Biodun Shobanjo, easily Nigeria’s most successful marketing communications practitioner, recently announced a partnership with world’s number three advertising group, Publicis Groupe, which will very likely give his Troyka Holdings, a huge chunk of the West African Advertising market.
Shobanjo’s Troyka Group, already a runaway number one in Nigeria may have hit a deal that will etch the name of the soft-spoken but powerful boardroom artist,on a decent position at the top of Nigeria’s rich-list food chain.
It is a deal that, if the numbers are, as “Shoby” say they are, will take agencies in the Troyka Group notches higher than competition. Giving them access to the entire West African market is also a huge leverage considering the struggles of Nigerian agencies to play big in the subregion.
For Publicis, this may also be a good deal considering that just about a year ago, the Group had a merger deal with global number two, Omnicom fall through. The Publicis/Omnicom deal was to have created an advertising behemoth that would have competed strongly with the WPP Group. This failure therefore left WPP with the pole advantage to continue ruling the world of advertising.
The battle between WPP and Publicis/Omnicom on the other may not have been about growth alone. It also had a lot more to do with Africa where WPP’s Martin Sorrell has been able to not just lead, but at the time, had structured a deal that was going to practically hand his agency the continent on a platter.
WPP’s loss, Publicis’ gain?
Africa was (still is) a huge meat on the slab that everyone in the world of marketing wanted a sizeable chunk of. As recently as August 2014, Forbes quoted General Electric Chief Executive, Chief Executive Jeff Immelt. “The growth is real. Challenges remain but they can be solved through innovation. To play, you have to show up.”
Long before this statement was made, the world had seen the impressive numbers Africa represent to the future of capital. So it was not surprising that global agencies were struggling to take early positions for the harvest when the continent begins to boom.
Farsighted WPP was first to make this move. Martin Sorrell, credited with WPP’s exponential growth over the past 20 years decided being very bullish was going to place his business as number one on the continent. Already a world number one, he did not wish for WPP to play second fiddle to others as far as African businesses were concerned.
So he decided to sell a huge stake of Ogilvy Africa, one of the agencies under his Group to their Africa partners, Barat Thakrah. Barat was to use his strong African network to grow Scanad and be the “ruler” of the continent ahead of the anticipated boom season.
By the time Barat began his moves to first take the Nigerian market, a reform was already in the works that was designed to reduce the influence of foreign agencies on the continent. The reform was to reduce the ownership of agencies in Nigeria by foreigners to 25 percent.
This was spearheaded by Lolu Akinwunmi, Managing Director of Prima Garnet Africa, then an Ogilvy affiliate. Lolu was at the time, the Chairman of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON).
The battle was long and tough but at the end, Scanad bled and fled the country. WPP has lost a major battle for a lead role in a major African economy with perhaps the greatest potential.
The APCON reform also affected WPP on another front. While APCON was working on its reforms, Insight, Shobanjo’s flagship agency, was cooking a deal with its former affiliate, Grey Advertising, itself, a WPP agency.
It was learnt that at the time, Insight had already agreed that a 49 percent stake be sold to Grey in a deal worth several billions of Naira. But rumours of what the reform was going to prescribe made WPP and its Grey dither. When it was clear Grey was not going to get its 49 percent, a bruised WPP left the deal.
These were two huge losses in Nigeria that Martin Sorrell, currently battling to cleanse one of his subsidiary agencies of racial abuse scandals, may still be ruing till date.
What’s in it for them?
For Biodun Shobanjo and his Troyka Holdings, a great deal has just been struck. Consider that prior to the APCON Reforms, Agencies in Nigeria never had any such partnerships with global advertising groups. The deals of the past had always been between Nigerian agencies and individual subsidiaries of the global giants. Insight was a Grey affiliate. Prima Garnet was an Ogilvy affiliate. LTC was a JWT affiliate. These are all under the WPP belt. And there are scores of others littering the Nigerian advertising landscape.
But with this deal, Troyka, which has about 6 agencies will sit and share the spoils in the Publicis Groupe’s marketing heists.
The numbers are still opaque and that is something most people will expect this relationship to usher in. Nigerian agencies don’t reveal their numbers largely on the excuse that they are not publicly quoted. So no one really knows what Publicis Groupe paid for its 25 percent stake in Troyka Holdings but those who know Biodun Shobanjo and his hard negotiating skills say billions of naira may have been received in exchange.
Asked by some members of the marketing editor’s community what the deal was worth, “Shoby” parried the question by suggesting it was not all about the money but about the values both agencies will exchange.
“I want to make it abundantly clear that our group does not go into partnership just so we can reap the reward of global clients that whoever we partner with will bring to the market. That was not the consideration at all,” he had said.
Most people will not agree with his on this. Shobanjo himself in the same interview had lamented the sour experiences his agency had had trying to explore the West African markets of Ghana and Cote d-Ivoire where he acknowledged that they “lost money.”
If Publicis Groupe was not bringing values that will ensure safety and security of forays in the subregion, the “Shoby” that Nigerians know will not accept a deal to move again into waters he had tested and found to contain sharks.
For Publicis, it is not very clear why suddenly they think 25 percent of a Nigerian business was good enough for them. WPP had rejected this prescription in the APCON reform, and has refused to make any known overtures to any other agency in Nigeria since the Scanad debacle.
It really looks like a desperate deal for Publicis, that is if the scanty information available to the public is any parameter for judgement. How much would the 25 percent impact on the business of the group, whose global revenue is placed at over $9.6 billion?
The entire Nigerian business of the Troyka Holdings just may not amount to much when compared to this numbers. So what will 25 percent of this amount to?
The answer may just be hidden in anticipated growth for new businesses and even old ones that will be grabbed from other agencies hitherto affiliated to companies under the Publicis belt.
Biggest gainers, …and the losers
The Troyka Holdings may grow really big with this deal. But it is clear the biggest winner just might be its Public Relations company, The Quadrant Company (TQC).
No one has really spread out how the relationships will be managed but being the only PR firm in the Troyka Group, TQC will gain heavily. One of the benefits of such partnerships as the Troyka/Publicis Groupe is the consolidation of businesses within the circle.
This means that most, if not all the PR briefs in the circle will be farmed out to Quadrant. Lately bruised by losses of very significant accounts like those of British American Tobacco (BAT), Etisalat Nigeria, Guinness Nigeria and most recently, Skye Bank, Quadrant gets the opportunity to reflate real big.
But this affiliation presents serious questions around the Nigerian Breweries business, hitherto shared between Insight (a Troyka company) and Lowe Lintas. Will Insight now take everything?
Nigerian Breweries also held a pitch recently that had Black House Media, TPT and Red Media emerge as the three agencies that will manage the business.
What happens here? Will the business “naturally” gravitate to Quadrant, considering that the Heineken account sits with Publicis?
We had sought for a session with Shobanjo and had sent some form of questionnaire but two weeks after promises were made of an interview, we got no response.
But on another corner of the whole issue sits Rosabel, formerly a Leo Burnett affiliate. The relationship between Rosabel and Leo Burnett ended about two years ago. Leo Burnett is a Publicis agency and it also owns Starcomm Media, presently the media buying company for Nigerian Breweries.
What is the Troyka Group going to do with this agency that claims on its website that “over 85 percent of its businesses are won through local pitches…” Will it continue to stand as a subsidiary of Rosabel?
May be someday, Troyka will either tell us or developments in the market will let us know. It is also thought that Maurice Levy, CEO of Publicis for over 30 years may have something to show the board as major accomplishment to hallmark his expected retirement in 2017.
If the Troyka deal becomes immediately auriferous, he will surely retire well without the spectre of his failed marriage with Omnicom haunting his days of rest.