For years, the need for client to pay compensation, otherwise called pitch fees, to agencies that participated in a pitch process but lost out, has been a contentious issue in the marketing communications industry. The managing director, DP Partnership, an integrated marketing communications agency, Odun Fadoju, bared his mind on the issue, why no local agency has won any known international award, among other issues in this interview with DELE ALAO.
What was advertising like when you started?
Glorious years. You don’t just worked in an agency, may be four years and say you are a managing director. After spending three years in an agency, you now go and set up your own agency, It was not like that when we started. We were all grounded. You would first of all taken in, as a management trainee, and the management will make sure you go through all the key departments. Not just a management trainee, you will be trained as a copywriter, you will be trained as a media person, you will be trained as a research person, you will be trained in client service. So, by the time you spend the first one year, you are a total person. That was the background I went through. The management would ensure that you go to all the key departments.
Today, I am not a copywriter but I can write copy. When you have a copy for me, I can tell you this is not a good copy. I am not an artist but when you do a visual for me, I can tell you if the colours are matching or not. I was trained as a total advertising person. But I know there are too many people on the road, spending five years in an agency and say they are now the managing director. That is why after three or four years, the agency will crash. This is because they don’t have a good background. Being a creative person does not mean that you can run a successful advertising company. You must also have a managerial ability. You spend five years in an agency and you think you can run your own? No. You need to get to a level, at least, an account director’s level. At that level, you could have spent 10 to 15 years. And you would have known the rudiments of agency management.
It’s like all your career so far has been in Advertising?
I drink, sleep wake up with advertising. Since I left the University I have not done any other thing but advertising. Except one or two years when I was lecturing. I lectured in the then UNIFE, now Obafemi Awolowo University. And I abandoned it to start looking for a job. I never knew anything about advertising.
How has it been 23 years down the line?
It has been fulfilling. There is one thing, if you are doing a job and you have a passion for it, it will be fulfilling.
What do you think is responsible for avalanche of portfolio managing directors?
I think one of the problems is cultural. Eagerness to get rich quickly. You don’t want to pay your dues. And there is no gains without pains. Everything has its own time. You must learn the rudiments. There is this cultural issue we have in Nigeria now, the get rich quickly attitude. Some Nigerians want to buy a car, build a house, two or three years after graduation from higher institutions. That culture of learning before getting there is no longer there.
Not only in advertising, I think generally in other professions. There is a systemic failure. That is a major failure. Two, I think because we have a poor regulatory system. The Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), are not strong enough to say sorry, you cannot practice, if you practice, you go to get to jail. Those are issues. AAAN for instance, is an association of free agencies. They don’t have the legal backing to say; I am going to arrest you. It is only APCON that can do that one. And APCON in the last years has not taken a very bold step and arrest people and if found guilty, put them behind bars.
If you don’t lay that example, all these will continue to happen. That is why I said there is regulatory short coming. The government agency that has been given the responsibility has not really bite, they have been barking. And until that is done, we will continue to see this kind of stuff. Even, if you go to government agencies, parastatals, private sector, you see people practicing and they are not registered, they didn’t have the process. Go to banks, how many of the Corporate Affairs Managers, Brand Managers, in private sectors, government parastatals, has this background we are talking about; and yet they are the people who develop advertising for marketing strategies.
And these are the people that after working for three to five years, they will look for one or two people and they will set up an agency. Those are issues.
Do we then say there is proliferation of advertising agencies considering the number of brief cases agencies?
I want to say there are. But the few that are within the AAAN are manageable, However, there are so many agencies that are not in the fold of AAAN and doing business as well.
Luckily, it seems the current chairman of APCON, Lolu Akinwunmi, is trying to tidy up those things. You know that Akinwunmi belongs to our generation. So, he knows all these things. I think he’s trying to put effort to see these things done properly. You can do that in the medical profession, you can’t do that in Law, among others because they have a very strong regulatory authority.
In the past, affiliation was in vogue in the industry. However, there seems to be silence on it these days. What is your take on affiliation?
Affiliation is good. At Sunrise where I worked last, Sunrise is affiliated to D’archy. And I know how much the agency benefited and I know how much I benefited. I can attribute about 40 per cent of what is in me to D’archy because I was exposed to so many things in the industry. I have been to United Kingdom (U.K), South Africa, Ghana, for training courtesy of D’archy. So, there is enormous benefit in foreign affiliation. I cannot say there is none. The way they practice advertising, the techniques also helped me. I have also applied it in this agency and it’s reflecting in our jobs. I think affiliation is good, there is no way you can run away from it, if you have it, it is going to help you in terms of training as I said. Basically, what you are going to benefit more is training and exposure. True, of course, it brings you business especially if you are affiliated to agencies that have global accounts.
But have local agencies benefit from these affiliations?
Of course, yes. The top five agencies in Nigeria today may not be what they are if they are not in one way or the other affiliated.
If you look at their billings, at least 40 -50 per cent if not more than that comes from affiliation. Except, may be one that has been much grounded before the affiliation. Foreign affiliation has been part of the success story of these agencies. You can’t rule out that. I have been part of it before and I know how much it really helped us.
And your take on the vexed issue of pitch fees?
I am in support of all the steps the AAAN has taken on the issue. I support AAAN 100 per cent. I have been part of the debate for seven years as council member. But, we have major problem.
And what is that major problem?
Compliance from both the clients and the agencies. You know, it takes two to tangle. If an agency refuses to participate in a pitch process because the client is not showing interest to pay the pitch fees, other agencies will participate and pitch for that business. And don’t forget, there are portfolio agencies around. And even when AAAN registered member agencies are ready to comply, how about portfolio agencies that are after the business?
So, the major issue is compliance. I think it will be of a good interest for the advertising agencies to stick to it, we are all going to b enefit from it. It is going to reduce incompetence, short payments and we will all go back to our various offices smiling better.
And compliance is even good for the client also. He will also be sure that he is dealing with competent people. Unfortunately, we are having compliance issue. If there had been compliance, the pitch fees issue would have been a forgone issue. So, AAAN is handicapped.
Another concern in the industry is that no agency in the country has won any international award; such as in Cannes?
Don’t say Nigeria. How many agencies in Africa except may be in South Africa. And you know in South Africa, there are so many agencies there. I don’t want to say we are backward in Africa. Our values in terms of the TV commercial we are producing is quite different from their own values. In Western world, TV commercials are visual-led. Rarely will you see them in dialogue. If you show that commercial here, they will say what are you talking about? They are value is quite different. It is because our values are different. Technology also contributes.
What is your assessment of the quality of practitioners we have in the industry?
To a large extent, I think we have the personnel. At least to the level of people that are AAAN members.
A bit of yourself?
I started advertising in 1986 as a management trainee with PAL Advertising, Yaba.
And I have moved round and round and the highest of it was, when I was the managing director, Sunrise D’archy before I came with others to come and set up this place in 2003. So, this is our 9th year in the industry. I have worked on so many brands. Some of them are Procter & Gamble’s Vicks Lemon Plus, Vicks Baba Blue, Always, so many of them.
Also, I have been trained. I got my training from Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana. Having worked with multinational and international agencies, I think I am very grounded in the industry. And I have been part of Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria (AAPN) now Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN). I was in AAPN for seven years at various levels, Assistant Secretary, Publicity Secretary, Council members. And I worked with three past presidents of the association; Sir. Steve Omajafor, I worked with Udeme Ufot, I worked with Mrs. Bola Thomas, when they were presidents, I was part of the executive council.
I am not new to the new president of the association, Mrs. Bunmi Oke. We are not new to each other. We have been in the Council together. We have worked together at various levels. It is a good thing that I have somebody within my age bracket, working as the president of AAAN.