All over the word, advertising has become a key index to measure the growth of economy. The scenario is not different in Nigeria. With a fantastic list of A-list practitioners churning out first class creative, the industry in the estimation of the CEO of Centrespread, Alhaji Kola Ayanwale “has remained the oil that lubricates the wheel of manufacturing industry.” Even with the growth in leaps and bounds that the sector has witnessed in the last couple of years, he enumerates a number of challenges that has continued to slow down the pace development. Just as he catalogues operational values that remain at the core of his agency’s performance in the last 30 years of its operation. He spoke to a collective of journalists in Lagos recently. KABIR ALABI GARBA was there.
ADVERTISING, generally, Ayanwale begins the assessment, “performs an important role. In fact, it is the oil that lubricates the wheel of manufacturing industry. So, it is an important industry and to the best of my knowledge, there is no industry in this country that is training our people and it is because our policy formulators do not even appreciate the role of advertising in national development and contribution to GDP.”
In spite of the growth that the profession has witnessed over the years, a few issues, he insists, are still bugging the industry. Number one, he says, is the dearth of talent.
He explains, “advertising is a business of talent and until Kenny Badmus took a leave of absence from here to set up Orange Academy, nobody has set up one to train our creative hands.
“It was after the school got established and took a life of its own that he came back to take its rightful place in this agency last year. So we also compete with our clients with the available few talents that are breeding right quality. You see an account executive on the job, the clients take him or her over, banks come after them. No agency, to the best of my knowledge, can compete with telecoms and banks in retaining talents and yet we are not producing enough quantity and quality of this talent. That is a big problem in the market.”
Another problem, according to him is regulation. “In Brazil, advertising is thriving now, not because they are magicians, but because the government has succeeded in creating enabling environment. Incomes of advertising practitioners in Brazil are guaranteed by law and there are certain things you cannot do by law. In terms of power of advertising and great works, Brazil is beginning to takeover from UK and US of this world.
“I know that APCON is working on what is called APCON Committee on Advertising Practice Reform (ACAPR), it is my prayer that by the time ACAPR is signed and given flesh by the APCON decree, perhaps a few of our practices will be regulated better.
“We all know what happens in Ghana, you cannot work to any media house in Ghana and say you want to place an advert, they will refer you back to the agency that created the ad. Here, it is a different kettle of fish altogether, even the provision of APCON decree is being manipulated. Until and unless we revisit the issue of law in our industry, it will still continue to threaten the industry.”
Absence of cash to do the business is another point that is slowing down the pace of growth in industry. “Things are changing now, but a lot of agencies are underfunded and not able to attract enough money to do the business they are set up to do. I have said it in this board room, once or twice, one day, this group, will go on to the stock exchange. Until that begins to happen, the issue of indebtedness in the industry, arising from the fact that we do not have enough money to do business will not be solved.
“The other side of that is, when a company goes public, by the regulations of publicly quoted companies, the owners of the business will ensure that the right management is put in place at all time to ensure the continuity of that business.
So if we can tackle those three points I have made, then the industry will continue to witness a lot of boom.
“However, one thing that is also tearing the industry apart is that, because there are very few big spenders in this market, we find agency people fighting themselves over business in a manner that is highly uncalled for.
“We have had our fair share of it in our almost 30 years of doing business. The style here is, once you lose a business, the question is not who, the question is, why did we lose that business? What is it that we ought to have done right that we did not do, such that we can take some lessons and get answers to those questions and then use it in subsequent exercise. People do a lot in this market, but we pretend not to know, but we know. People also say a lot particularly against successful agencies.”
By and large, Ayanwale is grateful that the company that started out as a simple idea between friends 29 years ago, has become the most sought after in providing result oriented integrated marketing communication solutions to clients across various industries in the country today. CentrespreadFCB, he notes, “through hardwork, creativity and commitment to excellence has grown to become a front runner in the integrated marketing communications business in the country.”
Incorporated in July 1982 and began business effectively in December of the same year, Centrespread has given birth to other sister companies. They are DKK, another full service ad agency; FCB redline, which is the PR; Mediamore, a media independence outlet based at Ilupeju; Kontactpoint, an outdoor agency; and the latest baby, an information technology branding outfit, FCB Interactive.
With satisfaction, Ayanwale says, “our presence in the industry is being felt with some award winning campaigns… I remember when Telecom News gave Multi-links an award, as being the best telecom ad of the year, we were not there. Of course, saka, the popular campaign for etisalat came out of here. We are the agency behind Good Mama, and so many others for blue-chip companies in the country.
“But we have not gone out of our ways to say anything special on television and radio, the credit goes to our clients. Indeed, it has been a good journey for us. In fact, as a business, we have had our ups and downs. For us, the most important thing is to be among those key players. You know in this industry, you hardly can tell, who is number one, or number two, three or four. Nobody can say that categorically, because, we are still very close-minded in this market.
“In South Africa, Kenya, you publish your billings, people could earmark your profitability and score who is number one, two or three. But in Nigeria, we are still close-minded. But if I ask you the top five or six agencies, there are no pitches, you do not find them, I am sure you will mention names like Insight, DDB, 141, Centrespread, maybe, STB McCannes, you cannot find more than seven.
“For us at Centrespread, the key thing and vision we have is that this agency must be among the key players. Take us as a group, we are probably the third biggest in this country. But as an agency, there is a thin line between who is number one, number two, and so on… it takes one account to move to agency A and the whole table changes.”
He enumerates resilience, human capacity building, huge investment on research as some values that the company cherishes dearly.
“A few people who were not in this system then, but who took a bold step to join us when we had vacancies suddenly realised that the reason that Centrespread is relevant is that, one, it is a very resilient agency, extreme resilient, never say die spirit.
“Also, the company has a strong culture of investing on research. I have not known of any agency that commits so much resources to pitches. In fact, at a point in this boardroom, the board actually challenged me, on why did I spend so much money to pitch. But way back, I learnt, even when good presentation couldn’t guarantee you, bad ones would certainly make sure that you lose.
“For you to go out there and look for business, particularly when you are unknown and people just sighted your name and invited you, you need to prepare hard. That is exactly what we do here.
“Moreover, we may not have projected our people, you will not know that Kenny, one of the brightest minds in creativity is in this office. We have some of the best hands in the industry around and that is why we have very fair history of account retention in this business.
“On top of this is the commitment to create conducive working environment that enhances growth of creativity. Hardly will any prospective clients come here and will not come back. We try at all times to take the right decisions and do what is right. Of course, we cannot succeed at all times, but by and large, we are here 30 years, looking like this because we have done certain things right in this business.”
But why the advertising business is close-minded in Nigeria? “Honestly, I do not know why, but in this agency, we are very open. We are prepared to be open. In fact, two days ago, we went for a major pitch and unfortunately they invited 10 agencies for that pitch, Keystone bank pitch, 10 agencies! We would not have gone if other things were to be equal. Before the team left, I discussed with the leader and said, ‘look, if they ask you for your billing history, please tell them. So that they know that we are not a small agency.’ You see, we cannot do something outside the regulation of the business. I know that, in the 80s and 90s, our professional group, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) would send out forms and ask agencies to fill in their billing patterns.
“Meanwhile, we are still doing so here and we are giving the appropriate figures. Indeed, people do falsify this figure and at a point, AAAN stopped publishing it. If tomorrow, the association says please let’s have your data, this agency will supply its own data.
“Maybe because we are Africans and we have some tendency, it is a very small and unfortunately, largely populated by small minded individuals. I think that is another problem, the entry into the business, people who trained us, where did we start from? Who did they learn from? And of course, because they do not have enough big spenders in this market, we bring issues of competition and I cannot justify it, it is not right and all I can say is that if regulations say do that today, this agency will, because then you will get the benefit that you should get by being open. And it is because all the agencies here are privately owned, so when you go out to become a public agency, that will not happen and that is why am saying we would get there.
“In terms of time line, I will not be able to say that now, but it is a discussion at the board level and the board is looking at it seriously. All I know is that before I leave this business, Centrespread will go public.”