It is not another opportunity to simply walk in to “take over”; it is not an opportunity to create a system that will see them ignoring the Nigerian talents and bringing in foreigners to do our jobs. We clearly need plans to help develop local talents. The invasion of the economy by the telecoms and other big industries has put a lot of pressure on local talents. APCON, the AAAN, ADVAN and other groups are working hard to achieve this for the overall industry interest. And this is where we come in as Nigerian practitioners. Foreign clients should not take a short-term position of importing such talents where they are not available or inadequate; there must be a strategy and plan to ensure that the same environment is empowered to support the vigorous development of local talents. It’s a task that must be done.

Attracting new talents
More than many people will believe. The fact many people don’t also know is that the advertising profession is multi and cross-cultural. We have doctors, engineers, scientists, lawyers, etc., who are in the profession and who also want to come in. This is aside of the traditional mass communication, marketing and creative pool. At some point in this country, the late Banjo Solaru was one of the most versatile writers in the industry. He wrote the famous Gluco D campaign. He was a lawyer. APCON supervises the syllabus for the practice in higher institutions and approve such schools for accreditation. We have continued to upgrade the subjects and make them more relevant and contemporary, such that others outside the direct link will want to come in.

Improving Agency/Client relationship
This question assumes that clients in general don’t have respect for their agencies. This is an untrue and unfair assumption. Would the Coca Cola client not respect its team in Prima Garnet? Would the First Bank client not appreciate its team in Prima Garnet? Will MTN not have respect for its team in DDB? Will Etisalat not appreciate the 141 Worldwide team? Will Guinness not appreciate the SO&U team? Will Nigeria Breweries not appreciate the Lintas and Insight teams on the Star, Maltina and Gulder accounts? The only reason a client will not appreciate an agency is when the agency is unproductive. And it must be mutual. An agency is usually as good as the client. If you have an incompetent client, chances are it will affect the agency performance. And in the best tradition, this talk of master-servant relationship is nonsense. I can tell you categorically that no client will treat Prima Garnet, 141, Insight, SO&U, DDB and other serious agencies as servants. Who will be the servant? Will it be me, Bunmi Oke, Jimi Awosika, Udeme Ufot, Enyi Odigbo?

Contribution of the advertising industry to the Nigerian Economy
Actual figures may not be readily available, but in direct and indirect contributions, it runs into billions of Naira. You have budgets from the agencies, employment, below-the-line activities, printing, productions etc. It’s a huge amount.

Nigerian advertising agencies and 2015 general elections
The big events are the elections. Thankfully our members now run most serious campaigns by those seeking elective positions and ads are vetted by APCON. The politicians and governments must continue to work with our professionals who are trained in the art and science of effective communication. As a run up to the elections, our members should invest in things that will make us relevant. For example can we conduct industry-led researches which politicians can find useful? We are major stakeholders and beyond offering advertising services, we must ensure that we work in other ways that will ensure that the right people are elected or appointed. We also must work with other Nigerians in ensuring that governments deliver on promises made through our campaigns.

Advertising in Nigeria and FDI 
I am very passionate about ensuring the growth and development of the industry. I wish to appeal to government to please ensure that while foreign investment is welcome, we should be clear about those who truly are coming in to partner Nigerians, and those whose main reason is to feed on the country, contributing no value. Government must not allow the kind of situation we have in Kenya for example when 80% of the advertising business is with a single man and group. This cannot help us. Right now there is plenty of noise about FDI. Let’s investigate what people are truly bringing in. The government should set up a body that will investigate the genuineness of such investments and their value. It’s not enough to want to come and set up in Nigeria because you have concluded with some foreign clients to take over the business that Nigerian agencies had been managing well. Your only investment is in office space. The accounts are here. So what FDI are you talking about?

Government should not be shy to offer support to its people where necessary. The US government does this for its agric related industry and subsidises them. Europe does the same for its aerospace industry. No Nigerian can go to India and set up an agency without meeting roadblocks. For too long foreign interests have blackmailed us that we must open our doors because we are signatories to certain protocols. At the moment the UK is running a campaign asking foreigners to leave so that their own people can do jobs in the country. I have always made the case that even though we want investments from offshore, they must be credible, of high value and must help us. We must not revert to the days of car-assembly plants when no technology was transferred. We truly must enjoy the benefits of democracy, after all democracy is the government of the people by the people for the people and NOT the government of the people by the people for foreigners.

This interview was originally published in Brand Communicator magazine.

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