THE frosty relationship between the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of Nigeria (NPAN) and the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) over the downward review of advert commission is an indication that all is not well with the industry. 

The fact that the matter has been on for close to six months now without any clue to resolving it, has become issue of concern in the marketing communication industry. It is unfortunate that warring parties still hold tenaciously to their stands, as none is prepared to shift ground on the matter.

But is likely that the yearly public forum of the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) which comes up on Thursday, March 27, 2008 at the Sheraton Lagos Hotel and Towers in Ikeja will take a look at the matter, in addition to several others that have tended to dent the image of the profession in recent years.

This mindset is aptly reflected in the theme of the public forum, Who is killing advertising in Nigeria, is it the advertisers, the agencies or the media? with the expectation that participants will make dispassionate appraisal of the performance and prospects of the advertising business in Nigeria.

It is also envisaged that, stakeholders in the industry will engage in a no-holds-barred discussion on the way the business is carried on in order to come up with a united voice against practices and tendencies that have tended to stifle the growth and profitability of the advertising business.

It is interesting to note that lately, the advertising regulatory body is asserting its authority as an organization created to promote responsible and ethical advertising practice, in addition to acting as the conscience of society and watchdog for the consumers, while managing the needs and interests of the stakeholders in the industry.

About this time, last year, the council held a forum that focused on resolving what had come to be known as industry debt, which to practitioners, had constituted a major problem to the advertising business in Nigeria.

The last year’s forum led to the birth of a debt management committee, which has been working at resolving the matter. Its finding is expected to be part of discourse on Thursday. 

But virtually all the six sectoral groups – the NPAN, the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), the Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), the AAAN, the Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN), and the Media Independent Practitioners’ Association of Nigeria (MIPAN) – in the industry have one issue or the other to hold against one another, a situation that has degenerated greatly with the cut in the advert commission by the NPAN as latest.

Allusion was made to this recently by the APCON Chairman, Chris Doghudje, at a retreat organized by the AAAN at Ijebu-Ode, Ogun State.

Speaking on Restoring Respectability to Adverting: the New Slogan for Admen, the APCON boss had argued that “respectability is the key issue facing admen today and its restoration will be the panacea for the pains, headaches and heartaches facing advertising practitioners currently.” 

Pointedly, Doghudje approached the talk from the perspective of the organisers’ relationships with the advertiser, the media owner, the auxiliary service provider, fellow agencies and the society. 

He said: “Before considering this relationship, we should look at ourselves – the advertising agencies of today. With apologies to Funmi Onabolu’s paper at the last LAIF awards, the agencies of today lacks: professionalism, which he describes as sound knowledge base as well as sound strategic and business thinking; respect for time and processes; sufficient number of trained, competent hands; craft, skills, good grasp of language; and right support services for jingles, voiceovers photography, TVC production, etc.”

With respect to AAAN’s relationship with the advertiser, Doghudje remarked, “Funmi’s paper is very revealing in this regard. In it, he said relationship between client and agency was once founded on mutual respect and cooperation. He also said both sides has a fair idea of the knowledge and skills required to perform on the other side. He observes that that type of relationship no longer exists. According to him, the relationship between both client and agencies is now ‘almost subservient.’ And he adds, ‘Agencies concedes to client even when they know better for no other reason but commercial grounds”. 

“To him agencies, ‘rather than earn the respect of clients are merely being tolerated’. And now to the final revelation, which is quite worrisome, Funmi, in all candour, says and I quote, “Professional conduct has been overtaken by gratification as the key indices for winning or retaining a business”.

“If Funmi’s revelation is not pathetic enough, now listen to what Chief Tunde Oloyede, of Media International, a top TV/Film production company has to say about today’s advertiser and his attitude to the agency.”

And Doghudje quotes: 

“Time was when the agency man was the expert, the success or failure of a TV ad depended on him. The buck stopped at his desk. At that time, it was possible for the creative flair of the copywriter to grow ‘wings.’ He was free to dare the ability of the TV director to interpret what he had conceived. The director and producers were given a free hand to interpret the script, analyze the storyboard and come up with their own interpretation. In that era, the agency was vested with the authority and responsibility for inviting the production outfit depending upon their knowledge of the various directors’ strengths and weaknesses. But that is not the case anymore. Nowadays, the client has taken over the job of the copywriter. He rewrites the script and because he is the client, it is final. To make matters worse, the agency producer has no say as to who he thinks is competent to handle a TV shoot. Sadly, the client has also assumed this role. What you hear now is, “Well, we think you are the most suitable for the job, but client prefers Mr. XYZ. Don’t ask me why. He is the client”.

“The calamity does not end there. Because the favourable selected producer is the client’s choice, creativity is thrown to the dogs”.

He therefore admonished, “If these revelations are true and I have no reason to doubt them, agencies need to wake up and take measures to change the situation. What are these measures? Demonstrate that you are the communication experts and resist any dictation from the advertiser? Desist from compromising professionalism by not giving gratification to client contacts. You should realize that professionals like doctors, lawyers and accountants don’t give gratifications to win or retain clients. And that’s why they are respected. Demonstrate extraordinary knowledge of marketing and marketing trends and serve as unpaid consultants to the advertiser in his marketing efforts.”

Media owners, Doghudje asserted, “have several problems with advertising agencies and these do not endear agencies to them.” 

In the reckoning of media owners, he emphasized, “agencies are chronic debtors who do not settle their bills even after clients have paid them. The contact points (Accounts Departments) in most agencies demand gratification before settling invoices. Agencies establish their own media companies, especially outdoor, whenever they have a large volume of outdoor bookings. Agencies are in the habit of demanding volume discounts when placing their bookings but hardly keep to the terms of the discounts granted them. Some agency contacts (clients service and media) demand advance gratification before placement of bookings.”

These problems, he explained, “make direct dealings with clients attractive and inevitable to the media owner. Therefore, if agencies want to earn the respect of the media owners, they must enthrone the virtues of integrity, probity and accountability in their dealings with media owners. Above all, they must settle media debts promptly. Incidentally, why is it that ad agencies cannot phone media owners to come over to collect their cheques as and when due as some media independents do. And how come that some lie that clients have not paid even when they have been paid? Can someone tell me why?”

Demand for gratification before contracts are awarded; demand for gratification before bills are settled; the typical agency’s helplessness when clients get too involved in creative and production matters, are some of the issues that have strained the relationship with auxiliary service providers. “In this regard,” the APCON chief noted, “the demand for gratification is the most worrisome. Cant we have agencies that monitor the internal processes in such a way as to prevent fraudulent practices?”

Even within the AAAN fold, “who wants to doubt that some AAAN agencies do poach the accounts of fellow members? Who wants to doubt that unsolicited pitches do take place? And who wants to doubt that some agencies run down other agencies in order to win accounts? Besides, are some agencies not hiring praise singers to sing their praises in newspaper write-ups, contrary to the ethics of the profession?” Doghudje submitted.

His parting shot is for advertising agencies to be more professional in their ways. “They must demonstrate that they are the experts when it comes to matters relating to advertising and not allow clients to push them around. Above all, they must avoid being linked with any conduct that is unethical or fraudulent. Finally, they must learn to re-brand themselves to look respectable.”

It is expected that the tone of Thursday outing will not be different from some of these pieces of advice, expect that the focus would not only be on advertising agencies, but a holistic view on the industry as a whole.

* Source: The Guardian Newspapers


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