Advertising is not Going Away Anytime Soon – MD, M&C Saatchi Africa
Jason Cumming is the Managing Director of M&C Saatchi Africa, friendly and in comfortable touch with the Nigeria environment, and living
up to the agency’s ‘Nothing is Impossible’ ethos. In this early morning chat with ‘just tea and nothing else’ and generally sharing notes on brand marketing in Africa.
Jason says he is moving forward with his Pan African dream of selling the 1995 born agency founded by Maurice and Charles Saatchi after they were edged out from the agency group they founded in 1970 forward. Courage saw them through, now with 26 offices in 19 countries including M&C Saatchi Africa described as a “brave agency that opens in the midst of recession, without a client on its book”. Cumming’s bravery will be put to the test indeed as he confronts the challenge of finding “partner agencies in key markets and then deciding with what structure the network wants to roll out in those markets”.
The group has their legs in Interactive, PR, Mobile, Direct, Digital and Talent management spanning Singapore, Sydney, Madrid, Sao Paulo, Moscow and so on, with Jason who has been in advertising all his working life. He completely believes in the company and wants to help shape and build brands, positively influence culture through big ideas, bring results for the client and keep business growing. Wole David captured the interview. Excerpt
Why is M&C Saatchi Africa in Nigeria?
Right now we’re looking to partner with the most viable agency with which we can build a long-term, meaningful and mutually beneficial relationship. We want to do this in the right way and not necessarily in the way bigger network groups have gone about it in the past. The idea is to have only as many offices in Africa as necessary, not as many as possible.
The other reason we are here is to follow up on new business opportunities, to call upon local and multi-national companies based in Nigeria that may require our professional marketing and advertising services. Together with our partners M&C Saatchi Africa is confident we can raise the bar and deliver world-class strategic and creative work that will meet our clients’ expectations and business objectives.
How will you access the Nigeria marketing environment, and especially seeing Nigeria market as one of the largest growing economies in the world?
Nigeria is a country in which most companies will surely want to be doing business. I’ve visited this country on numerous occasions over the past 4 years and have personally witnessed the progress and change here. The optimism, drive and passion of the Nigerian people is almost tangible.
It’s incredible to think that even under some of the most challenging conditions such as fuel shortages, unreliable power supply, and ailing infrastructure together with the deadly violence in the country’s North East – the economy still expects 4% percent growth! You will find most of the world’s blue-chip brands feel the same way and are here for business.
I’m an optimist. Yes, there are lots of challenges but we believe in Africa – we believe in Nigeria, which is why we are seriously considering our presence and investment here. As I have heard in a number of boardrooms before, “You’re not in Africa if you’re not in Nigeria”
How do you evaluate the opportunity space in creative business now that brand owners are looking at other ways to promote their brands? Do you still foresee a robust and a prosperous future in the sector?
There will always be a need for creativity – for advertising. Good creative and fresh ideas deliver those magical moments where brands and consumers engage. There is always an opportunity for a brand to build equity if you are able to illicit an emotional connection with your target audience. A smile, a laugh, a tear – this is what good advertising does. Advertising works – as long as you’ve done your homework, tapped into a genuine human truth and have a real value proposition to communicate – then you’re in business.
It is not just about TV, Radio or Outdoor anymore, as we all very well know. It’s the big idea and “how” it is brought to life, which could be via brand activation, mobile application or simply telling a brand story in publications such as the Marketing Edge.
People are saying “the TV ad” is dead – but I would have to disagree and say it is very much alive and well, especially in a market such as Nigeria. Remember you don’t have to watch a 60sec or even a 90sec epic advertisement on television either; you can view it on YouTube or Facebook on your mobile phone. TV though, still enjoys the lion’s share of total annual media spend in Nigeria.
An important consideration and challenge will be to present brand messages to an extremely diverse group of consumers in a relevant way that is also sensitive to culture and tradition.
You talk about looking for very viable partners in Nigeria, now most contentious about relationship with foreign companies or agencies by the local player is the issue of trust, wanting to be dominate the partner, how are you going to resolve this?
Yes there has been much in the press over the past 18 or so months especially about foreigners coming into the market and upsetting the balance here so to speak. I can’t talk for other companies, but as I mentioned earlier – we don’t believe in the spray and pray approach. Meaning we opt for quality and not quantity in terms of our relationships. Genuine partnerships have to be built on a basis of trust first and foremost and then there has to be some chemistry – our business is all about relationships after all. So to answer your question, one partner can’t be dominant – this has to be a mutually beneficial relationship to make any business sense for both parties.
At M&C Saatchi we are happy to go into business with people that we know, like and trust. Among many other factors that need to be considered I believe that we need to invest as much face-to-face time in each other’s offices and markets as possible.
How will you access the creativity of the Nigeria who were engaged in affiliation relationship with the local player, how will you access the level of their creativity?
Improving the execution (or the delivery) of the big idea.
Honestly speaking, from my own observations there are strong ideas and creative thinking coming out of the agencies here but there seems to be a number of external factors that impact on the quality of the end product – the commercial that is broadcast to the consumer is not exactly what the art director and copywriter team had in mind.
If fair resource is assigned to all the parties involved in a campaign, then the production should not be compromised and a good idea then has every chance of coming to life and delivering the desired commercial results the client expects.
Africans are extremely creative people, the ideas are here and are bubbling up – if respected there is massive potential for growth in the industry.
The story has been told of some foreign agencies based in South Africa have affiliate agency in Nigeria but wants to be directly involved in the day to day activities of the affiliate agency. Do you think it is good for relationship for the affiliated agencies?
I haven’t heard too much about this problem, but I can understand any frustration. This all goes to what I spoke about earlier in terms of meaningful, genuine affiliations or partnerships where the terms of engagement and a clear road map is agreed upon by both parties up front before proceeding with a relationship. I would imagine that some companies might welcome improved systems and processes based on world-class standards for day-to-day operations.
At the end of the day I think you’ll agree it makes sense to ensure a consistently high standard of service delivery to keep your clients happy. This goes a long way to running a profitable business.
Again I will want to say that because you are in partnership does not mean you must have to change what is working, if it is working leave it, if it is not working we come together and fix it.
What is the billing profile of M&C Saatchi Africa?
The South Africa operation has two offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg and fall under the name M&C Saatchi Abel. Total fee revenue for the group last year ending 2014 was in the region of R100–R110 Million.
This is an astounding achievement for a company that is only five years old. M&C Saatchi Abel won gold in every creative award show it entered in 2014 (including a Gold Cannes Lion) and is currently rated number 6 out of 50 agencies on the creative league table in South Africa. M&C Saatchi Africa operates as a separate company within the group and operates out of the Cape Town office at the moment.
Global brands see Africa as a monolithic market, is it the same thing as it has always been?
Africa, the planet’s 2nd largest continent and the second most-populous continent (after Asia), has 54 individual countries! Even South Africa sometimes forgets it’s a part of Africa. I think more marketers are now evaluating and targeting each individual market or country on its own merits and not approaching Africa as monolithic market – we can only pray and hope! There does seem to be a recent communication strategy play that goes, “let’s launch a Pan-African brand campaign that should appeal to a number of markets (countries) in a particular region”. This approach may make business sense when you’re operating in multiple countries and want to make a massive impact and have limited resources – I would say Guinness’ “Made of Black” campaign is one such example of this approach.
We’re all Africans yes, but we’re also all very unique and different in our own ways. Nigerians for example, are quite different to any other nationality I have encountered on my travels. They are a very proud and patriotic people, there is a strong sense of community, and they are goal getters where no one expects a hand out. The people here remain optimist no matter how tough times get.
Can you tell us about M&C Saatchi, how it all started, what has been the journey so far, what have been the businesses that you have done and what are the most memorable of these businesses?
M&C Saatchi Africa as a brand name and network is 20 years old and we are currently in 19 countries having recently acquired agencies in Tel Aviv and Sao Paulo last month. The group has a very successful operation in South Africa and is busy growing its presence in the rest of Africa. Our key account at the moment is Heineken International where we are the brand stewards for a number of leading beer brands in countries like Rwanda, Burundi, Congo Brazzaville, DRC, Cameroon and Ghana. This is what is keeping us most busy at the moment. We are looking forward to delivering world-class creative and professional marketing services to clients here, thereby growing our business in Nigeria.
All the big network agencies are now in Africa, at least in South Africa for example, and that will certainly stretch the skill gap that is available in the market, how will that affect the quality of creativity and service?
That’s a very good question and as you may have heard, “the people with the best people win”. It is very difficult to find good talent in our industry, so what we have now is that a lot of agencies are head hunting, poaching the most talented individuals at other companies and paying healthy salaries. One of the solutions is practical education, it is all about offering very good quality advertising & marketing graduates a strong postgraduate education, to improve and attract students and young people to get into the profession. Advertising is the art of persuasion after all.