Agencies should move from delivering marketing solutions to providing business solutions to clients – Ozone Mbanefo

Ozoemena Mbanefo is the founder/provost of Nigeria’s leading brands & advertising school, 02 Academy. Prior to setting up the acdemy, he had a successful professional career spanning almost two decades at leading agencies in the IMC, working on many brands. In an exclusive interview with MARKETING EDGE’s Kasim Bakare, Ozone, as he is fondly called, takes a critical look at the challenges facing the marketing communication industry amid other sundry matters. Excerpts

As an experienced marketing communication practitioner with over two decades of industry practice, how would you assess the industry in view of the prevailing circumstances?

We are not where we want to be but we are no longer where we used to be. To be very honest with you, the Nigerian advertising industry has done well but there is room for improvement. As someone who experienced advertising in the days of diskettes, in the days where you had to do photography with a drum scan and not digital camera to when we moved to digital camera to now that you can use your mobile phone, to film and do a proper production and it comes out nice. Coming from an era where we only had advertising on T.V and people only tuned in at a particular time to watch your adverts to now that with a click of a button on your phone, you can watch any advert while you are mobile. These are the things that I look at and I get excited. From the days when billboards used to be 40 sheets outdoor to the days where you have what we call Unipole. You now have Unipole playing like a T.V Commercial on a T.V screen, larger than life on the streets of Lagos. That tells you that there is a huge improvement.

The most important thing with the digital age that we are in now is that advertising has become democratized. Advertising used to be about brands speaking to people, telling people what they want them to hear. Today, it has moved from brands to consumers to what I call ‘Prosumer’. What is Prosumer? Consumers are now producing communications by themselves and that’s why somebody will just go on Instagram and film something about a brand that he feels very cool with and put it out there and people start sharing it and the brands get free media. And the same way it can happen on the negative side.  You see something in a bottle of a Carbonated Soft Drink brand, and you say:These people are poisoning us, you put it out there, it goes viral. So, you can see now that consumers are now producing communications by themselves.

You can now see that consumers have got the power of communication. The power is no longer in the hands of the brands. That’s why I said advertising has been democratized. So, it’s now communication for the people, by the people and for the people, just like you have it in government. So, brands do not have the autocratic power anymore. They can’t decide what the consumers should think about their brands anymore. So, brands would have to speak through people and that has changed the dynamics of communication. So, we as brand experts will no longer just tell brands. Oh let’s shoot a TV ad for you or let’s do a radio commercial. No! We would also come into their business to give them strong marketing solutions that’s beyond communications. You need to also, as a brand, look at your functionality, philosophy. What does this brand believe in? How is their customer service? How is the orientation of the staff? What do you deliver as a product? Because all this go beyond our control in terms of communication as you no longer just speak to people as a brand. People now talk about your brand based on the consumer experience. As brand experts, we now give them business advice. That’s where this whole thing has taken us to and brand experts need to understand that. Our job is not just to create adverts but to give business ideas and solutions and get into the health of the brand in general to see that when that brand is doing well in the market, consumers speak well about the brand. And it comes back to, when the client is successful, as an agency, you are going to be remunerated right.

There is still notion that traditional advertising is going into extinction because of the advent of digital advertising. Do you share the same view?

Before I answer this question, I want to make one thing very clear. It’s not about traditional medium or digital medium, it’s about the communication. The two media are just media. That you put your advert on a digital platform or a traditional platform, it’s just a medium. The most important thing is the content that is ditched out on either traditional or digital. Talking about digital advertising taking over traditional advertising, the truth is that; Traditional advertising is not leaving us so soon. That’s the reason why somebody will put an ad in a newspaper and take a picture of that ad and put it on the digital platform-Instagram, Facebook. We found out that digital simply amplifies the traditional. So, if you have your event on newspaper and you posted it on Facebook, with a ThisDay Newspaper logo on it, it tells that person looking at that ad like:”Wow! This person’s event featured on ThisDay Newspaper. It then builds a certain level of class, equity and trust for that brand. So, you can see that people still respect the traditional media. That’s why somebody will have an interview on Channels television and put it on Instagram or Facebook. An interview on LTV or TVC and the person carries it and put it on Instagram. Now, digital is here to help amplify the traditional but traditional still carries certain level of class and equity for the brand.

At this critical time of our national economy, brands have resorted to reducing their marketing spend thereby leading to stiffly competition among agencies in the IMC. How can this situation be addressed?

The reason why this ugly trend has continued to happen is because we have not understood the concept of power in diversity. The concept of power in adversity is simply put; Understanding that we are different in our own specialties and our strength lies in us collaborating and becoming stronger because collaboration is the biggest competition. We still think this whole concept of me, myself and I and the whole thing about ‘let me just get it alone’. Let me share something that happened to us recently. We decided to come up with an online school and we looked at the whole concept of getting instructors to just come and  deliver the lectures and get them paid, we found out that it was not going to give us the leverage we want.  What did we do? We simply collaborated with the best brains. When you have a stake and the other person also has a stake, we would all make it work. When we bring in our best and the best of the A-game because we have a stake, we create a bigger, stronger formidable force. Guess what we did with the online ad school thing, we got all the instructors, including production houses. The guy who is going to film the classes because it’s Video -on-Demand, would film the class has got a stake because he is getting a percentage. Likewise the instructors also get a percentage. Guess what!. At every point, everybody wins. So, if the agencies can understand the power in diversity, they can come together and have some sort of synergy. Ok, this client has called us for a pitch, we could have an understanding. We know you guys are very strong in advertising, we know you guys are very strong in digital,in PR. I have seen PR agencies creating concepts. I have seen digital agencies doing same. So, the agencies would need to stay on their strengths and turfs. I have gone for pitches where the client would say, LTC is very good with strategy and say Insights is good with their Media and Noah’s Ark is good with their concept.

Why can’t we come together with our strengths and eat on the same table and gain stronger leverage before the clients. Unfortunately, the clients are taking strong advantage of our competition and it reduces our equity and class. So, they just see that, these guys are fighting and you can talk to Mr. A and say, if you can reduce it, we will give it to you. And Mr. A would say, “ I will reduce it,and they move to Mr. C and they tell him if you reduce it lower than what Mr. A is offering, we will give it to you. Before you know it, you had become a nobody. But when they see that these people are united, they can’t get an agency to accept anything lower. So, it’s a function of unity and to understand that we are stronger united than as an individual. Clients would hit us when we go on our own and this is where AAAN should come in. There should be a certain level of regulation. We should be able to sit down and say nobody should go for a pitch without getting a pitch fee on the table and any client who goes ahead to call for a pitch and the agency goes there and the pitch is not paid for, we should write to that client as an association that its ad is not going to be out there. You would stop the ad because it’s an abuse of intellectual property. And so, this is where AAAN should come in and make it very  clear  to brands out there that pitches are to be paid for. We must be respected for our intellectual property. And I tell you, it only starts with one voice. After some time, another one will join and when more voices join, it will make it clear and clients will begin to rethink and our respect as agencies will come back. I think that is what AAAN needs to bring on board and get clients to respect. Once it happens to one client, it will think twice and another client will adjust. With that, it becomes a structure. Go to South Africa and some of these other countries, that’s what they do. You don’t just call an agency and tell them to do abracadabra and they will just run to you. We are spending money to produce some of these things. That’s my take on that. But firstly, the agencies should understand that we are here to help brands and we have something to gain as a body and if we work together, we will dine together and win together.

Some analysts have suggested mergers & acquisitions as a panacea to the dwindling fortunes of agencies in the IMC industry. However, there are concerns bordering on trust for the consummation of such business relationship in Nigeria. How can the situation be managed?

Of course there are always trust issues but it is a mindset that we need to start changing. We need to start putting on a professional mindset and leave un-professionalism. It is professional to collaborate with people, work with people because God has not created us to work in silos. That’s why he wants us to be in communities. When we understand collaboration, mergers & acquisition, we will begin to work as friends, not as enemies. What stops an agency like X3M Ideas, Noah’s Ark, DDB from saying; “You know what, we are going to be in this together. If this client has called us, how do we make sure that we all benefit? I am telling you. Agencies will become more successful and you will find out that clients will get better quality work because the ones that are stronger in strategy will focus on strategy, the ones that are stronger in terms of concept will focus on concept, the ones that are stronger in terms of PR strategy will focus on that squarely. And I will tell you what will finally happen; Clients will respect what agencies have come to deliver. That is why a lot of unregistered agencies are taking advantage because you just see one hut shop there who is not even paying electricity bill and the guy just comes and grab one or two guys, create stuffs and show to clients. And then, the client would ask: So, you can actually do PR? And the guy would say  Yes I can. And they will give him the job. Guess what happens. The professional PR agency did not get the job. That guy who is entering as a social media manager for the client is now taking PR and he would do a shoddy job because he is not a renowned PR expert. So, this is where the problem keeps coming from.

If we don’t collaborate, we will leave these things to quacks because clients will go to them. When they see that we are not together and we are fighting like we don’t really have a united front, for the clients, they can go for anybody and sometimes they now take those ideas and give it to one hut shop. They now take the beautiful idea you have presented for the pitch and give it to a hut shop. When a client doesn’t pay for the pitch fee, they collect the agency idea and give it to a hut shop and they would run it. They would run it because we are not regulated. Nothing happens to the client. The client still goes Scot-free because when you are not together, or your house is not in order, the client could take advantage of you.

The need for the enforcement of intellectual property laws in the marketing communication industry has become germane following claims & counter claims of intellectual property infringement in the industry? How can this issue be addressed?

It’s very simple. It’s supposed to come through the AAAN. The AAAN should work with the Nigerian Copyright Commission such that every registered member should also be required to register with the copyright commission. That should be part of the benefit that I get for registering with AAAN. So, if a client takes my intellectual property without my consent which automatically gives me the right to sue that client. In other words, that stamp or badge as a registered AAAN agency has earned me that coverage and that’s what it should be. With the present leadership under Steve Babaeko, I believe that’s the direction they would be looking at. I know Steve and what he can pull off because he has done some wonderful stuff that nobody was able to do and that’s the truth.

How can the client-agency relationship be sustained in a critical time of reduced budget for marketing spend by clients?

I love this question you asked because this is what I teach. You know we are coming from the thought leadership and I would say that as an advertising school, our job is to proffer solutions for the industry through our training.  There is something I call customer-centric and people-centric brand philosophy. A customer-centric brand philosophy is when you treat your client as a customer i.e you are paying for this service, I am rendering the service. People-centric brand philosophy is when you take your client as a person and you deal with them personally because you understand what they are going through. Brands come to agencies because they need help and have money to give to agencies for the help they need. Therefore, the agencies get money in return for the help they render to agencies.  Brand experts should understand that every brand that comes to them is like a patient coming to the hospital and what they need is brand health. I have seen people relate with clients on the basis of; So, what do you want? Clients will say, this is what I want and you create what they want and give them. You have to go beyond what the client wants to what they need. We shouldn’t just come to client to deliver marketing communication, we should come to deliver business solutions.


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