Bolaji Okusaga is the managing director of The Quadrant Company. In this interview with Daniel Obi, he speaks on a number of issues including APCON reforms and how politics and the World Cup 2014 will shape the PR industry. He estimates a $2 billion marketing communications on both ATL and BTL spend this year. Excerpts:
It is said that political activities, World Cup and the electricity sectors would impact on the PR industry this year. To what extend do you agree with this?
That’s pretty much true, and the reason is not far-fetched. Let’s look at the World Cup; brands spend more when there are, call it properties or vehicles, upon which their messages and their marketing objectives can ride, and what better time can you have for an audacious fast moving consumer goods business than the opportunity the World Cup presents? Let’s look at the number of eye-balls that will be watching the World Cup – we are talking of well over one billion people, spread across different cultures, geography and demography.
Of course, you’ll say to me there are limited marketing and sponsorship opportunities, given that the major sponsors are already known and are already rolling out campaigns under the franchise of the World Cup, but there are countless ambush marketing opportunities still waiting to be tapped. From adoption of teams, to the management of viewing centres – clients are largely going to be taking advantage of the opportunities provided by the Mundial and that will mean more money for PR agencies and other allied marketing communications outfits as well.
Furthermore, the election year – 2015 – is ahead of us and this will also spin-off a lot of communication opportunities from which PR agencies will also gain. I reckon that 2014, exit 2015 will certainly be an exciting time for any forward looking PR agency.
Finally, if you ask me how I think PR agencies can mine the opportunity provided by the Power Reforms, I will say the structure of the industry is pungently different from that of the telecommunication industry, in the sense that aside from the transmission company which is yet a monopoly, there are no national generation and distribution franchises that would be needing Pan-Nigeria campaigns as you find happening in the telecoms sector. So, if you ask me where I see opportunity for business? I will say value will initially reside with Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) such as GE, Schneider Electric, ABB and a host of others who will be trying to be on the books of the generation and distribution licence holders as the best partner that can help raise capacity.
So, our target, at this fledgling stage of the privatised power industry in Nigeria, is obviously the Original Equipment Manufacturers who are going to be the initial gainers from providing their products and services in the refurbishing and the resuscitation of the generation and distribution facilities across the Nigerian power landscape.
My final take is that the potential of the power industry will only start to unravel in the mid to long term after the needed investments have been made and the capacity is right where it should be. For now, I do not think the priority of the operators of the industry is on marketing and communication.
Given your experience, about how much political PR and ad budget is the industry expecting this year?
Well, I may not be able to give you a precise figure now because there is still a lot that is opaque about campaign financing in this country, but I envisage that whatever the estimates may have been in 2011, it is certain to be double in 2015, because the stakes are higher this time around. The reason is because we suddenly have a situation where there are two strong political parties, creating a balance within the political space and throwing up a need for a fierce competition for the hearts and minds of the electorate.
If I am asked what I think the budget is going to be? I conservatively will put the estimates at about $2 billion nationwide, and that will certainly include monies spent on above-the-line (ATL) communication as well as for below-the-line (BTL) mobilisation from the presidential elections, to the gubernatorial elections, the parliamentary elections to the elections at the grass-roots nationwide. And I am inferring these figures from how much was spent on the US Presidential campaigns in the last election.
Again, people will ask me why Nigerian elections should be as expensive as the US elections. My take is that while the bulk of the spend in the US is spent on above-the-line communication, the bulk of the campaign spend in Nigeria is on mass mobilisation using below-the-line tactics, and this is attributable to factors such as infrastructure challenge, which limits the power of the mass media. There are also other factors like the level of education and the economic status of the electorate in Nigeria, when compared with his American counterpart. These sad realities make election campaigns pretty much expensive in this environment.
The other question which also arises from this, is how much of this spend actually go to professionally structured Agencies and Communication Service Providers? I make bold to say that the percentage is less than twenty percent. This is because, the average Nigerian politician will rather sacrifice professionalism on the altar of price and expedience, than go through with it and get a good output. And the reasons lie in the fact that democratic practices and the accompanying public opinion rating of parties and politicians are still in its infancy in Nigeria.
Recently, APCON established a law to protect ad practitioners. Would you like to see such law in the Nigerian PR industry?
Certainly, there is a need to raise the bar of excellence and professionalism within any industry in order to preserve that industry and prevent self-destruction. I say “self-destruction” because if an industry is filled with too many quacks, it will consistently under-perform and if an industry consistently under performs, clients will switch to a close or associated industry where they see value, and once value flies through the window, the industry will definitely go under. I reckon APCON is on the right track here and I think PRCAN has some catching up to do.
As for protection against foreign take-over of the advertising industry, for me it’s more a chicken and the egg situation; which one came first? What marked the advent of the industry in Nigeria? How has the industry transition? At the risk of being held hostage by industry historians, I will hazard an answer. The advertising industry started under foreign ownership, which was at the time of Lintas, OBM and Grant Advertising. As a result of the indigenisation push of the Murtala/Obasanjo regime in the late 1970’s, the industry reverted to local players and now with globalisation, foreign players are again angling for a stake in the industry. I reckon that local regulators have a responsibility to protect local players, but they must balance this with need to also open the industry to global best practice. I think APCON is handling the whole thing in a smart way and I think the PR industry is also watching this trend closely.
The Quadrant Company is riding on many accounts. Would you attribute this feat to ‘Oga’s connection’ or good strategy? What are the strategies?
I would put it down to the fact that the founders of The Quadrant Company thought first about creating an institution that will deliver value and can transition across generations than just creating a money making machine that will exist in the now while the future is left to take care of itself. Far from this, the founders of The Quadrant Company put immutable structures in place which ensures the nestling of best practice at all times, no matter who manages the company.
While one can say boldly that the good name and credibility which the company has built over the years remain a strong competitive advantage, a lot of our recent success is attributable to the fact that we have a young and dynamic team, ready to learn and run with new trends and are audacious in rolling out innovations and delivering value to our Clients. Without being immodest, our success is attributable to a bucket of strong and favourable factors – chief among which is the clarity of the vision of the founders and the unstinting and inquisitive nature of the company’s management.
Publicis and Omnicom are merging globally. To what extent do you think this will restructure their Nigerian affiliates?
I do not want to speculate at this point because the merger is not yet finalised, but needless to state that the merger of these two marketing giants will ultimately raise the competitive stakes in the global and local industry.