The Experiential Industry Has Done Nothing To Encourage Clients To Invest Money Upfront-Chris Parkes
For his pioneering role in the below-the-line industry in Nigeria, the Experiential Marketers Association of Nigeria, EXMAN, recently awarded Chris Parkes its prestigious Life Time Achievement awards. in its maiden awards. In this explosive interview with Brand Communicator’s Abutu Agada and Michael Efengbe, Chris speaks on a range of issues affecting the industry and how it can benchmark on global best practices. Excerpts:
Thoughts On The Maiden Edition Of The EXMAN Awards
The EXAMN award is a fantastic initiative. It is something I think should have started sooner. I compliment EXMAN for this. I was not part of the judging so I can’t pass any comment on content and quality of the awards. I am appreciative of the fact that a number of awards were not given because they did not meet up to standards.
There was very little that stood out for me in the awards given out. That is however difficult to say or grasp as we weren’t privy to the whole exercise. In general, I think the award night is excellent; it is something that I think the industry needed. It needs to be seen as professional and this is a great start. I hope and pray that EXMAN will do an even better job in future. Dr. Rotimi Olaniyan did a fantastic job by bringing the association up to the level it is now.
The awards were very well run. Given that it is event marketing, I would be surprised if it wasn’t. It is after all their core expertise.
I am very appreciative for my award, quite humbled by it. It was not expected at all. It came as a surprise. I was told about it a week beforehand. I have always believed in what I do and people always tell that I do a good job but when you get an award like this, it just underlines it and endorses everything that has been said.
Assessing The Industry In Nigeria
When I came here in ’96, there were very few real event companies. I distinguish the term ‘real’ not in a derogatory way but we were not there as wedding planners but as marriage consultants for brands. We started doing that in ’96 and Guinness was my first client. Soon to follow was Rothmans- we had a fantastic time with Rothmans. They were creative and the industry hadn’t being exposed to what we were doing and planning to do at that time.
We had great plans, we were walking that part as the industry was evolving at that time. A few companies were into concerts for brands like Benson & Hedges that were doing a good job but were yet to be recognized for what they really did. We took them on head-to-head and I am pleased to say that we beat them greatly despite the fact that the industry was still a baby and the environment rough and basic.
Over the years, I have trained a lot of people. A large number of those people as I mentioned in my speech at the EXMAN awards have gone to major multinationals because of the way they could think 360 degrees about a brand. A large number of persons – we are talking hundreds-have suddenly gone on to form their own agencies.
So, we have grown from a very small market of maybe four to what now feels like a million. Instead of the industry evolving and trying to be more professional, they are all trying to be different in their own ways. There is nothing wrong with that but professionalism is important.
This industry still accepts to be paid after the event has been done-generally a long time after- when the rest of the world gets 60% upfront. This industry has done nothing I can see to encourage clients to invest their money upfront.
One of the reasons why I am very upset with the industry is bank rates. If I want to borrow money to fund an event, it’s 25-28% interest. That is horrendous! At a time when clients are cutting our margins down, agency commission from what used to be 15% down to maybe five or ten, it’s obscene. Instead of the industry fighting back and saying we are professionals and saying this is what we are prepared to do, we will put in bank guarantees or we will put in insurance but you must give us 60% upfront, that doesn’t happen.
The other issue the industry is to be blamed for is accepting very late payments.30-45 days is not very bad but very few people stick to that. There are a very few clients that are professional when making payments today. Multinationals take 90 days, 120 days and in some cases 180 days (some telecoms companies are to blame for this). It is obscene. How do they expect us to be professional?
The industry takes it because they feel it is better to carry on and do what they can. So, they cut corners, they try to make more money just to offset the fact that they have to wait until they draw their pensions before they are being paid.
I blame the industry for not standing up for its rights, for not bringing the clients together and asking what they can do as an industry. We have got EXMAN now. Where is it that EXMAN can stand and guarantee the agencies’ projects to a value so the clients can be comfortable and pay that 60% upfront?
If you join EXMAN, there has to be a standard. Guarantees have to be in place by those companies to EXMAN, and then EXMAN must guarantee the industry to be seen as a professional body. They should be even more professional than lawyers, and more professional than accountants. They should be respected for their creativity, thinking, planning and execution not just the fact that they can carry a speaker from the left hand side of stage to the right or that they can plan 200 pieces of chicken for 50 people. They are 360 degrees creative thinkers and yet that doesn’t come across.
What we need to do is that EXMAN should correctly regulate agency members and then approach the marketing industry, the multinationals and other government bodies to dictate and enforce payment terms. That is not happening at the moment.
There are many clients I know who send out briefs to their friends in the events business, “please do this event for us, here is a budget of 15 million, return ten million to us and we will accept what you give us provided you do something reasonable. The corruption in this industry is huge. It has always being there and I have lost many clients because of it. I refused to give marketing managers and marketing executives large chunks of money back.
I am happy to say thank you, but thank you is not in the millions of naira. Thank you is a gift, it’s a gesture. Thank you for your trust, thank you for allowing me to be a professional. But asking for ten, fifteen million cash back is incredulous.
Credibility and professionalism vanishes when this happens and we become just area boys with sound equipment and area boys with lights because we happen to know the brand manager and the marketing director. So, we can get in there and if we give him some money, we can get this event. There is too much of that happening and the business is ignoring it.
We should not continue this because what is going to happen is that the marketing industry is going to turn around and bite. It’s going to turn around and force marketing directors to be responsible for their budgets and true measured results. At the moment, that is not the case.
Many things have to change. If our industry doesn’t come together and become far more professional, we will progress. Clients will soon start recruiting individuals to do their jobs.
It has happened before. When I went to Airtel years ago, after they had done all their multi name changes, they had their own events people. They only use outsiders when the event became too big.. That is going to happen again if we don’t do something about it, if we don’t get that professionalism right. All those guys out there running event companies will start doing more and more weddings and birthday parties, and you can only do so many of those. That is where it is going. We need to stop and respect ourselves.
The Nigerian market And Other African Event markets
Having worked in Ghana and Cameroon I have found that most of the experiential companies there are mainly run by people brought in either as expatriates from Nigeria or from South Africa. Those companies are very professional. For instance, in Ghana and Cameroon, a large number of companies there are run by women. I was initially amazed, but then I realized that when it comes to details and integrity, women are far better at it.
Our problem is that we have come to think that we are so good in Nigeria that we outshine our neighbours, that‘s not true. We can learn a lot from some of these countries. We can also give them a lot of information and help in return.
Benchmarking On Global Practices
We have got to improve on delivery and the planning stage. We have got creativity here. Nigerians are highly creative people. You just need to look at the artistes and listen to the music to know how creative they are.
On the delivery, I think we really have some good companies here now. I see some of the lighting and sound companies: they have invested a lot of money into their businesses. Truly, they are professionals. What we are talking about is delivery, the delivery has to be very focused. It has to follow the brief and it has to deliver measurable results.
When we do reports afterwards and those measured results are there, even If it is for multi nationals and that report is read in London or New York, they will see the professional response. They will see how every naira was used and how it delivered somethingtangible .
My first job when I went to Guinness in ’96, the marketing director asked what the cost per contact of the event I just proposed to them. I thought, I have never heard that in this market before. So, I told her.. She seemed very happy and we moved ahead. Since then no one has raised that question again at any presentation I have attended. Why it is that marketing people are not conscious of how much it costs to talk to each individual and execute that brief for each individual-measured result? If you are selling Coca Cola for example, and the average Coke is a 100 naira, there is no point in spending 200 naira to talk to each person.
It varies from brief to brief, measured professional reporting and delivery,will change this industry. If you can go to a client and tell him you cannot guarantee anything asides death and taxes but we will guarantee you that you will get the maximum response to this brief. . A response that delivers a cost per contact in line with the budget and a response that will deliver the results required…. Or even better.
On budgets.So, the budget that you have given is either too small or too big. I doubt whether any company will tell a client if the budget is too big but I have in the past. I had to tell a client to save his money. Rather, give me another event next month to build on the results. Let’s do this one for x and save that money because we can do it very well for that money. Come back to me next month with another event.
I get the job and credibility, he looked good because he made marketing budget stretch and was able to be measured in responses. This proved that he made a good decision doing that even though the advice came from me. That is what we should be doing as experiential companies-being very professional and guiding the client. That will make us the professionals as practiced anywhere else in the world.
Quality of Craft
I have not taken much interest in the industry in the last two years because I have retired, and ‘am doing other things so, it is very difficult commenting on the quality of craft now. However, one or two events I have seen in the last 18 months have been absolute rubbish. I have not seen one good event. But before that, I think there was a mixed delivery. There was some excellent events, some excellently produced works but most of it was just average. I think you can relate that with advertising. You see one or two good ads but then, most of them are just average. This current economy is partly the reason but it does not detract from taking a pride in the work you do and the delivery you make.