We Place Emphasis On Quality- Igbo Amadi-Obi MD, BBDO West Africa
Mr. Igbo Amadi-Obi is the Managing Director of BBDO, in this interview with Brand Communicator team, he x-rays integrated marketing communications landscape in Nigeria, core values and philosophy of BBDO, the agency’s competitive edge and its consistent success stories. Excerpt…
Integrated Marketing Communications Landscape In Nigeria
If you ask me about the niche called advertising, which is where we play, I would be honest and say it hasn’t quite matched my expectations and projections, and most likely those of majority of industry players and watchers. Advertising as a business has failed to attain the growth trajectories that would have been plotted for it many years ago, when the exponential growth in what I would call emerging media and emerging trends was obviously not envisaged. I believe that globally, it is a period of stock-taking for advertising practitioners as budgets are being moved away from core advertising and therefore from the direct control of agencies.
Locally, this trend is compounded by a depressed, if not recessed economy, which compels clients to be both pragmatic and creative with their resources. You and I know that advertising is usually the first casualty in a depressed economy. Whether this is wise or not is a subject for another day. But the combination of emerging trends and a depressed economy, and a number of other factors, has led to a dangerous narrowing of income streams for advertising agencies.
As a result, many previously flourishing agencies are, shall I say, no longer flourishing. And that’s putting it mildly. At the same time, you find fewer and fewer new entrants into the industry. I was privileged to attend the last two AGMs of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, where new agencies are usually inducted. The number of inductees continues to shrink, and unfortunately, so does the number of active agencies.
But if you ask me about integrated marketing communications as a mix of competencies, I would say that the landscape, to use your word, looks a lot more promising, a lot more vibrant. Interestingly, the rest of the competencies that make up the landscape, including media independents, out-of-home, PR, activation, digital, etc, require far less in terms of set up and operational costs than advertising. So, they are not only more active, and probably more profitable, they are also easier and therefore more attractive to set up. And remember that the less your overheads, the easier you can grind your way through difficult times. It needs to be noted also that all of these competencies used to be part of the advertising agency as it was previously constituted. But those were the boom days when the agency had near total control of the client’s marketing budget. Specialization has taken care of that, for good, I’m afraid.
So, to summarize, the advertising niche is obviously not as vibrant or profitable as the rest of the larger industry, which I believe is what you call the integrated marketing communications landscape.
I wouldn’t say we have been as successful as I would have loved us to be. But if we assume that what we have had is success, relatively speaking, I would attribute it to a number of factors. First, we are fortunate to have a core of fee-paying international clients. In the absence of income from media and all those competencies that previously made up the advertising agency, which now goes to specialist entities, the only way an adverting agency can survive is for clients to pay a retainer for your time and the value you bring. Unfortunately, the culture of retainer fees is alien to majority of local businesses. But the question they need to be asked is, if the commission from media now goes directly from client to the media independents, and the income from out-of-home goes to out-of-home companies, same for digital, PR, activation, research, branding, etc, how is an advertising agency able to retain its staff, both core and support, from what you call project fees, which is earned on a specific project that spans a limited period? An agency-client relationship cannot be productive if the engagements are ad hoc. So why should the remuneration be ad hoc?
Anyway, the second reason for our success is that we belong to a well-integrated group, the CASERS Group, which means that to a good extent, we are able to keep within the Group those values we would have lost to independent specialist entities. There are also efficiencies that come from being integrated and sharing resources like admin, finance, HR, production. As a matter of fact, we also share the cost of power, office space, cleaning services, staff transportation, et cetera, with no less than four other companies.
We are also successful because we run a lean operation. We are likely to be one of the highest billing agencies per capita. In our recruitment, we emphasize highly productive and focused talent from whom we are sure to get a lot more value than is generally obtainable.
Finally, and more importantly, we are focused on delivering value, and our clients have come to trust us for this. We may not make a song and dance of it because we would rather allow the clients and their brands got projected than us.
Core Values And Philosophy
Being a globally affiliated agency, our philosophy and values are aligned with those of BBDO worldwide. You will find that an unusual amount of attention and emphasis is put on the work – the work being not just the creativity but the output from our endeavours in whatever form they may manifest. For that reason, we say it’s all about the work, the work, the work. We also encourage our people to be ‘we’, not ‘me’, oriented; to be hand raisers not finger pointers; to be invaluable to the client; to be a radiator not a drain; to possess a healthy paranoia, and a host of other values.
I had pretty much explained this in detail, but to recap, I would say we believe that investing in the right talent can deliver a lot more value than investing in numbers; we place an unusual amount of emphasis on the quality of our output; we would rather work for clients who are comfortable with rewarding us appropriately; we belong to a well-integrated group and as a result, we try to fully exploit the efficiencies that result from that arrangement; we have presence in nearly all of Anglo and Francophone West and Central Africa, and that makes us very attractive to clients with operations within that region; we have experience that belies our four years of operation as an agency.
Handling Many Global Brands
I will be honest and say that this is not as a result of any discriminating policy of ours. It is more because we are one of very few agencies that were globally affiliated right from birth. So, as a result, the majority of our clients are globally aligned businesses serviced by the BBDO network across the world. However, we are also proud to now have a handful of local clients which relationships are entirely independent of our global affiliation.
We are proud to work for Guinness, VISA, Wrigley, Novartis, Chicken Republic, and recently, Ensure Insurance, which we won in a competitive pitch in June. We are also in the process of getting signed on by Kates Associated Industries, a leading manufacturer of personal care products.
Innovative Ideas Deployed In W/Africa
Innovativeness is a word we use very carefully because it has come to become a mantra for nearly everyone in and outside our business. But as a rule, we benchmark global best-practices, while making sure to bring unique local insights to bear on whatever we do. That way, our work is global in terms of standards and quality, but local in terms of relevance and impact.
Projections For The Next 5 – 10 Years
Unfortunately, the reality of our times makes such long-term planning a waste of valuable time. So, other than aligning with the CASERS vision of being the most influential shapers of choice in Africa in the long term, we are focused on growing our clients and their brands and being indispensible to them in realizing their marketing objectives. If we continue to be successful in this, inevitably, our brand will grow from reputation rather than from what we say about ourselves, which is why I was reluctant, in the first place, to grant this interview. It could have been misread as being arrogant or elusive. If that was the impression, I apologize.
Expectations From BBDO
Our focus is to support our clients to successfully navigate what is clearly challenging times. Obviously, our success is hinged on their success. Our secondary objective is to grow our relationships organically wherever this is possible. We realize it is easier to do more for an existing client who already trusts you, than to start a new relationship. And while we are at it, we will strive to add a client or two to the fold. With the Ensure Insurance win, we are already threading that path. We believe that in spite of the depressed economy, and probably as a result of the depressed economy, there are clients out there who are looking for a better agency partner than what they currently have. Finally, we will like to be a little more active in the area of awards. So, expect to see us on the podium at the LAIF awards this year.