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Our belief in Nigeria is proof of our long-term commitment to the market – JCDecaux Grace Lake manager

Dele Odugbemi is the Country Manager of JCDecaux Grace Lake, a foremost Out-of-Home advertising firm which has contributed greatly to the digital progression in Nigeria’s multi-billion Out -of-Home business. In this interview, Odugbemi who is an experienced and respected C-Level Executive and who has demonstrated expertise in the marketing and advertising industry speaks on a number of issues including, digital shift in advertising, its LATIS product in Lagos to assist motorists navigate traffic and the impact of Covid-19 on advertising. He said with digital, Out-of-Home industry is moving away from being real-estate based . Dele who has worked on world class marketing and advertising campaigns across Africa links Nigeria’s economic growth to Foreign Direct Investment. Excerpts

You launched Nigerian operations in 2018; what has been your experience thus far?

It has been an interesting journey for us. We don’t have just a Nigerian story to tell but an African story as well. JCDecaux first entered the African market in 2015 by buying Continental Outdoor in South Africa. With that, the company established a presence in 15 countries with Nigeria being the 16th. A rapid expansion followed in just a few years with a lot of learnings along the way. What is great about the Nigerian experience is that unlike the other markets that already had operations in the country, JCDecaux started from scratch by partners to form JCDecaux Grace Lake. Nigeria provided a well-established market where Digital Out of Home advertising had taken hold and the quality of our network is therefore much higher than other African markets. This also puts us ahead of those markets, as they look to us to set benchmarks of what their respective futures will be. It’s a responsibility we have had to accept and learn to enjoy.

You’ve worked across the continent with major advertising agencies and organizations; what makes the Nigerian advertising sector unique?

My regional experience has been very useful in settling into the job in Nigeria. As Africa’s biggest market, the country is a special place for most marketers. There is a sophistication the media market here has that isn’t obvious to those who haven’t practiced outside Nigeria. It’s surprising to find, for example, that South Africa has four terrestrial TV stations while Nigeria has 140 and counting. All of South Africa’s TV stations are national whereas none of ours are national. It makes media planning more challenging in our own environment and having seen where the rest of the continent is, coming home to make a contribution to the growth of the industry has been a privilege.

The world continues to shift to digital advertising, How would you thus rank the outdoor advertising sector’s chances of survival, especially in Africa and Nigeria?

The digital shift in advertising has forced the evolution of traditional media into interactive platforms. About a decade ago, digital was talked about as a possible replacement to existing channels but time has shown that it coexists, rather than replace. Outdoor in particular has coped quite well with structural upgrades from static to digital screens. More importantly, real time advertising is now possible with geo tagging/location based scheduling. With digital, the out of home industry is moving away from being real-estate based where location affects pricing, to programmatic buying that is more about the relevance of the audience to available inventory. This makes digital out of home a possible competitor to digital platforms like Facebook and YouTube.

Dele Odugbemi is the Country Manager of JCDecaux Grace Lake

JCDecaux Grace Lake currently operates in Lagos; are there plans to expand your services across the country?

Lagos remains our immediate focus, but to service the types of clients we hope to have, we are continuously exploring possibilities and options of more locations.

What is the LATIS system and how does it work?

LATIS is an acronym for the Lagos Traffic Information System, a proprietary tool made up of a network of sensors, a monitoring system, a traffic information system, digital management system and traffic arches. LATIS provides a reprieve for the rather protracted traffic problem in Lagos by focusing on decongestion. By using LATIS to estimate the time it will take to travel from one point to the other, we can ease traffic flow as the natural inclination is to choose a faster option. At critical traffic decision making points across Lagos, our traffic arches provide estimated travel times to popular destinations. We highlight through colour bars areas that are congested; for example a red highlight is an indication for that road to be avoided as it’s likely blocked or has standstill traffic. In the two years of LATIS’ deployment we have seen the average speed of cars on the roads increase significantly. On Ikorodu road for example, one of the analyses done showed an average increase of 40% in car speed over a one year period, suggesting less congestion. We believe that with more information provided by LATIS, we will be able to gradually reduce congestion on our roads.

You recently announced the expansion of the LATIS system across Lagos state. What informed this decision? And what would you describe as the impact of LATIS on your operations in Nigeria?

Public service is at the heart of JCDecaux Grace Lake’s vision of how an Out of Home Company can make a contribution to society. LATIS is the lead public service project we have in Nigeria and since its introduction in 2018, it has added a new dimension to the out of home industry. What we recently announced isn’t just the expansion of LATIS, but also other parts of our Lagos intervention strategy which includes other public service offerings like Bus Shelters and the automatic flush toilets currently located in Ojodu and Oworonshoki. The expansion of these services across Lagos was always on the cards, and although we were slightly impacted by COVID-19 like everyone else, our belief in Nigeria is proof of our long-term commitment to the market. LATIS and the other products we have in the market have served as a major differentiator for us. There is an expectation that comes with being the world’s biggest out of home company and our market-entry has thus been about pioneering new ideas, deploying world class infrastructure and attracting talents that will help shape the industry for years to come.

Other than trademark gantries, should we be on the lookout for other forms of outdoor advertising in Nigeria, courtesy JCDecaux Grace Lake?

Absolutely. We are noted for iconic designs across the world. Our global heritage gives us access to the best designers in the world which means the Nigerian market is now also plugged into this ecosystem. This will definitely reflect in the quality of the structures we will deploy across the country and we are excitedly looking forward to that.

What would you say is the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on Nigeria’s outdoor advertising industry?

The pandemic has given us all a cause for pause. A once in a generation type plague has turned out to be a game changer and we have had to re-evaluate the relevance of the advertising industry to the global economy. At the start of the pandemic earlier in the year, people needed assurances that the world would still be there after the crisis. The advertising industry rose to this challenge and the narrative changed quickly to hope and perseverance. The onus of leadership often fell to brands, many of whom took the lead in educating and sensitising the public about the spread of the virus and the precautions necessary to mitigate its spread. The Nigerian outdoor industry in particular rose up to the challenge by donating spaces for the government’s public enlightenment programmes. I have no doubt that the intervention of the industry helped tremendously in the fight to flatten the curve, and this is something we can all be very proud of, as the public’s interest was put ahead of profitability. There was also exemplary leadership from OAAN and LASAA, and we are proud to have been able to support them.

The notion of the “New Normal” means a lot of things have to change vis-à-vis how they were done previously; what are some of the changes you envisage in your business world?

We expect remote working to be a part of how we work going forward. A digital first approach to the ways of working has now become a necessity; thankfully the technology to ensure seamless connectivity and collaboration is now available. There was always going to be an eventual need to pivot to remote working, but the pandemic definitely accelerated its adoption over the past few months

Finally what advice would you give to the Nigerian government on how to move the economy forward especially from an outdoor advertising perspective?

Three words: Foreign Direct Investment. Nigeria is Africa’s biggest economy and the possibilities open to investors, the government and people, are endless. The Lagos State Government for example has done an incredible job in attracting world class investments and creating an enabling environment for these businesses to thrive – the partnership between the global giant JCDecaux and the Nigerian investment firm Grace Lake Partners symbolizes this synergy extremely well. With more FDI in the Nigerian economy, more jobs will be created, more sectors will be revitalised or created anew, and the Nigerian economy will be better positioned to take its place as a global economic powerhouse.

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