Hard Legislations Like AISOP Threaten Brands’ Survival- Osamede Uwubanwmen, ADVAN President
Osamede Uwubanwmen, The President of the Advertisers Association of Nigeria, (ADVAN) is a man that speaks with passion about the growth and development of Nigeria’s Integrated Marketing Communications industry. But he strongly desires that such growth must be in the right direction. This is why he is disturbed that conversations with industry leaders since he became ADVAN President have not resolved lingering knotty industry Issues like the Advertising Industry Standard of Practice (AISOP) and other related matters. Brand Communicator had earlier served snippets from the long chat. In this Interview, Osamede shares extensively his views on key industry issues and why they should be resolved collectively to avoid the possibility of litigations.
You have been in the office as President for some months now, what has ADVAN been up to?
When I was elected President of ADVAN the first thing that I did was to use my first month to meet with all the Presidents and the Excos of other industry associations because I felt we could reach a middle point, especially with the Heads of Advertising sectoral Groups (HASG). My thought was that we should lay down our arms.
The last time we met, it seemed some attendees were in a warlike mood as someone forcefully declared that AISOP has come to stay, and added that only the court order can stop AISOP. It was not conciliatory in any way.
To be honest, we have spent quality time trying to deal with issues in the industry but things are not really moving forward because some top players have been behaving as if they have the license to do anything they want. Why should we have an industry conversation that refuses to grow? Why are we always talking about wanting to save this industry? Who is killing the industry? I am even wondering, is this not the industry I have spent almost all my working years in.?”
The main thing now for us is that we should wait for the new law to be unveiled in full. When the law comes out and we study all the details; I will do another interview about it.
There are people in the industry you can always relate with on these issues, do you have a plan to find a middle point?
The energy I have spent trying to get the industry to understand how things work on the side of the advertisers has not yielded the expected response.
I told our industry players why they need to spend time with clients. You are just one vendor and there are many vendors in the system. How can one vendor try to change the entire system? Can you imagine the chaos if all vendors come up with their unique requirements? When you are a vendor, you need to study the payment system and its flow with it.
I am challenging the agencies to come and stay with the clients they are servicing to understand the system. Sometimes, it is one guy that will pay all the invoices in the marketing unit. It is either the marketing assistant or whatever they choose to call him or her. Every system has the amount of money you pay at any stage. If you are not close to the Financial Controller, you may not know. Some it is N500million or N300 million every week.
We need to ask ourselves, why do you think brands are paying the way they do? There is something in accounting that is called cash flow analysis. It shows you how many days it takes to collect from your debtors. And how many days you must ask from your creditors.
For example, when I was in Guinness, people are given drinks for four weeks, they don’t pay. That is for a whole month. When they come back, they will still not pay all but will still pick up the goods. The company cannot just load up the warehouses. So, they will have to benchmark how much time their creditor should give them with what they can get from their debtors. That is how they arrive on those payment days. They do not just wake up and say payment will come after 45 days.
It seems you feel that industry leaders should look at different sectors before making regulations for advertisers, is that true?
That is the fact. All advertisers or brand owners are not the same. The telecoms sector can pay for things quickly because their financial turnover is fast and regular. A lot of things there are on pre-payment. So, their money can come in by the hour or daily. You cannot take the entire body of advertisers as one and give them a fiat payment term without being scientific about the terms.
Another thing we need to note in the industry is that the payment policy of any organization is a board policy. It does not originate from the accounts or marketing unit. The money you are paid belongs to the owner of the business who is a member of the board. Is AISOP telling us to go and do a board resolution to pay agencies on a special level, instead of the one fixed by the organization?
When I was in Guinness, a marketing manager prepaid a vendor and that is what led to his sack. If they are paying us 50 days, they are paying others 50 days. We should know that brands are in a toxic environment now where nothing is moving. Payments these days are automated. When I was in Standard bank, they were seeing all payments from South Africa. If all vendors come out with this kind of payment term, brands will not exist.
Does it mean ADVAN is poised to stand its ground in this area?
I will forever bless God for the life of Niyi Babatunde who championed the creation of this body. Imagine, there was no ADVAN. I will now be talking as the Commercial Director of my company, and they will now tell me- who do you think you are? Now, I am ADVAN. I can talk on behalf of many people. If you are shaking, it is because I was given the mandate. You see why God will bless that man. Many people might not recall how ADVAN came into existence. In those days, they tried to get Daily Times to stop putting our adverts and brand messages next to the obituary pages. Daily Times was one of the most read papers then so the advertisers begged, wrote, we did everything but nothing changed. Then they called for a meeting. They now agreed they will not be putting ads in that paper again. That did the magic. They couldn’t get something meaningful from the paper until they formed ADVAN. They now agreed that this body has come to stay. Now, you can see that the industry has been sweet. That is why we cannot allow any form of bitterness to grow now. Every sector must be happy.
Let us take a brief look at politics. It will soon heat up the system, how do you think it will affect brands and manufacturers?
Normally, the first thing is that when politics come, we just have to take some rest because politics will saturate the space. For a brand person, I am happy it is coming early next year, so we will still have a lot of space next year. Let us believe everything will proceed peacefully. Yes, it is going to really heat up in this last quarter. For a serious brand person, you cannot be seriously fighting for advert space at that time because politicians will set aside more money to drown other messages. Nigerians too are very political, so they will focus on politics. I think it is not going to be a good time to market.
Mr. President, let us return to the AISOP issue. With the AISOP, the new ARCON says they want to put the industry at par with global best practices. How do you react to that?
I am the Vice President of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA). We relate with advertisers across the globe. When I took this issue to them, they said they don’t have it anywhere in the world where they talk about contracts and agreements publicly. If there is any contract and agreement- on how you pay, it should always be a talk between party A and party B. If there are issues the two will now see how they can walk around it. The contract term is basically how much, when you will pay, how you will pay, and how you resolve the crisis.
Take a genuine contract and benchmark it with AISOP, how will the idea around it bring best global practices? How good are we in other areas of best global practices? If we want to pursue best practices, is it not reasonable to start with what we give out first and then move to what comes in? How good are we at making sure the agencies pay their staff well? How good are we at making sure that the agencies recruit and train the right brains? You can’t get it through this shallowness in delivery.
Agencies will shout that clients are killing creativity but their creativity is in showing naked bodies and putting people into trouble. Look, if you have to explain your advert to people, that is not an advert, it is a lecture. When you bring out your advert, it should be so simple that your target audience can understand. It should be so direct and convincing. Even if it is an award-winning ad, it should not be difficult to understand. Even the laymen using the brand should understand it.
We also have cases that clients owe endlessly. What can you say about this?
We need to set up a high-powered committee that looks at that because most of those debts are neither here nor there. Are you sure they have not been paid to those who gave the Pay Order (PO)? It is the media buyer that gives out PO now.
The agencies need to sit down and find out where they are having problems. I was in a meeting with media buyers recently. They mentioned a debt. Can I tell you what that debt is all about? They had a panel and there was no ADVAN person there. Do you know what the media buyer was doing? The media buyer was doctoring the MMS reports. The person that blew the whistle used to work on the agency side but he had to back out because he was against what they were doing. Investigations are on to find out what was going on. Things like this can lead to delays in payment. That is why I said we should have an industry-wide committee. It is better for us to meet and talk instead of anyone thinking that they can do things through hard legislation.
It seems the entire system is about to boil over, what do you think can bring harmony across the Advertising industry?
The best solution is to get these things sorted out. It is best for us to work together as a team. ARCON cannot take out anybody from our side.But If they say because of this or that you cannot advertise again, we would be forced to take them to court. It’s a fundamental human right to be heard and to communicate. You cannot hold my fundamental human right and expect me to keep my mouth shut. Will they tell agencies not to pick our PO? that cannot work, they will still come and work because they are not collecting subvention, they are in business. It will not work. The fact is if anything happens between you and the government, it’s the court that settles it. Let me tell you where we are different. The first thing we did was to take this issue to our legal team and they are looking at it line-by-line. So, if we are talking, we are talking based on their legal advice that this thing will not work.
You have been very active in ADVAN before now and the DG of ARCON as well as other key players in other sectors- are basically your contemporaries. You all functioned together for a long time. Why do you feel they are up against Advertisers, and why do you think they are not listening or looking at your areas of discomfort?
The ARCON DG, Dr. Lekan Fadolapo had been part of one side from the beginning; go find out what his former role was. Do you know that the DG was appointed by the Minister of Information whose tenure ends next year? Lekan is not having a position that is regulated by statute. All those positions that go to the Senate for confirmation are in the constitution. Every other position is subject to the minister.
The question now is why don’t you join all of us together? So, we will all join and fight for you. That is where I want to go with the new rule. The new rule might have made our council political appointees. It is only people like us that were in the council.
You can dig into everything, there is not one thing that ADVAN sent to the former APCON that was included in AISOP. So, you cannot say we were part of the committees. We submitted many things, but not one was picked. So, who is making these laws? Who started it? It’s AAAN that started APCON.
Even others have noticed the disadvantage. We invited the Special Adviser to the President on Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole. At the industry event held at Marriot. What did say as a closing remark? She said it is evident that there are three parties in this conversation and only one is aggrieved, and it is not right. Of all the people on the table, only regulators and agencies were happy. The third party is not happy. Is that how to regulate an industry?
If you want to standardize the industry as ARCON is claiming to, do you start with payment? Is it not work that leads to payment? Please, what is the qualification for agency ownership? Somebody will work for an agency after just three years, he opens his own agency. Where did you cut your teeth? Is this not a vital area to focus on? Please, is it standard first or payment first?
It seems you strongly feel brands are marginalised.
I said something to someone a few months ago. I said MTN was given a fine, and the President of South Africa came down to Nigeria and the fine was reduced. I told him brands can move presidents across borders. No other entity in any other segment of our industry can do it. When South Africa decided to host the world cup in 2010, it was the brands that said this must not fail. They all came together to make it a success.
So, there are ways in which a country wants to work to move forward, and the power of brands can never be underrated. It is news that brands are moving out of Russia, is anybody talking about agencies moving out of Russia? It is not about ego, it is about facts. We just want equity and understanding.
Issues of payment have always been on the front burner in this industry. If you feel ARCON is over-flogging it, how do you want agencies in Nigeria to survive?
One sectoral President said some time ago that brands are not paying well, that’s why agencies do not have a voice, and they are going down. I replied that all over the world what agencies do to get money is classical. Advertising guru, Biodun Shobanjo had opened the eye of the industry but many are not looking. All over the world, agencies own other segments, they own other companies. They don’t just sit down and be marketing agencies.
So, when they see how big they are in other climes, they assume it is just for brands’ budgets. Meanwhile, they have not gone to check how those agencies are so big because they have other arms and lots of other things they do. Huge earnings will come in intermittently so you use it to expand to other areas. And again we keep quoting figures from Europe, SA, and others. when you quote figures for me, I keep wondering, is Nigeria, not Africa’s largest economy because of the informal sector? That sector is not even within anybody’s space. They don’t use agencies in any way because they are not doing serious advertising. You cannot put this type of pressure on an average organized sector that is trying to survive. Hard legislation like AISOP will always threaten brands’ Survival.
For a very long time, ADVAN had just kept quiet. As far as they are making money from ADVAN, it would be good if they don’t talk. But now. We can see a different ADVAN. Before they will invite ADVAN for functions and events and nobody will go, but now, I will go and there must always be another voice on the table.
That is why we find certain things that were hidden before coming above board, everything that was done in the shadow before has to be done in form of law.
One fear we have is that we hope those who are behind the current ARCON leadership, those who put him there are not manipulating him because he does not have this type of antecedent. Because certain things that are happening do not add up. Look at the ban on foreign models. How can he just wake up and place a ban on non-Nigerian models just like that? They are Nigerians modeling abroad for companies that want to do adverts with black faces. By our law, foreign experts can still work in this country. Nigeria is a signatory to the International Labour Organization (ILO) law. We also have the ECOWAS agreement and Africa Continent Free Trade Area (AfCTA) agreement so you cannot just get up and just place a ban just like that.
One agency chief was asking me why he didn’t ARCON put a fee on the use of foreign models. ARCON charges two hundred and fifty thousand naira to approve an ad. That is a quarter of a million just because an agency needs to say go ahead. If I tell you how rich ARCON is, you will not believe it.
They should come and tell us how many adverts they have even pushed away during the vetting process every year. The brands and the agencies handling them already know what to do with these adverts. We are all professionals here, we just need a tick of go ahead. So, what are they using 250k to do? Obviously, ARCON is just a money-making venture.
You have been part of the ARCON council all these years, do you get across to them, your discomfiture in all these issues?
It is now that they talking about setting up the council. And they are saying the chairman will be a fellow, please note this, the chairman will be AAAN when announced. The Deputy Chairman, the Registrar will be an ex-AAAN person. AAAN itself has five people on the council that’s seven on one side and if you add the agencies to it, that will be about ten on one side. Do you call that equal representation?
The founding fathers’ intent for APCON or ARCON was never to use it to start drawing advertisers into line. It seems they went further to make it legal so that members would stick and be afraid of them. Now because they have government, they are moving beyond advertising regulations. They want to now control marketing and communications, forgetting that the institute of marketing is also a chattered body, which means it is also legal.
Probably they confused the lawmakers and government. You cannot be part and become bigger than the whole. Now those regulating public relations will have to submit themselves to ARCON just like that. APCON (now ARCON) was not touching them before but now they want to start controlling them with the new law. If you want to constitute a regulatory body for marketing, it cannot be ARCON, because ARCON is a part of marketing and communication. Marketing communications has many legs.
Their framework is really funny and I don’t think it will pass the test of equity in the law court because the judges are very smart. You will need to define marketing and communications and then define advertising and then ask the judge, does this ARCON sit well to be regulating marketing and communications? The way they are pushing it I will not be shocked if they create a clause that ARCON must approve the appointment of CMOs (Chief Marketing Officers) of companies, very soon. We must not try to legalise these illegalities.
What are your views on the need for ARCON to scrutinize awards
Let me explain something to you, for example, you are a football team, and the coach and management say they want to recognise the best footballer, the keeper would stand up to say you cannot do it till I approve. Does that make sense?
When we give awards, it is according to what our brands have done. So, I want to acknowledge my association for a good job. If people outside my members do not want to believe what I have told my members then they are on their own.
Why do I need to go and tell ARCON to come and see the process for my awards? I am duly registered by law as an association. An award is a recognition and there is no money attached to it in ADVAN.
Please note also that ARCON does not even license me, and they don’t license the brands as well. The brands are licensed by different regulators in the different industries they belong to such as NCC licensing It/telecoms, and NAFDAC licensing food and drugs.
Advertising is what we do in the digital ecosystem, so you see how flat this law will fall. It is this push to overreach into everything, they are now reaching into awards. Does NUC ask the university why they give honorary awards to people?
In fact, we tell our brands that support us during the awards that they are not guaranteed to get any award by doing that. Everything is via merit. The thing is that ARCON cannot tell people not to give awards. Awards will come and awards will be done. If you see dubious things around any award confront it specifically and say it to those people, and the industry. You cannot wake up to tell everyone to line up and present how they organize their Awards.