Managing Director of TBWA Concept and former President of Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, Kelechi Nwosu, speaks to Goddie Ofose on the opportunities, challenges and threats the current economic situation poses to Advertising practice in Nigeria and submits that mergers and acquisitions may be an option to survive.
What is the impact of recession on marketing communication in Nigeria?
The impact is obvious, Marketing as a practice grows when you have a growing economy so if the economy is going down then it implies that the practice could be going down and that has a direct relationship with Marketing Communication agencies. I think that manufacturing industry has been in recession for quite some time before now, because they have been complaining that they have some contractions in the manufacturing industry and the manufacturing industry tend to be the top advertisers that we work with in our industry. Therefore it is a simple direct line that when you have a recession, the marketing communication industry generally suffers it.
How does this also affect the multinationals in terms of patronizing your industry?
There are different points of view on the matter. A lot of the multinationals tend to submit that their work is higher from outside; they are doing central advertising maybe from New York or South Africa. So, they tell the local agencies to adapt to some of those works. But there are also multinationals who have hired local agencies in Nigeria and they have done well.
What we must do is that we must encourage multinationals who work in this market to work with advertising agencies in this market for so many reasons. One is that the advertising agencies in this market are very well exposed, competent, professionals and mostly affiliated to the international advertising agencies that you find all over the world. Secondly, they also have a great knowledge of the Nigerian market, so they can create works that have resonance. The third point is that when a multinational skips working with advertising agencies in Nigeria what it means is that we do not have faith in the local professionals and we do not have enough things to even build up and support the local professionals. You can’t be selling in a particular market and exporting labour and money to your home market, it is wrong.
Some multinationals in this market have allegedly hired agencies outside Nigeria to work on our brands. What is your take on this?
I do not know where you get your fact form but the little I know about some companies like Promasidor because I work for them is that most of their works are done locally by local agencies. I do not know about some organisation, but I’ve heard that they might be farming works out to external agencies. Whoever is doing it, I think it is wrong in so many ways, which I have talked about. You need to work with advertising agencies locally that are competent to build your brand, and you need to work with marketing communication professionals locally that is also what the law says. I think the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) regulation has not been fully enforced in both the spirit and the letter of the law, because the APCON council has been under suspension for almost a year now. Before then, we had problems with APCON council because the previous government gave us the wrong council which we didn’t agree with before it was finally reconstituted. We have been pleading with the government to reconstitute the current APCON council and I think once that has been done then there is a strong reason for the council to make sure the reforms kick in.
Do you mean without APCON Council reform is meaningless?
That is not what I am saying, I am saying if the APCON administrative capability were there, the council will make sure they get on to implementing it. When we had the last council, I wrote a memorandum to the council to say we need to get back to the reforms especially the issue of licensing. We need to get on to it because we have paid licensing fees to APCON and we want to enjoy the fruits of our license. I have written the memo before the council was dissolved about one and half years ago but unfortunately because the council was dissolved that push and guidance is no more there.
What does the delay in APCON council reconstitution tell you about the importance of IMC in the Nigerian economy?
The truth is that we have a problem both from an Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) point of view and an APCON point of view. I think it is a general government fixation. We are encouraging government to be a little bit fast in appointing people and making sure that board works. It is not just APCON and I don’t think it is just Ministry of Information, I think it is overall. I don’t think the boards have all been reconstituted even in the ministry. According to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibajo, the government is working on it. I’ve also heard that the government is working to give us a council. We are waiting for that.
It is alleged that AAAN is not pushing hard enough to be noticed by the government?
I think we have done that, we have had a presentation before the Minister for Information came in to office. We have done presentation to the permanent secretary to the Ministry of Information at that time. We haven’t had the opportunity to do the presentation to the Minister for certain reasons, which I am not really at liberty to talk about right now.
Successive governments never seemed to work with advertising industry and reason is that the industry offers little in terms of its contribution to the GDP?
Overall, our role has been obvious in terms of building brands and the current Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country shows our contribution. If you look at where it talks about services. If you dice the number, we can actually say this is what our contribution has been to the Nigerian GDP. I am not sure that IMC’s role has been neglected. The thing is that we need to push for further understanding of what our role is and also on who is a practitioner. It tends to happen that sometimes even people in government do not get to realise that there is really professional practice going on, so anybody who can put together some slides and speak good English tends to be seen as an IMC practitioner.
What we are encouraging government to do is to keep looking at the right professionals. That is one of the reasons we met with the Vice President and also one of the reason we started the public advocacy work, which we tend to continue because it will showcase the work we have done. I think there is opportunity to take this back to my people and say we need to show.
Some alleged that foreign agencies interpret briefs better than local counterparts?
It is not true. If people have a colonial mentality then that is up to them. I think we are all gifted in terms of our intelligence. We are well educated here and we practice well too. We work with an international affiliate and we have seen the work they have done because we have been together with them. Do not get me wrong, our country is still a developing country so there is still a lot of room for improvement. What I am saying is that if you look within the advertising industries and you want to select the agencies that will do great work for you and you take your time to do the proper briefing that you should do, and take your time to work with the agency the way you would work with them, they will give you what you desire.
Now, we are talking about looking in and some big brands that should have shown example are looking out?
I think it is wrong, I don’t even know if it is legal but I think it is morally wrong and commercially not correct. If you are making your money in our country then we deserve to ask you to help develop the assets in that country for so many reasons. One is that it is much more sustainable, second is that, it is an opportunity to give back to that market. Thirdly, when you go and sponsor properties from outside then you are actually exporting foreign exchange and there are a lot of things that otherwise you could have brought into this country.
What is the borderline between moral argument and commercial reasoning?
From the commercial angle it looks sound when you are looking at what your consumers are looking at and supporting what they are supporting. That is what it sounds like. Now there is an agenda setting role that media must play and that advertisers must play. The agenda setting role is this; if you are supporting English Premier League and it sounds nice, how long will you continue and what is the opportunity cost as a brand? Whereas, if you put a lot of money in Nigerian Professional Football League you could build it in such a way that you can actually earn foreign exchange from it. When you are working with your foreign partners, are you asking them to help you develop local brands in the mid-term so that the next few years you are supplanting the money you are putting to EPL into NPFL. That is what we should be asking ourselves. If we do not do this then the net effect is that assume every brand were just to create or to pursue all the foreign taste that we have and support them, what will happen to local productivity in the various sectors? They will die. So, in the long run you will discover that you are supporting EPL then your local football dies. When your local football dies you will find out that the GDP that is coming from that local football will go, if there were agencies or people working for that local football they will all go. Those people are your consumers and it means that they won’t have buying power to buy your brand.
The EPL, which we are all fighting about were developed by some couple of brands in that market, and they have now grown it in such a way that they are exporting it. It sounds to me a little bit easy and interesting to just jump on the back of what somebody else have created when you should be thinking of what you should create and grow from my own market to export. It is just pure laziness.
The brands should be tasked to make sure they support local industry by the media and the advertising agencies, and even the government. I think government actually needs to play a strong role to ask them what exactly are you putting money in for the development of the country?
If this recession persists, where will it leave your industry?
Where will it leave the country? That is my response to you. Our role as creative people, who think, is to say we need to find answers to reinvent our industry and practice. The recession has been declared, no more denial. We are now trying to understand the nature of the recession, and we are back to the drawing board to ask what is the business models, what are our offerings and how do these offerings face the challenges onboard.
Is merger and acquisitions one of the options?
Anything is possible in a recession. I can’t foreclose or foresee it because everybody will be looking for how to survive post-recession. I think all of us should see it as a responsibility to give whatever positive comments to government on how we think things should be improved on and also give criticism of where we think they are heading the wrong way.