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When Nigerian advertising industry identified growth path with APCON torch

A new vista in the Nigerian advertising industry was opened last week when about 300 practitioners converged on Abuja for conversations to collectively seek solutions on the threatening challenges confronting the industry.  The forum organised by APCON in conjunction with media and advertising sectoral groups, recorded impressive attendance which signposts their readiness towards creating a vibrant industry for the benefit of their clients and the nation. Daniel Obi reports.

After six years of non-appointment of a board for the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria, APCON, the regulatory agency, by the Buhari-led government, nobody needs to tell the industry players to rise up and begin to take their fate in their own hands.

The practitioners in all sectoral groups who are also drastically affected by socio-economic challenges therefore responded in unison last week to the long overdue National Advertising Conference, initiated by APCON, to address their challenges and find a growth path for the struggling industry.

In addition to the absence of APCON council, the industry is facing many other challenges that are diminishing its growth. This include the  effects of 2015/16 economic recession, budget cut by clients, competition from clients who set up their shops,  inconsistent policies by government, industry debt, lack of research, poor human capital, poor agency capitalisation, coping with digitisation and multiple taxations, especially in Outdoor sector. All these have combined to create cloudy and dark days for the industry operators.

The conference with central theme ‘Advertising in the Post Digital Age: The Profession, the Business and Nigeria’s Socio-economic Development’ afforded the players the opportunity to collectively take a critical re-assessment of the industry, its relationship with government, how to promote its economic impact that is downplayed and operating in digital era.

Self-regulation as solution

While Lolu Akinwunmi, Group CEO of Prima Garnet Africa, the lead speaker at the conference joined the call for the reconstitution of APCON council to achieve sanity in the industry, the forum believes that the industry can move ahead with self-regulation like other professional bodies.

This idea of self-regulation is getting strong in the minds of practitioners and when it materialises, the players in the advertising industry will regulate themselves while APCON will be a government regulatory agency run by the government functionaries. This will require amendment of the Act setting up APCON.

Present government has deliberately denied the industry the supervisory board in spite of the major roles APCON plays in ensuring that wrong and offensive communication is not shared with the public; supervising the programmes of Mass Communication in higher institutions and determining and registering higher institutions and practitioners.

“It was inconceivable that last chairman of APCON was in 2015 and he served a few months before Buhari administration scrapped all boards of parastatals including APCON. Sadly, APCON has been running without a council since then”, Lolu said.

On the effects of the absence of council, Lolu said “Right now we are aware of some Nigerian and foreign individuals and organizations quietly, illegally operating in Nigeria, much against the law, and even breaking APCON’s laws on the ownership of agencies. It’s like fake doctors opening up hospitals, fake lawyers sitting on legal issues, fake engineers taking briefs for construction jobs, and fake pharmacists dispensing drugs. We hope that the government will resolve whatever it is that is holding down the appointment of an APCON Chairman and the constitution of the Council. There is so much the Council needs to do to clean up the practice”, Lolu said.

Further underscoring the importance of advertising to the economy and why government should urgently appoint APCON board to oversee the industry, the CEO of the apex agency, Ijedi  Iyohasolicited for more perceptive support, encouragement and partnership of various levels of government with the private sector in the advertising business.

“The advertising profession is essential bridge which requires no dichotomy between public and private sector. The intensification of promotional policies by government for this profession will translate to immeasurable boost in the economy,” she said.

Iyoha said Nigeria is a destination to reckon with in investment in Africa. “We have the desired market for every business and this market comes with the need for advertising”. She underscored the contribution of advertising to economic growth, stating that the advertising brings positive balance in dealing with nations and people.

Adequate capitalisation of agencies

The forum also highlighted the need for adequate capitalisation of agencies as one of the pillars for the industry growth and respect.

Akinwunmi further said that inadequate capital means many agencies cannot attract and remunerate good people, have modern facilities, invest in relevant training and equipment. “It also means we cannot compete with foreign agencies that come into Nigeria. Indeed, many clients and investors will not touch many agencies when they see the books and see inadequate capitalization.

“I was the Chairman of the AAAN Committee a few years ago which was mandated to manage agencies capitalization. On inspection of books, we found agencies with N1m capitalization doing over N100m business. This was of course wrong. Again, under the 5th Code, APCON addressed this issue and hopefully will see to the implementation when a new Council is put in place”.

Other speakers were in agreement of adequate capitalisation of agencies but no figure was put to it. One of the panellists, Dapo Adelegan believed that adequate capitalisation was critical for agencies. When agencies are capitalised, other professionals can work for agencies”

Other building blocks for vibrant industry

To further build a vibrant industry, the practitioners believed on Mergers and Acquisitions to guarantee bigger firms and collaborations. Steve Omojofor, a frontline advertiser said the industry cannot achieve much with ‘little particles’ as agencies. He said practitioners must find areas of collaborations to play big in the market. But such M&As cannot grow the existing market, it can only possibly crowed less firms out of the market.

The industry also needs to deal with media debt and delay payment by clients as keys to creating energetic industry.

Biodun Shobanjo, chairman of Troyka Group, who spoke at the conference with about 300 delegates proposed  60 days duration for payment of media contracts by clients as an option of saving the media business. He said the debt within the industry between clients, service providers, media owners and advertising agencies, with its implications, must be checkmated perhaps through legislation.

Explaining to BusinessDay how the 60 days payment period can be achieved, Tunji Olugbodi, the Group CEO of Verdant Zeal who endorsed Shobanjo’s suggestion believed that the 60 days payment period can also be realised through agreement with the clients.

Olugbodi also said that the clients and agencies need education and enlightenment. It is important for clients to see things from the perspective of the  agency and agencies too can also understand the financial situation of the clients.

He also suggested engagement with all the stakeholders and operators in the advertising value chain to address the debt challenges.

On adequate regulation within the industry, Shobanjo whose presentation addressed contemporary issues in the industry further called on APCON to play its regulatory functions without fear or favour. “A situation where interlopers are allowed to infiltrate the business as the case in many sectoral sectors must be stopped”.

For instance “where the law prescribes that foreigners acquire not more than 25 percent equity in Nigerian advertising companies but this is circumvented by using unscrupulous Nigerians, must be stopped and reversed”.

Shobanjo challenged the practitioners to galvanise themselves to save the profession because if “we don’t, the possibility of the profession being endangered is obvious”

Digital as a way forward

Most of the speakers encouraged the practitioners to embrace digital to tap into the increasing digital spend expected to hit $15 billion globally this year. They were also advised to invest in manpower development and make consumers the central focus of their operations by being ethical in their operation. The brands and agencies exist because of the consumer, Shobanjo said.

The Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed who did not attend the conference, a major industry forum, but send his Perm Secretary, Grace Ekpe advised the practitioners to make national interest paramount as advertising can be used to tell our story as a nation and correct misconceptions.

To further create bond between the industry and government and establish its relevance, Bunmi Oke, former Chairman of Advertisers Practitioners Council of Nigeria, AAAN, told her colleagues that the industry can plan for Nigeria at 60 with a pro-bono creative Advert.

The two-day conference organised in conjunction with media and advertising sectoral groups really delved into almost every important issue bugging the industry. At the end, participants were delighted to have begun a new chapter in addressing the issues towards creating a vibrant industry for the benefit of the nation in terms of employment, GDP and nation branding. With the success, they look forward to the next summit.

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