John Ajayi is an entrepreneur who has traversed the world of brand journalism to become a driver of a wholly marketing communications publication, MARKETING EDGE and a Public relations outfit, Media Edge handling multinational accounts. In this encounter with Independent, he spoke about the forthcoming national marketing summit, the challenges in government communication and other sundry issues
Your choice of theme which centered around the digital age must have been informed by the dynamics around the industry. Tell us the reason and who are your target audience.
The theme for this year’s marketing summit is Positioning brands in a Digital age; Challenges In the developing Market.
Our concern is how to encourage brand owners to find their compass in brand building especially in the digital age. The world is becoming digitalized. We are moving up to new level of interactions with the consumers using the social media. The conventional media has given way to a new social order through the revolution of the new media. In those days, ten newspapers would reach a population that would look important to the average brand owners then, but today a single social media platform would reach more than 200% audience that 15 newspapers can reach. In other words, the consumer is at advantage to access messages almost at regular intervals. Based on this reason, it calls for real action on the part of brand owners to see the significance of digital age to optimize the visibility of their brands and also to boost profitability for the business. By so doing, brand owners cannot afford to be lethargic or to depend on the old ways of interacting with the consumers. In fact, the new thinking about the consumer is that there has been a paradigm shift in the communication of marketing business. This paradigm shift now comes in form of interaction. The digital age has thrown up a lot of dynamics which brand owners need to be aware of so that it can help them in a number of ways to achieve profitability both in the short and the long term.
With respect to the issue of target audience for the summit, we are looking at those who are involved in the brand management business and management of brand business which include advertisers, agency owners, and the entire gamut of the integrated marketing communications and even students. Of course, these people appreciate what we have done in the past.
What has been feedback since the summit began?
The feedback we got from the industry has been wonderful so far. Because at the end of every summit, we ensure a communiqué is issued which then serves as a reference point to brand owners and other relevant stakeholders. And when they see it, it guides them in their projection and their planning. We are happy because the industry has shown acceptance of our initiative. It is more or less a CSR initiative but overall, the acceptance has been shown through active and robust participation by players in the industry. Of course, we are aware that both the micro and macro-economic situation in the country is very challenging, but we cannot shy away from thought leadership project. As a leader in the industry, we are looked upon to provide the right compass by initiating exciting conversation that will take the industry to the desired height and next level.
As a close watcher of events in the marketing communications field, how will you assess the industry?
As an industry watchdog, I have been very passionate in the coverage of marketing, advertising in Nigeria. I want to say, without any equivocation, that it is not yet uhuru. The industry, like every other sectors of the national economy, is facing a very challenging moment. It is a challenging moment for the manufacturers i.e the brand owners as well as service providers such as the creative agencies and all other players in the entire gamut of integrated marketing communications. A situation where the downturn in the economic system, which had been brought about by the crash in the price of crude oil, has adversely affected the fortunes of the country, you would expect the industry to share in the pain because most of their businesses come through the manufacturing sector. Besides, you are also aware that the situation had been further worsened by scarcity of forex which by and large had created big problem for industries generally. Of course, the Federal Government did impose some stringent rules that had not really favored the manufacturing sector. But I think some of these stringent rules, on the long run, will pay off for the country.
You have witnessed so many epochs in the marketing communications industry, how would you evaluate the impact of creativity on brand building?
Creativity is at the heart of brand building. It is the bed rock of brand building. There is a popular saying that creativity is the crucible of marketing and marketing is the crucible of creativity. In other words, both marketing and creativity go hand in hand. A creative product will definitely make a successful marketing outing and by extension support brand building. Creativity helps a long way to determine the lacuna that exists in a particular market category. With creativity, you are able to also offer insight on what consumers needs at every given point in time, by meeting up with their demands and their needs, coping with their lifestyles and tastes. So, they work together. You cannot have good marketing efforts or brand building without creativity.
In recent times, we have seen smaller agencies overtake older agencies fueling speculation that these agencies may go into extinction, what do you think can be done by the latter to arrest the tide in order to stay relevant?
The trend in the Nigerian advertising as regards old and new agencies is like the fall of empires. Great empires sometimes get to their peak and later eclipsed. Of course, there may arise newer cities, and fiefdoms that will become kingdoms. That is exactly what we are witnessing in the Nigerian advertising business today. We are witnessing a situation where older practitioners or agencies have been unable to regenerate or reinvent themselves. Therefore, those who refuse to reinvent will definitely go into abyss or eclipse. From the collapse, perhaps there may still be some rubbles after rain. But the fact is that younger ones are not resting on their oars. They have the entrepreneurial zeal, some of them are creative ‘rebels’ and entrepreneural wizkids, they want to make a statement, they want to beat the older ones .That is why the statement that the child is the father of the man becomes apt. This means that when you have a child today, he tries to learn to grow old. And when they begin to strive, they can even surpass what the generation before them have done. However, I think the older agencies can become relevant as long as they can regenerate, re-innovate, re-strategize and retool.
Over the years, we have seen government looking the other way when it comes to engaging communication experts in communication of their policies, a reason that has been adduced for the poor communication between government and the people. What do you think has been responsible for this neglect and how best could the gap noticed be addressed?
The truth of the matter is that it is a two-way challenge because the government and the practitioners are at fault. Talking about the failure of government in this regard, I think successive governments have not taken governance as a serious business. All over the world, government business is seen and treated as serious business. I think if successive governments through their parastatals and agencies had taken governance and government business as serious business, they would have known that in any government communication effort, task or project, they ought to engage qualified marketing communication professionals. Over the years, the Nigerian Ministry of Information has been making some sing song on rebranding Nigeria playing ding dong with the rebranding concept. And when they talk about this laudable initiative, the question you would want to ask is that who are those behind the management of this process? Are they hiring professionals who understand everything about branding or rebranding? Are they the people who understand marketing or national objectives of the nation? What does it take to rebrand a nation state? Instead of government hiring professionals, they give the job to the boys for the purpose of political patronage. At the end of the day, what comes out is a mumbo jumbo program that can never stand the test of time. But if the Federal Government had engaged seasoned professionals, they would have been able to give them a clearer creative direction to go in achieving the national rebranding objective. On the part of the practitioners, I think the question to ask is how much liasing have they done with government. Rather they are busy chasing the few multinational accounts. Perhaps you can call it laziness, lack of competitive spirit or requisite entrepreneurial skill. But the truth of the matter is that there has been a gap between government and the industry. Unlike in the legal profession, where government appoints seasoned lawyers as Attorney general of the Federation, medical doctors as Health Minister or Economist as Finance Minister, we have not witnessed such happening in the communication industry until recently when Alhaji Lai Mohammed, a seasoned Public relations practitioner was appointed. You can see that there is a new development since he came on board. We have seen him fraternizing with every stakeholder within the constituent, in the integrated marketing communication. He has taken it upon himself to visit all the Ministries and the parastatals, assess their challenges, promise renovation and renewal. He has also extended it to APCON. Recently, at a marketers’ forum which was organized by Advertisers Association of Nigeria, the minister was available, listened through some presentations, took away some messages. ADVAN and other stakeholders should close the gap. It is when this happens that the industry can move forward.
Why are we having this award this time?
This is about the fifth edition of the MARKETING EDGE national marketing summit and brand and advertising excellence awards. We introduced this award into the Nigerian marketing and advertising sector five years ago as a way of promoting industry conversation on contemporary industry issues with the aim of serving the interest of brands and brand owners. MARKETING EDGE, being a leading marketing magazine, has an onerous task of promoting the brand idea. This, we have consistently done through the publication of MARKETING EDGE, in the last 13 years. The whole idea behind this summit is to expand the frontiers of marketing knowledge. After publishing this magazine for some years now, we have now taken a step further by generating discourse to ensure that we provide robust knowledge for the people involved in the management of brand business and the business of brand management.
We have different award categories. The most interesting this year is that we have come up with new innovations by rewarding different generations of practitioners in marketing and advertising business. We are recognizing the icons i.e the First and second generation practitioners. One of them is Mr. Ayo Awoborode, one of the brains behind the formation of APCON and a very renowned advertising practitioner in Nigeria. We are also rewarding the former creative director of Lowe Lintas, Mr. Ted Mukoro. He is quite an old man now and was known to have created the most creative concepts in the industry that had helped to push some alcoholic brands to stardom in the Nigerian market. We are also celebrating the former Managing director of Lowe Lintas and founder of ZUUS Bureau, Mr. Chris Awusa Doghuje, Publisher of Ad news and Former Chairman of APCON. He has contributed immensely to the industry by producing different generations of advertising practitioners. All these personalities are to be awarded the Lifetime achievement award. We are also recognising Chief Akin Odunsi, former President of AAAN AND Former Managing Director of Rosabel and a doyen of advertising. Of course, we have the brand personality award which goes to Mr. Udeme Ufot. We are also rewarding marketing personalities, outstanding brand managers and marketing managers. All these personalities will be rewarded at the event.