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Building brand equity is the hallmark of marketing practice, not numbers – Tony Agenmonmen

Tony Agenmonmen, the immediate past President of the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria, NIMN in this interview with Daniel Obi, said restructuring the body, after years of crisis has been challenging as well as interesting. Noting that the economy might be tough, he challenged marketers that the practice should not go into isolation. According to him, difficult times will come but how marketers respond is what separates them. He spoke on other issues. Excerpts.

Could you briefly paint a picture of the situation of the Institute before you became President?
Prior to 2016, NIMN chartered in 2003 had a history of factions. In 2008, there was a major attempt to merge the factions. Later, more factions sprang up and this continued to paint a picture for the institute. But in 2014, there was a complete merger which we sustained till now. But the consequences of an unstable past was that the institute was not properly structured. The institute had 31 employees which was much. The institute was then saddled with a salary bill of about N4m per month. The institute was technically insolvent. Again, due to the infighting between factions, many people, including members and corporates did not take NIMN seriously at that time and the brand equity was almost zero. Many people were owed salaries and the retired officers were owed gratuities. By the time we came in in November, 2016, the debt was about N80m. This was no joke. When we came in, we knew we needed a major turn-around to get out of the situation. The confidence with which we pull through the restructuring was massive without favour. But our decision in the restructuring was in good faith that is why we were able to pull through.

What actually caused the factions in the institute?
Due to lack of structure, people can wake up and form factions. At the slighted provocations, people can form factions. The days of factions are gone, though somebody may still rise up to express displeasure over certain things in future but now, the institute is stronger. Members today recognise the progress that is being made. We applied transparency and openness in our dealings as the books are open. This is the culture we introduced. As long as we continue to have transparent leadership, oppositions will not have their way. Not that we did not have noises here and there, but we were focused and members appreciate it.

Could you compare membership base of the institute pre-2016 and now?
I don’t think part of my scorecards talked about numbers. For instance, Nigeria is 200 m people, so what. Some people will claim numbers in NIMN , so what. If we have an imaginary number, will that pay salaries and rent. Marketing is not about numbers but about quality of delivery, brand equity. Once you build the equity, the numbers will come. Things I promised were restructuring the institute, build the brand equity, get the proclamation of the institute made by the minister, drive enforcement by marketing practitioners, a befitting secretariat, train and motivate employees, establish Nigerian marketing academy, re-install the journal of marketing and getting recognition for NIMN certificates. The only area out of these promises we have red marks is recognition certificates. But recognition of certificates of any professional organisation is the responsibility of National Council of Establishment. We pursued this course aggressively alongside other bodies but sadly, NCE was conclusive that it will not recognise any professional certificate from any professional institute. This was beyond me. Another red spot was a training academy. We did not pursue it due to competing house cleaning issues.

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No doubt the brand equity of NIMN has grown after the crisis, judging from the quality of members and free rancour, but what is the membership pre-2016 and now?
We had nominal membership list. If we had so much like 9,000 with average subscription of N10,000, why should salary, pension be an issue. Why did the institute owe N80m. The true members who were paying subscription were about 600. But now we have almost 1,000 who are paying their subscription. Many members are coming back to regularise their membership.

What is the situation as regards the debt, pension?
The situation is that we have paid all the outstanding salaries and gratuities of all employees whether they are still in the institute or disengaged or retired. The situation is that much of the money we owe to corporate organisations have been liquidated and the biggest chunk of the N80m debt was N21 m unremitted pension but as at March we have paid over N5m. By the time I am handing over on Friday, May 28, we would have paid 75 percent of that money which will leave the institute at about N5m unremitted pension. We would have been through with debt but Covid -19 was a hindrance that impeded some of our programmes.

Is your secretariat a permanent one or rented. If rented, are there plans for the institute to build its permanent secretariat?
It is rented and if we had money, perhaps we could have bought one. Though NIMN is chartered by the act of Parliament of Nigeria and signed into law it is an independent professional organisation. We depend on subscriptions paid by members, training, and support from friendly marketing organisations. Knowing where we were coming from, we did not want to repudiate our debts. There was a delicate balance between paying our debts gradually and building the institute. Then, having our own building was not a priority but having a decent secretariat was a priority. It is the thinking of the institute that one day it will have its own permanent secretariat that will accommodate training rooms and offices.

Was your strategy of legal action for membership compliance a persuasion move or force?
Our strategy has always been voluntary compliance. Any person who is really practicing marketing and who is professional should understand that they stand to benefit. For instance, being a member of the old boys association gives some benefits, it may not be financial but networking. But beyond that, NIMN is a professional institute that is guaranteed by law and which gives a networking platform.

You recently set up a Disciplinary Tribunal, what are the expected sanctions for erring members?
The behaviour expected from members has been codified in the Code of Marketing practice. If any member who is registered with the institute commits infamous conduct, such action can be referred to the tribunal who can caution such member or delist such member. Though there will be an assessor from the Federal Ministry of Justice who should be present when trials are conducted. Such erred member can proceed to Federal Court of Appeal to challenge the decision of the tribunal if dissatisfied with the tribunal decision. In establishing the Tribunal, we acted by the law of the Institute.

Out of your four and half years tenure, Covid -19 took one and half years, what was the impact on the institute?
The pandemic affected our activities. In many of our programmes, we usually get support from corporate Nigerians but many companies are struggling to survive however they have not abandoned us. Yes, Covid -19 affected us but we found a way of managing such that we did not stop paying salaries and motivating the staff.

As a marketing Institute, what is your relationship with the government in terms of marketing Nigeria?
Any relationship is mutual. We have always made it clear of our availability to support Nigeria in terms of bringing the expertise to market the country. This is because NIMN is composed of the brightest marketing brains. We have held conferences on marketing Nigeria where we came out with a communiqué with specific recommendations on what we need to do to push Nigeria’s image. But what government does with it is beyond us. The institute is making its contribution in the best way it can and the Institute remains able and capable of supporting the government to market Nigeria.

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