‘Agencies need to evolve innovative product lines to survive 2017’
In this exclusive interview with The Guardian’s MARGARET MWANTOK, one of Nigeria’s advertising legends and founder of X3M Ideas Advertising Agency, Steve Babaeko, said it was time for advertising agencies to adopt unconventional creative ideas to pull through in a challenged economy and also tasked government to appoint a new APCON Chairman
How would you assess 2016 and its impact on the economy and business?
Last year was perhaps the most challenging year that I have ever witnessed in my career. It was a very challenging year. Our clients were badly affected, and then it invariably affected the market communication industry. Most of our colleagues found it difficult to meet their obligations to their staff, companies, and event outside the marketing communications industry had to cut salaries and some others deployed a number of practical measures to survive the year. Despite these challenges, what was the positive for the marketing communications industry?
A number of good works came out last year despite the challenged economy. As far as awards are concerned, I think Nigeria had more to show at the global level than previous years. A number of agencies, including our agency, X3M Ideas won several awards. This gives the industry – advertising practitioners and clients – a brighter ray of hope for the future while it is also a confirmation that the practice is moving in the right direction. Now budget has shrunk drastically; it’s now marketing on shoestring budget.
What must agencies do to survive?
As practitioners, we have to be more creative. They always tell us to “think outside the box”, and coming from 2016 and its economic challenges, we have to rip the box apart. There should be no box for the big idea. Beyond this, I can see the agencies looking for other ways to survive; it will no longer be the usual routine.
Agencies must review their business models and tweak their operations to evolve some innovative products line. This is necessary because as agencies, we are not going to close shop because clients’ budgets are drying up. I can see serious agencies becoming more creative in terms of pushing out their own product lines that will help them to survive.
Getting an agency products’ line-up running is just the obvious way forward; the vast opportunities in the digital space more than enhance this possible offering. This will ensure that an agency survives beyond the crushing recession. As practitioners, we travel a lot; we see what other people are doing in other markets, and Nigeria can’t afford to lag behind for so long.
For almost two years, the Advertisers Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has been without a chairman. How has this affected the industry?
It has affected us in very significant ways. It is like saying the board of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is scrapped. Who regulates the practice? Yes, the Registrar/CEO, Alh.Garba Bello-Kankarofi, is doing a great job keeping that place running. The current President of AAAN????, Kayode Oluwasona, stated that a Council chairman needed to be appointed by the government to help manage all the issues. The current situation in the industry is like a plane flying without a good control tower. APCON is a control tower that makes sure plane coming in and taking off are able to do so without any kind of mishap. This is an urgent situation; I hope the government will look into this early enough in the year.
Why hasn’t government acted so far or is it because the advertising industry is not pulling its weight?
I want to give the government the benefit of the doubt. I won’t say it is a deliberate attempt to sideline the industry. I think it may be in the light of the current realities they have to cope with. A lot of things are happening in the country at the same time, especially the economy is giving the government sleepless nights. So, among those burning issues, and APCON is not less important. As it is now, the market communications segment is running on one engine at the best, except you tackle the issue of APCON board by appointing a chairman.
Being a Jury at the New York (Advertising) Festival, how do you rate Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival (LAIF) and how can it be improved upon?
For LAIF award, it is still clear from last year’s award that we still have a lot of work to do for a better way to organise ourselves and bring more transparency into the award at the jury level. I am sure those are the issues the president is trying to address and I have confidence in present leadership of the association to make sure that all the loose ends are tied up.
There are quite a number of solid creatives, who no longer work for any agency. Some may have even moved to client side but they are solid creatives regardless of the changing of garbs. So, if you get them involved in this process, they are much more fair and independent-minded. Secondly, most of the complaints against 2016 LAIF awards had to do with ‘self-promo’ adverts, and this should be reviewed. Honestly, regardless of all the issues and protests, I still think the industry is better off with LAIF than without it. This is because we have something that inspires people to focus on creating good works.
There are those who argue that after its 11th edition, LAIF has proved to be a failure and should be scrapped. What’s your reaction to this?
That will be like throwing away the baby with the bath water. There are many things we’ve done in this country as a people; there are some that worked while we are still trying to perfect some. All the advanced countries you see today become advanced by continuously improving their processes. This is what we should be doing as well. Yes, LAIF award has challenges; there are issues surrounding it. We should keep improving on what we have. I am sure in 20 years’ time hopefully, some will sit down, look and say, “yeah, we stumbled but we have finally made it.”
With the advancement of technology, what should be expected from the advertising sector in 2017?
Technology is the engine room for everything that we do; the era of Internet is going to get more intensified. There is always going to be new dimensions to technology; the window is usually about six months so what you knew will probably get stale if you do not update yourself. It is going to get even more rapid; changes will happen at incredible speed. Technology is going to be at the centre of all we do, whether we like it or not. Take a look at the music industry; no one is talking about record sales. It’s now about streaming and downloads. The advertising sector too is no exception. All the platforms and tools are becoming more digital.
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