By Yinka Ajayi
Steve Babaeko, Chief Creativity Officer/CEO, X3M Ideas, is Publicity Secretary, Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) and Vice Chairman, Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival (LAIF).
In this interview, he discusses the expectations of clients from agencies despite their tight budgets, and how agencies can remain relevant in these trying times.
How do you assess the business of advertising in 2016?
Last year was the most challenging I ever witnessed since the beginning of my career, The reason is not farfetched. From an economy slow down, we went into recession. If clients are poorly affected, then invariably the marketing communications industry would.
So it was a challenging year for our sector. A year most organisations found it difficult to meet their obligations to staff; companies had to cut salaries, and others deployed number of practical measures to survive the year.
Following the challenges, were there any good sides in the marketing communications industry last year?
The good side was that despite the low budget which characterised the year under review, a number of good creative works came out, not minding the challenged economy. As far as awards are concerned, Nigeria had better showing at the global level than previous years. A number of agencies including our X3M Ideas won laurels at the continental level. This gives the industry and clients, brighter rays of hope for the future that creativity still holds the key in the international arena.
As most clients 2017 budget shrunk, what must agencies do to survive?
For agencies to survive in this downturn, we have to think outside the box by being more creative. Beyond this, agencies must review their business models and ensure they evolve innovative product lines. We are not going to close business because clients’ budgets are drying up. I foresee agencies becoming more creative in terms of pushing out their own products line that will help them survive even if clients are not spending as before.
Getting the agency products line up and running is just the obvious way forward, the vast opportunities in the digital space more than enhance this possible choice. This will ensure that the agency survives beyond the crushing recession. As practitioners, we travel a lot, we see what people are doing in other markets. So Nigeria can’t afford to lag behind for so long.
You recently decried the spate of in-house agencies as a minus on the industry. What is the reason for this?
I maintain a position that agencies cannot become manufacturers of the consumable products that the client produces. Similarly, some clients have shown that they are not also good at marketing communications.
Therefore, it is only proper to give room for specialization – let the agencies focus on marketing communications – creating brands and marketing communications for clients’ products and services while the client focuses on producing quality products. It is better to keep these separate. For clients who fail to keep them separate, experience tells us that they are not any better than the clients who have the good sense to employ top-notch agencies.
For almost two years, the Advertisers Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) regulating advertising has been without a Chairman. How has this affected the industry?
It has affected us in significant ways because this is like saying: the board of Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) is scrapped, who regulates the practice? Yes, the Registrar/CEO, Alh. Garba Bello-Kankarofi, is doing a good job, to have kept the place running but it is important to have a Chairman.
The current president of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria, AAAN, Kayode Oluwasona, as an APCON board member, has unequivocally stated that the Council Chairman has to be appointed by the government to help us manage all the issues currently plaguing the industry. This current rudderless situation in the industry is like a plane flying without a good control tower.
Being part of the jury at the New York (Advertising) Festival, what is your assessment of the Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival (LAIF) in view of the last outing and what needs to be done to restore the growing the brand?
We still have a lot of work to do in terms of ways to organize ourselves and being more transparent in the award, especially at the jury level. I am sure those are the issues the President is trying to address and I have confidence in the present leadership of the association to make sure that all the loose ends are tied up.
For instance, for the Jury, the organizers could source people who are creative but are no longer actively working for any agency to fill the important positions.
If this is done, partisanship can be reduced if not totally eliminated. There are a number of creative minds who no longer work for agencies, some may have even moved to clients side but they are solid creative regardless of the changing of garbs, so if you get them involved in this process, they should be fair and independent minded.
Secondly, the idea of using self promo ad to win across several categories should be reviewed. These are just a few, when we take a more critical look at the issues, we will discover there are a couple of other areas we need to improve upon.
There are people who say after the 11th edition of LAIF, it has proved a failure and should be scrapped?
That will be like throwing away the baby with the bath water. As a people, there are things we’ve done that worked while we try to perfect others. Our experience at Democracy, for instance, is still flawed with so many issues. We won’t because of these challenges let go of Democracy and call in the military! As a people we will continue to improve the process.
All the advanced countries became advanced by continuously improving on their processes. This is what we should be doing as well. Yes, LAIF award has challenges, there are issues surrounding it, we should keep improving on what we have, I am sure when the award is 20 years, hopefully some will sit back and say, “yes, we stumbled but we finally made it”.
Technology has taken over in media and advertising. What do you see in 2017?
Technology is the engine room for everything that we do and it is going to get intensified. There is always going to be improvements in technology, the window is usually about six months. What you know now will probably get stale in six months’ time if you do not update yourself. More rapid changes will occur at an incredible speed.
Technology is going to be at the centre of all we do, whether we like it or not. Take a look at the music industry, no one is talking about record sales, it’s now about streaming and downloads. The advertising sector too, is no exception. All the platforms and tools are becoming more digital.
The print media too will have no option than to go digital. I am sure if you talk to some young people, they will tell you that they have not held a newspaper in their hands in the last two years. Now, every news is consumed on their mobile so if nobody is buying it, one has no choice than to change.