The Managing Director, DDB Lagos, Mr. Ikechi Odigbo, was elected as the 20th President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN). In this interview, Odigbo unfolds his agenda for the association under his leadership. Excerpts:
I have served in various capacities in AAAN’s Executive Council under several leaders such as Funmi Onabolu. I served as an ex officio member during Mrs. Bunmi Oke’s tenure. I was the Publicity Secretary during Kelechi Nwosu’s leadership. I subsequently served as Vice President during the tenure of Kayode Oluwasona, the immediate past president of the association. What I saw was profound commitment by the leadership. I was, therefore, inspired by the level of passion and commitment that the leadership demonstrated at various times in managing the affairs of the association in the midst of very challenging circumstances.
As you are aware, currently, the fortune of our industry has been on the decline and it has particularly been impacted by the economic recession. To see people give their all to see the association move forward gave me no choice when I was called upon to serve than to see it as an opportunity not just to keep the flag flying, but to drive the desired change that will take the association to the next level.
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I believe that just as my predecessors have set the right examples in terms of commitment and sacrificial leadership, there are still more selflessness and inventiveness required to move the association forward. I also believe that the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in as advertising practitioners can also provide opportunities for us collectively as professionals to adopt more entrepreneurial approach to our business.
You are right. The number has dwindled. As at today, we have about 80 registered agencies as against over a hundred in the not too distant past. The reason for the dwindling number is not far-fetched. We have situations in which many agencies were struggling with how to cope with the uncertainty on the business landscape. But, interestingly, for the past two years, we have had quite a significant uptake in new members signing up and coming on board as associate members. Some agencies that had fallen by the way side have also resuscitated and have been readmitted.
Yes, there are challenges. We could have a better situation as regards the financial stability of our members. I would rather focus on the positives and say, given how fragile the situation has been, we have to give kudos to our members for being resilient and moving ahead. AAAN had, in the past couple of years, put in place business summits to help our members better appreciate the dynamics of the economy and where the economy is headed and how to mitigate agencies’ vulnerability against the bearish trends in the economy.
We are going to be taking it further because we have realised that our members have been bedevilled by very unfavourable terms of doing business with advertisers. We have situations where, despite signing contracts, terms of doing business between clients and agencies are arbitrarily reviewed. After a contract is signed, six months down the line, a client comes to say ‘we can only pay 40 per cent or 50 per cent of the agreed fee’. It’s like take it or leave it situation. We find such arbitrariness in terms of doing business eroding values for our agencies.
We also have the challenge of ideas’ theft. A situation where agencies are called for pitches and the prospective client prefers a particular proposal, but goes ahead and gives it to another agency to adapt and just tweak a bit to make it look like original while the agency that originated the preferred proposal is left high and dry.
The issue of pitch rejection fee is also a problem to deal with. Agencies are spending a lot of money to come up with proposals each time we are invited for pitches. However, at the end of the day when the pitches are inconclusive, or when the winner emerges, others that participated are not paid their mandatory pitch rejection fee. So, there are more issues that we need to address.
What we bring on our agenda is to address these by engaging ADVAN (Advertisers Association of Nigeria). We intend to have a firm handshake with ADVAN and try to work out areas of common interest to improve the relationships between agencies and clients. We also appreciate that clients also have their own issues regarding how they conduct their business. However, we want to be able to create that strong working relationship with ADVAN to ensure means of doing business holds in professional context to ensure a win-win relationship between our member agencies and the clients.
Yes. We are exploring that, but we also need to be careful to ensure that we work within the ambit of our responsibility as a professional association. There are some things that our agencies just have to do for themselves, but we are prepared to explore how to come with a common template that can be adopted across board, a legal framework to protect intellectual properties and creative works and proposals developed by the agencies. Of course, we do appreciate that for each client-agency contract signed, there are legal clauses. It might not be something we can address under the umbrella of the association, but requires proper education of our members to appreciate the legal implications of the commitment they make when signing off on contracts.
I think the basic thing is to ensure those agencies meet the statutory requirements as provided in APCON’s reforms. Where those requirements are not met, they are operating outside the ambit of the law. It is illegal. Having said that, I do not think it is to the benefit of any organisation to operate an in-house agency. The reason is that part of the benefits you get from an agency as strategic partner is that such agency becomes a bridge of best marketing practice. For example, within the agency I work with, DDB, we manage a telco client, financial services clients, FMCG clients and technology clients. What we find is that when we engage each client, we bring a versatile range of experiences and points of view based on the myriad of ideas we have with diverse clients to bear upon the client’s business.
But when you have an in-house agency, they operate from a very narrow point of view, just about the business. What happens is that it becomes cocooned; the culture of the host company now defines how it engages the creative process and at the end of the day, its ability to cross fertilise ideas is hampered. I think it’s best to get an agency partner that can see things from a different and fresher perspective, that is intimate with your business, but is independent and has exposures to be able to input with a richer vein of insight as a strategic partner.
The APCON reform has not been fully implemented at the expected speed and zeal. We want to give kudos to current leadership of APCON for taking the necessary steps to implement the first phase of the reforms. The APCON council was dissolved in 2014 and has not been properly constituted. This has hindered the operation of the council while skeletal operations continue until a council is properly constituted. We want to be able to reach out as a new exco to our supervisory ministry, the Ministry of Information, with a view to remedying the situation by ensuring that a council is properly constituted in the sense that eminently qualified professionals from the advertising, media and marketing community are constituted as board and inaugurated.
This has always been the practice and this is the common way professional associations constitute their leadership. I believe that the leadership of our supervising ministry is aware of this because we have informed them in the past with regards to addressing the constitution of the council, but we will continue to reach out and make decisions with a view to hastening the process.
So, we want to use the opportunity to implore the supervising ministry to accelerate the constitution of the council for the health of advertising practice and also given the significant roles that APCON plays as a regulator of public communication. This is even more so as we get to the election season.
There is need to be professional with a view to ensuring the highest ethics and decency and making sure that the sort of messages that go out will in no way threaten the stability or peace of the country.
I will not say the industry has been laid back. To be honest with you, a lot of work has been done behind the scene to address the issue, but it also goes to show that a lot more robust lobbying is required to put across our position and ensure that things are in order.
Incidentally, this issue brings us to the third pillar or goal of our administration and that is to ensure that the advertising academy takes off in our tenure. We have had a lot of expert contributions by distinguished practitioners to put in place a very robust curriculum and framework for the take-off of the academy. We are at the critical juncture of the launch and I believe that with commitment coming from the membership, who appreciate that this is a long deserved step in the right direction to begin to drive capacity building and professional development of our membership. The academy is a dream whose time has come and the exco will do everything possible to ensure it becomes operational in a couple of months from now.
There is need to actively engage the advertisers’ association. We realised that our members want business and that drive for business will come with all sorts of arbitrary terms, especially when it comes to pitches. We believe that the best approach for any agency is that once you are approached for a pitch and you really want to pitch, make sure you communicate it to the association that you have been invited for a pitch. The secretariat of the association will know you have been invited and will take it upon itself to communicate the terms of engagement for the pitch to the prospective client, including conditions such as pitch rejection fees and others.
When it is done this way, the agency that is interested in pitching is protected rather than directly making those demands. When an agency makes those demands, it’s already in the black book of
the company. I believe it’s a step towards resolving the issues. We need to come together with common interest. When we go it alone without common interest, we will be vulnerable in the market. When we come under the umbrella of an association and collectively pursue a stronger common business interest, we would have greater advantage.
The AAAN is not an association for big agencies; it’s a level platform for the advertising community to come together to promote common interest. I can assure you that it is the reason for the existence of the association. Any small agency not fully optimising or taking advantage of the association because of such perceptions is undoing itself. We have a Professional Practice Committee (PPC) that listens to the conduct of member agencies and where such conduct as expressed is found to exist, the necessary disciplinary action would be taken. Also, APCON is a properly constituted association with the necessary structures to promote ethics and standard of advertising in Nigeria.
I believe LAIF is one of the key initiatives of AAAN. We have had over 12 years of LAIF and it has continued to grow with increasing prestige. The award has become highly sought after; LAIF is becoming more competitive that you find controversies in some instances. One of the ways we have designed to mitigate this is to diversify the jury to include non-advertising professionals. The exco of the board is constituted not only by our advertising members, but also we have membership of EXMAN, APCON and MIPAN.
So, it’s a diverse board, which is representative of the entire media and marketing sector sitting to preside over the affairs of LAIF. This diversity is also present in the LAIF jury. Having chaired LAIF for three years, I have no doubt that significant advances have been made. and with the current objective of diversifying or expanding the scale of the award to include some countries in West Africa, the future is brighter for LAIF Awards.