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‘Only Foreign Agencies With Selfish Agenda Oppose APCON’s Ad Sector Reforms’


 fifth and immediate past Chairman, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON),  Mr. ‘Lolu Akinwunmi, FRPA, FNMI

fifth and immediate past Chairman, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Mr. ‘Lolu Akinwunmi, FRPA, FNMI

What were your experiences as the fifth Chairman of APCON? First, when I was appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2010 for a single three-year tenure, I had been advised by one or two very senior practitioners that I should simply concentrate on the traditional role of vetting adverts, and endeavour to avoid potentially troublesome issues like the constant disagreements between the two major breweries in the country, among others. I however disagreed because I felt the economy and the industry were at a stage where we needed to strongly intervene and strengthen the structures of APCON, so that the federal regulator would be further empowered to play its role more effectively, and do more than just vetting and setting syllabuses for higher institutions. This led us to embark on the review of the Forth Code, which culminated in the Fifth Code. The work on the Code demanded a lot of tact, diplomacy, political adroitness and the need to manage many interests. How did the exercise go? Was it smooth sailing? Far from it! From when we started, foreign interests that did not want it attacked us ferociously. They imagined that if we were able to put the reform in place, it would stop them from taking over the Nigerian advertising business. At some point, I was reported to the National Assembly that I was using my position in APCON to stop certain foreign interests from operating in Nigeria. I had to appear before the Senate to clear this. Then they reported me to the then Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, who investigated the allegation and found it to be untrue. Then they went to the Nigerian Investment Promotions Commission with the untruth that I was stopping foreign investors from coming into Nigeria. We showed the Commission proof that this was also not true. Then they went to the Corporate Affairs Commission with the same lie and we dispelled it. Finally they reached the Villa and the matter was directed to the Hon. Minister of Information again. Of course they used the media massively against APCON and I, sadly using Nigerian professionals in the odious campaign. It was an intense battle. At some point, the Minister of Information hosted an all-parties meeting in Abuja, where they were warned to desist from the campaign of calumny against APCON and I. Were your colleagues in the industry supportive when the battle was raging? Thankfully so! I received uncommon support from the AAAN, ADVAN, OAAN, MIPAN and the other sectorial groups. It was overwhelming because they all knew that what was at stake was the soul and the future of the Nigerian advertising profession. But for their support, concluding the assignment would have been very challenging indeed. Along with the case of the difficult foreign agency you mentioned, will you tell us any other challenge you managed? Traditionally, the Nigerian Breweries and Guinness have always been very fierce competitors, even though at some point in their history in Nigeria, they were related through their overseas and local owners. I should know because in my days in Lintas in the 80s, I worked as an account manager on Star, Maltina, FES (Guinness Stout) and Harp. Over time, their friendly disposition towards each other became more competitive. Apart from the battles in the market, APCON also became a veritable theatre of war. How? Over many years, and especially with the introduction of the regime of supervised exposure of alcoholic ads in the media, each brewery was quick to report the other to APCON if it saw or perceived any infraction by its competitor. Indeed, when I was appointed Chairman, one of my predecessors in office quietly counseled me to avoid this potential pitfall, and be very careful in managing it. The conflict had gone on for many years, but I was determined to resolve it during my tenure; so I chose not to take the advice. At some point, one of the Breweries’ CEO wrote a very strong memo to APCON strongly hinting at complicity against us. I immediately saw a very serious situation, if it was not well and quickly managed. So, rather than have the APCON secretariat follow the usual procedure to attend to the matter, I took it up, did a reply to the CEO, assuring him, we would promptly look into the matter. I immediately set up an investigative committee to do this, instead of using the APCON committee, and appointed a fellow and council member as he chairman. If I waited for the APCON process, there might have been delays because of the process, and the matter required that we acted with dispatch and wisdom. For good measure I put the Minister of Information in copy. I deliberately did this so he would have fore knowledge in case anyone wanted to go to him for malicious reasons. The committee invited the two breweries and their lawyers, spoke with the APCON, Advertising Standards Panel (ASP) etc., and at the end of the day, it turned out the allegation was not only untrue, the brewery that made the complaint repudiated it. For me though, the very sad part was that the accusing brewery went to town in the media, running a vicious campaign against APCON, the ASP and its chairman. One got the distinct impression that the main reason was to make enough noise so that government would move against some key people in APCON. At the end of the day, we sent our report to the Information Minister and he studied it. He later sent a letter commending us on how the matter was handled, and advised that all the materials from our investigation be carefully preserved as historical documents. Tell us about some of your achievements in office? I will mention some of the key ones and these include Advertising Code Review. The Council successfully implemented the Fifth Code Review following an industry-wide consultation through the APCON Committee on Advertising Practice Reforms (ACAPR) from 2010. The implementation commenced from January 2013. Unfortunately, the Chairman of the Committee, a distinguished fellow and practitioner, Willy Nnorom passed away in 2014. We will continue to miss him. Also, one of the mandates of the Council is to regulate and approve the various syllabuses and standards for the practice within higher institutions, which award diplomas and degrees. During the period, we accredited several institutions of higher learning including the Pan African University/Lagos Business School. If APCON does not approve accreditation, no higher institution can offer courses leading to a diploma or degree in marketing, advertising etc. We also organised various stakeholders’ seminars/workshops and several executive programmes. Moreover, we added over 1000 new members through students’ registration, over 1000 Associate Members, over 100 upgrades from Associate to Full Membership and several Fellowship Awards. We also worked with the National Institute of Marketing of Nigeria on streamlining membership registration and signed a memorandum of association to seal this. Vetting and approval of advertising materials is one of the core responsibilities of the Council through the Advertising Standards Panel (ASP). During the period, vetting application rose by over 70 per cent, and compliance level by over 75 per cent. I am happy to report that even the various political parties sent their materials in for vetting. While we still experience some leakages, the awareness is higher, and compliance is more regular. Also, one of the biggest challenges we have in the country is the spurious exposure of uncensored trado-medical advertisements promising unsubstantiated reliefs for various ailments and diseases. During the period, we commenced discussions with NAFDAC for a collaborative relationship, which was to ensure that all trado-medical advertising materials were simultaneously vetted APCON, NBC and NAFDAC. My council could not conclude the project, and hopefully, the next council will continue where we stopped. We also continued to work very closely with the Consumer Protection Council in ensuring that sales promotions were honest, and not abused, delivering on all the promises to the consumer. I can go on and on. We understand that foreign agencies are not too happy with the reform, as in their opinion, APCON is trying to stop them from operating in Nigeria. There are also insinuations that they plan to work against the implementation of the reform and even take APCON to court… Only those with selfish agenda belong to this group. We have been speaking with some of them who want to know what they need to do to comply. And I am not sure anyone who has read the current edition of the Code of Advertising Practice would say that. APCON does not have the power to stop any qualified Nigerian or foreigner from practising as long as they do all that the law requires.   Your organisation rebranded from Prima Garnet Ogilvy to Prima Garnet Africa. Why? It is not unusual for any serious organisation to sit down and devise a strategic plan for its future. We have been fortunate as a group to have done very well in Nigeria. With a little immodesty, the history of advertising business, the profession and practice cannot be complete without the mention of our three key agencies, Prima Garnet, 141 Worldwide and MediaShare. We saw a great opportunity for us in Africa, especially in view of the great development within the continent, and took a decision to commence a gradual but purposeful foray and investment into the future of the continent; we want to be part of the success story. This is why we did a few things, including rebranding as part of sharply focusing on our intent, bringing in key and experienced human resources etc. We consequently adopted Prima Garnet Africa, to replace our former identity. Where do you see the group heading in the next few years? We have worked hard in developing and building a truly integrated marketing communication group of successful brands in advertising, PR, media management, experiential marketing, strategy development and execution, digital etc. We also have a firm understanding and grasp of where the profession is leading and what we need to do to be frontline players within this important market. We keep investing in good people and creating the right environment for them to operate. We are also blessed to have the right type of clients who are savvy and demanding; they also have a deep respect for our skills. At the moment, we are re-visioning especially because of fresh and exciting external opportunities. An expatriate and the leading African expert in digital media management just joined us. The future looks very bright indeed. How do you intend to accomplish your plans in view of the challenges facing the Nigerian economy? Challenges also present opportunities. America produced some of its millionaires during the depression and prohibition. Economic downturns are cyclical; this one too shall pass. We cannot say that because there is a lull in the economy we will stop thinking, strategising and planning. So while the economy is playing itself out, it gives us an opportunity to review our operations in line with the new realities. Nigeria as an economy is too big to collapse under any cyclical economic challenge. While there will be casualties, there will also be winners who see an opportunity in the downturn and take advantage of it. We intend to play actively in the latter group. Clients often appoint agencies through pitches…Creative, Strategy or simple Profile presentations. Many professionals have opined that these steps do not give the prospective Client the opportunity to really know what they are buying into. What is your opinion? It’s an interesting question. Most pitches are show events, where in a maximum of one hour, the agency will have to dazzle the prospect. However, the point must be made that the process does not give the prospect enough information on the capacity of the agency. An agency may be very impressive at a presentation but turn out to be very bad managers of the brand after their appointment. We have always advocated that one of the better ways of selecting an agency is to find out about them from their current or previous clients. You will get all the information you want on their competence and reliability. But to simply pick an agency based on a 45-minute show performance is inadequate. Some agencies in America no longer take part in pitches. They tell such prospects to research and investigate them, and if they like what they hear, then they can make up their minds. Makes sense to me too. Many people, including your good self, have advocated that government should not allow foreigners to own majority interests in the communication industry for security reasons and because many take jobs that qualified Nigerians can do. Can you say more on this? I remain convinced about this, and it is not because I am discouraging foreign investment in this area. Even though Nigeria has signed into international trade protocols, the government’s commitment is first to the interests of its people. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people and not the government of the people, by the people for foreigners. Secondly, public communication is very sensitive especially in a growing economy and polity like ours. Truth is whoever controls the organs of public communication will control and influence what the people see, read, hear and are exposed to. There is no foreigner who can be more patriotic than Nigerians; they come here to make money, period. There are grave security and socio cultural implications. So how can non-Nigerians, say Indians, South Africans, Dutch, Americans, Arabs etc., have the control of advertising agencies, print, radio or TV stations? Whose interests will they propagate? I said it once and I am saying it again that the government and the National Assembly must as a matter of urgency put laws in place to ensure foreigners cannot own majority interests in these areas by making it part of the First Schedule of the Constitution. And at any rate, all countries protect their people. America protects its farmers. Europe protects its aerospace industry. China does the same. Ditto India and Brazil. And in addition, why should we open our gates to foreigners to come and do jobs that we have enough Nigerian professionals to do? Whose interests does the government want to protect? Would you advocate the setting up of a Fair Trades Council in Nigeria to especially ensure local content protection in advertising and communication? Very good question. This came up during my last visit to the National Assembly. We should urgently do so. Listen, foreign investments are supposed to bring in capital to expand the market, provide employment, expertise and money. How can a foreign agency do this when the accounts and businesses are already here? What values are they bringing in that they want to take the jobs of our people? Government should also insist on the number of foreigners that can work in each industry and the tenure. They must transfer skills to Nigerians. Chinese, Indian, Brazilian, French, American, British agencies are full of their nationals. Why must the Nigerian case be different? A so-called foreign agency set up here and appointed a Nigerian as the CEO, then a foreigner as the Managing Consultant. The Nigerian was the public face but the foreigner was the real power. Now this is a very senior Nigerian who has even held very senior industry positions. Will this happen in any of the countries I mentioned? Tell us how your successor was appointed? I do not know what finally happened in the hallowed chambers of the Presidency. All I know is that we recommended some names of eligible fellows to the Minister of Information, accompanied with their CVs. He took the final decision on whom to recommend to the President as the final choice. The good news is that finally the government has appointed a right candidate. That is Udeme Ufot? Correct So, he was among the ones that were recommended? Correct. What is your opinion of the new Chairman and your successor in office? He is a thoroughbred professional, otherwise he would not be one of the fellows recommended to the Minister. He has had very active professional practice and has also been the President of the AAAN. He is very active in many professional capacities and was recently awarded the National Honour of MFR. I have no doubt that under him, APCON will continue in the fine tradition of delivering value as expected by the government and the people. You have been everything the industry and profession can offer. What next now that your tenure is over? I am still the Group CEO of Prima Garnet Africa, and as I said, we are implementing a very ambitious and exciting regional expansionist programme. Plus, I frequently act as adviser and consultant to a few other interests. If you are invited again to serve the country in another capacity, will you be available? The highest form of honour is to be invited to serve your country. Do you think he will support the reform the Council started under you? Even when he was not the Chairman, he did. He is a thoroughbred professional. He understands what the reform is about and he will be well advised by the Council. The Goodluck vs. Buhari election is one of the most competitive and expensive in Nigerian history in terms of advertising. How would you rate the campaigns? Many have been brilliant; very brilliant. Others have been sloppy and unprofessional. Overall it is a good outing for the Nigerian advertising profession. Indeed I don’t think advertising has played any bigger role in any previous election as it has done in this one. The President admitted in a press interview in the Tribune that with the benefit of hindsight, more could have been done to propagate the activities of his administration, and that should he be re-elected he would empower the information dissemination machinery and communicate more effectively. What is your opinion? He spoke well. I had advocated this on Facebook a few times. It is my professional opinion that the Presidential and government activities were not being effectively communicated. Secondly, and sadly, one cannot see or feel any brand building and sustenance capacity around the presidency. Who is directly responsible for managing Brand Jonathan? With due respect to the communication people in the presidency, I don’t know if any of them is adequately equipped to do this job especially by way of knowledge and experience. And of course we can see the fall out, even as confirmed by the President. So what would you advise the President to do about his image, communication and legacy if he wins a second term? By all means he must appoint a knowledgeable and experienced team at very senior level to manage and project the President’s brand. It is clear that too many things happen around that office that are not being effectively communicated. Two, not much effort has gone into presenting who he really is to Nigerians. He should speak more about his challenges, successes etc. He is Nigeria’s President and should communicate more with his people. He must be more responsive.

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