The Registrar, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Dr. Lekan Fadolapo, in this interview talks about the need for stakeholders in the marketing communications industry to strictly adhere to global best practices and promote policies likely to strengthen the Nigerian economy. Raheem Akingbolu provides the excerpts.
APCON’s decision to introduce a code of conduct called “Advertising Industry Standard of Practice” (AISOP) four months ago was met with mixed feelings, with some stakeholders calling for its revision. How far have you gone in its implementation?
After months of commitment and execution plans, Advertising Industry Standard of Practice (AISOP) is set to launch a nationwide tour on AISOP, in partnership with the Nigeria Broadcasting Organization and other stakeholders to deepen our campaign further. We have reached the stage where we will introduce the new standard of practice to providers through interactive sessions across the country. As with anything new, there might be little resistance because, by nature, humans find it difficult to adapt to change. But in the long run, what he fears doing might be best for him and for society. This is the case of AISOP. It’s a well-thought-out industry question that aims to redefine the practice as well as boost the economy. After implementation, anyone found to be in default will not only be sanctioned, but will be dealt with by stakeholders.
AISOP is not something we invented overnight. It was a persistent industry problem that we had to solve once and for all. To achieve this, we set up a stakeholder committee chaired by a former president of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), who is also the Managing Director of COSSE Group, Funmi Onabolu and the committee came up with the document . For so many years the advertising industry has operated without a code of conduct, hence the need for a new regime. Ultimately, the committee came up with a document, which aligns with best practice in most parts of the world, that will ensure that every stakeholder is not subjected to unfair trading practices. The fundamental principle is to ensure that we do not encourage or continue to operate in a jungle-like environment or an environment where many stakeholders feel they are not experiencing growth.
But it has been described as a retrograde policy for the economy that you claim it would boost in the long run. What is your reaction to this?
Anyone who calls AISOP a backward policy is either mischievous or indifferent to the growth of the industry. Those who are passionate about growing the industry daily stress the need to do things that will strengthen the practice of the industry and this is one of them. We need new initiatives that would further open up the industry. For me, the turning point is AISOP. AISOP was specifically set up to effectively address the many challenges facing the advertising industry in Nigeria, review the advertising code and provide the regulatory framework in all critical areas such as the policy of engagement, payment terms, dialing model, rates and media commissions. , opt-out protocols, credit policy, advertising and measurement feedback, and peaceful resolution.
As part of media rate deregulation, APCON says no industry sector should be allowed to cap or determine what media outlets should charge as media advertising rates. However, media houses must give at least 30 days’ notice before a new media rate is implemented. It is also expected that advertisers and agencies have a duty to give Nigerian media the same mutual respect that they give to foreign media operating in Nigeria and all stakeholders will have to align themselves with best practices. Again, in line with best practice, payment for media and other advertising services would be made within 45 days. Any payment after 45 days will incur interest at the prevailing CBN interest rate.
Advertisers and agencies should pay the bill for advertising and marketing communications promptly, and parties to a business transaction should be transparent in their dealings. Also, the pitching procedure has become more professionalized as the parties in the pitching process must abide by the Nigerian copyright law. Pitch fees would now be paid to agencies that have participated in a pitching process in accordance with best practice, while profile presentation, agency visit, meeting and onboarding are free. However, the strategy and/or creative pitch incurs a pitch fee if the agency participates in a pitch. Then we have an agency opt-out policy. Here we say; when advertisers decide to withdraw from an agency, a receptive agency, the outgoing agency and the advertiser must reconcile all the financial obligations arising during the existence of the commercial relationship. The outgoing agency should hand over the assets and liabilities of the account to the new agency to allow interested parties to track financial obligations and responsibilities.
Finally, under the new regime, all advertising, publicity and marketing communication contracts must be in writing and duly signed by the parties involved in the contract. Implementation has since started from October 6, 2021 with all existing contracts, MPO, LPO and other POs already in progress have been allowed to fulfill their terms of engagement while any further engagement after the effective start date of AISOP must align with AISOP.
Beyond the need for a new standard of practice, what do you see as other challenges facing the industry?
One of the challenges of the advertising industry is the unbundling of the profession. Advertising is now more of a marketing communication. For the past few years, we had an advertising agency providing a service supermarket. In an agency, you would have creative, experiential, activation, above the line (ATL), across the line (TTL), strategy, branding, activation, media. Twenty years ago, when MIPAN arrived, media independents said they could no longer stay with advertising and left. Experienced people also left. The creatives plan to perform abroad. Account managers leave and say they want to become consultants. Thus, new professions will appear. Before now, the media was approximate.
But now the media is no longer on rough estimates. You have to make a proper media plan, a strategy. Buying media now is not because I know you. You need to back it up with ideas and data. Similarly experiential, when you put your money behind the activation, you expect them to come back with a search as far as you can call it with your ROI. Digital is taking on a new form because our market or our business is now data-driven. We cannot live in the past and think we can be relevant in the future. Another problem plaguing the industry is the problem of persistent debts and the payment cycle at the boundary of the client-agency relationship. Of course, AISOP has taken up this challenge because we cannot continue to do the advertising business as we did before. This issue is beyond independent and outside media. It also involves advertising agencies. Several years ago, there were claims and counterclaims about the true value of ad debt. Some said the debts amounted to 25 billion naira while there were counter claims that it amounted to 40 billion naira. I remember a time when a committee, of which I was a member, was set up to reconcile the debts of the industry. Currently, we have passed this stage because the Onabolu committee has approached it through AISOP.
What are APCON’s policies and regulations to protect local content and expertise in the advertising industry?
We try as much as possible to protect the advertising jobs of Nigerians from the encroachment of foreigners. Our laws have been the subject of several readings and public hearings and we are in the process of refining them. A situation where a foreign creative director is hired to work in Nigeria and he is paid N5 million and while you have a Nigerian of the same status, caliber and position paid as N200,000 is going to be a thing of the past. How do we intend to do this? For every foreigner who comes to work in this industry, he must get approval from APCON. This is the only way to secure our profession. In the same vein, the Honorable Minister of Information some time ago issued a directive to APCON and NBC that all advertisements should be aired in Nigeria or else stations would be fined strays carrying these advertisements.
So we want a situation where our own experts are also involved in the whole communications space so that we don’t continue to play second fiddle to certain organizations or outsiders, which ultimately leads to capital flight into industry. We also want to ensure that the environment is conducive to the practice of the profession by all. We will provide a healthy business environment and ensure that practitioners are also protected. One of the few things we do now as part of our business licensing requirement is to assess the remittance of pensions by advertising agencies to the government. This means that you cannot employ your staff as an agency without paying your statutory contribution to the government to be deducted. So when the staff leaves, they have something to fall back on. For employees, we will protect them, for employers, we will prepare them for the wait. For people coming into the industry, they can see a brighter future.