Like in politics, scheming, lobbying and maneuvering are common tools used by
marketing communications practitioners in Nigeria to win businesses. Though, in
line with international standards, some organisations are known to call for
marketing pitches before giving out their accounts to practitioners, investigations
have shown that some tenders are devoid of transparency.
In the last three months, for instance, a few accounts that have been lost and won
based on such manipulations, were trailed by reactions and a reevaluation of their
processes. Particularly, feelers from the industry described the pitches for the
MTN PR accounts and Cadbury’s Media Buying as “shoddy and contentious”.
The said accounts from MTN, are currently being managed by Marketing Mix and XLR8
(both incumbent agencies responsible for the accounts) while the Media Buying
account belonging to Cadbury moved from Universal McCann to MediaCom.
In a related development, Universal McCann also lost the Coca Cola account, which
it had managed for over a decade to Starcom Media. The pitch involved Capital
Media, Media Share, Carat Media Perspective, Starcom Media and incumbent, Universal
McCann. The exercise was said to have been smooth devoid of any controversy.
But a source in the industry also revealed the case of the pitch to handle Fidson
Drugs sometime ago, which pitched TBWA Concept against other agencies. The result
was purported to have favoured TBWA and as soon as the news reached the agency
head, Mr. Kelechi Nwosu, he called for celebrations. But before the twinkle of an
eye, news had again made the rounds from Fidson that the result had been upturned
and the pharmaceutical company had moved the business to another agency.
With respect to the MTN PR accounts, industry insiders alleged that it lacked
transparency because its result never saw the light of the day six months after it
took place. At a point, the incumbent agencies had to be informed verbally to
continue with the job when it was obvious that the issue would not be resolved on
Indeed, THISDAY had reported recently that part of what caused the stalemate was an
internal crisis that erupted in MTN over the account between the Marketing
Department and Corporate Communications over whether to retain the incumbent
agencies or the company should hire fresh hands.
Immediately the story was published, the General Manager, Corporate Communications,
MTN Nigeria, Funmi Omogbenigun, who was said to have created a level playing field
for the exercise, reacted by stating that rather than blaming the telecom company,
the agencies competing for the account should be blamed.
As for the Cadbury Media Buying account, whose pitch took place on December 5 last
year, the heat generated after the business was won by MediaCom, was a fall out of
the allegation that the exercise had been manipulated to favour the winner. It was
also gathered that two leading media buying agencies – Media Reach and Starcom
Media – which has some premonition that the exercise was not going to be fair,
actually pulled out from early stages. Though sources in the two agencies confirmed
that they withdrew their pitches, they both declined to give reasons for their
Among other reasons, it was rumoured shortly after the account had been lost and
won that the deal was engineered by two senior employees of Cadbury, who were
former staff of a sister company to MediaCom.
Reacting to the complaint that the marketing-communication pitches sometimes don’t
adhere to global standards, an associate director of MediaCom, Mr. Uwen Afanide
denied the perception, stating that it was ridiculous for any individual or
organisation to insinuate that there was no transparency in the process.
According to him, “The problem still has to do with the fact that Nigerians don’t
accept defeat. Though a local pitch for Cadbury Nigeria; the regional office
handled the process, which conferred international status on the entire exercise.
During the presentation, the foreign experts in the company came to Nigeria to
oversee the entire process. It was exciting as it started with a lot of briefing
documents from the clients that made it more tasking.”
Afanide disclosed that Cadbury was looking for strategy, planning competence and
buying competence in any agency that would be given the job and it saw these
qualities in MediaCom. Dismissing the claim that the exercise was flawed, the
associate director added, “It was shocking that any agency could raise any eyebrow
considering the way the pitch was conducted. It is necessary to add here that the
competition was more between Nizeum, a foreign agency that took part in the pitch
and MediaCom, as it was obvious that none of the other Nigerian agencies that
participated, including the then incumbent Universal McCann, had what it takes to
meet the criteria the company was looking for.”
Corporate Affairs Manager , West Africa at Cadbury Nigeria Plc, Mr. Kufre Ekanem,
in a telephone conversation with THISDAY, also denied that the exercise was not
transparent. He confirmed the position of Mediacom that it followed international
Nonetheless, following the uproar in the industry over the shoddy manner in which
pitches were purportedly conducted in the industry, a former chairman of the
Advertising Practitioners’ Council of Nigeria (APCON), Chief Olu Falomo called for
caution among practitioners.
He told THISDAY in an interview that “those that are involved in unethical
practices, whether they are on the agency side or the client side, should be
blamed. The purpose of a pitch is to select a competent communications partners; it
is an objective and professional way of choosing so that when you have chosen, you
know that you have made the right choice about the agency that can handle your
business completely. In short, the purpose of a pitch is to eliminate biases to
avoid engaging somebody who is not fit for your business, because there are
different kinds of agencies working with different clients.”
The former APCON boss stated that a pitch was supposed to be open and transparent
and that openness and transparency should begin from the point when agencies are
shortlisted. He called on practitioners to always maintain their dignity and that
both the agencies and the clients needed to be rigorously professional.
“If you come to a pitch and you suspect that there is no level playing field and
that the client has probably made up his mind, don’t waste your time participating
in such a pitch. The agency must insist on the payment of that pitch fee and the
client must be on their toes. If every agency adopts the same approach, then nobody
would take them for a ride.
“For any professional service, if you cannot make up your mind to appoint somebody
without a pitch, then you must be ready to pay. Because there is no compulsion
about pitches, you can also appoint a company to handle you brief. The essence of a
pitch is because you are trying to draw comparisons with a number of agencies to
know which one best suits your need,” he said.
Similarly, the Creative director of CentrespreadFCB, Mr. Kenny Badmus, who also saw
the payment of pitch fees as one of the means that could be used to check the abuse
of appointing marketing-communications consultants, urged business owners not to
chew more than they can bite when considering the agency that would handle their
He said, “In Nigeria, for instance, there are hundreds of agencies, but you cannot
invite all of them to a pitch, so you have to shortlist some of them – may be three
or four agencies. One mistake many clients make is that they invite so many
agencies; more than they can handle. However, a pitch is supposed to be paid for. I
am in support of the idea of paying for pitch fees because that is what the
industry standard requires.
“Because you cannot call people and waste their time and resources without
rewarding them for all the efforts they have made in making presentations.
Sometimes, some clients who have not made up their minds about appointing an agency
just go ahead and conduct a pitch for the fun of it. But this should not be so.
“As a client, it is expected that you must have made up your mind that you need an
agency. This aside, that you need an agency of a certain caliber and then go on to
shortlist agencies belonging to that category. That is the number that your pitch
budget can afford, following which you can invite them to give them the same brief,
so that they are operating at on the same level playing field. Also, from your own
end, you would have set out the criteria about how to make your selection.
“When you have set out the criteria, a good client sometimes would need consultants
in a speech because they too have their own personal biases. But if you have a
consultant working with a client and working according to a laid down criteria, you
are able to subject, the two, three or four agencies to the same standard and
whoever scales the hurdle would get the job.”
To the executive secretary of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria
(AAAN), Mr. Lekan Fadolapo, “Basically, the essence of pitching is not to make
statements but for the purpose of establishing professionalism. You want to
establish the professionalism involved in that process of that pitch and that is
why we always advise client that it is not the number of agencies called for a
pitch that really matters, it is the professionalism involved in that pitch process
– what are the criteria and what are you looking for?
“All these things should have been clearly defined before calling for pitches. Some
of the things that should be taken into consideration include: are we looking for
strategy; what is the problem we want to solve and what is the end result we are
looking for; what is our company culture; is that solution going to fit into our
Also, speaking on how to conduct a good pitch, Head, Planning, Registration and
Careers in APCON, Mr. Joe-Eugene Onuorah, said the council has always advised that
people should not be desperate to get business but to play the game by the rules.
According to him, “APCON has always advised that everything is not about money.
There should be honour, integrity and fair play. People talk about the Nigerian
factor playing a key role in the way we run advertising business; I do not think
that should be the case. Nobody should do anything that would tarnish the image of
the advertising industry.
“As practitioners, we should learn to be straight forward and honest in our
dealings. On the issue of pitches, if you call people to make a pitch for your
business and you have already made up your mind in advance then you are killing
your own business.”
On his part, former President of Media Independent Practitioners Association of
Nigeria (MIPAN), who is presently a consultant to Starcom Media, Mr. Ayo
Oluwatosin, lamented the level of decadence in the industry and urged advertising
practitioners to always stand on the side of truth.
“The way out is for our colleagues in the industry to consider posterity to be
weightier than immediate gains. For the service provider spearheaded by APCON,
there is need to make demands that all clients that are undertaking pitches must
state the parameters clearly for the selection process ahead of the exercise.
Again, APCON should empower and give room to aggrieved agencies to submit formal
protest letter to the regulatory body in advertising industry whenever foul play is
suspected,” he said.
THISDAY findings, however, revealed that there is a high likelihood that
organisations that have expatriates as marketing directors are more likely to
organise transparent pitches than their Nigerian counterparts.