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Endangered Brand Communicators of Nigeria

Following on the new threats and counter threats on importing PR consultants into Nigeria of the two leading political parties in Nigeria, the governing PDP and the leading opposition, APC on their desires to import in Public relations agencies, the APC, to help it defeat the PDP as a result of a successful merger; and the PDP, to help it contain the bad press arising from the ‘’Bring Back the Girls Campaign’’ arising from Boko Haram’s confiscation of the Chibok school girls which is having a field day on the government of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. CHIKE OFILI argues that they are welcome to provide the required stimulus that the industry leaders need and the higher practice that the entire industry seriously crave for. 
 
Agencies abroad are welcome, but not as mere hirelings! As he dusts up a previous alternative keynote he volunteered at the Brandwagon conference of the marketing publication, M2 some 3 years ago as still the answer still as the PR body kicks. Considering the melancholic environment of operation in all its shades and shadows and how it threatens hope and practice, he also provides the melodious half on how to contain the business threats and technological changes in our wider field of integrated marketing communication (IMC).
 
While the M2 marketing journal roundtable of April, 2011 gradually finds its Holy grail in a quality intra-disciplinary discourse that takes over the human development functions of the merely political office seeking sectoral bodies of Advertising’s AAAN, APCON, Public relations’ PRCAN, NIPR and other less prominent bodies of the Media Independents, the Events management bodies etc, its brand communications members are in search of their Holy grail amidst vanishing financial gains and threatened future practice as the just concluded deliberation on ‘’Is the IMC Endangered?’’ shows. Here is an alternative key note response.
 
If the Marketing communications professionals otherwise called marketing communication, creative marketing services, or Brand Communications Management Consultants who when in their islands confluence in work related functions become a collage known as Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) wish to test the endangerment of their profession, let them dare to venture out as a group on Nigerian roads on any environmental sanitation days? That day, they will prove to all and sundry, if they are a part of the ‘essential’ services professions allowed out? Funny as this illustration seems, it is the truth of our condition of health and economic status at this time, and perhaps at any other time. Society and markets determine what is ESSENTIAL. Government can determine what is essential. The market ruthlessly determines what is essential. Are we as essential as we have imagined or permitted ourselves to believe we are? Run with me.
 
We are all products of the environment! Even as human species; we are all derivatives of the environment; taking our sources and reason for being and livelihood from her. The Black man has willy-nilly chosen his place in the human race either from a natural condition, or from historically imposed conditionings from the triple onslaught of slavery, colonialism and foreign religions that have come to shape his life and responses to all these types of social programming. These triple traumas have made us to continue to live after the image and likeness of those who conditioned us thus. The consequence is that we are yet to snap out of them, and re-condition or re-programme ourselves from living like ‘’mimic men and women.’’ As a result, MADE IN NIGERIA has never been good for us. And so we lap up to all things foreign; including the inferiority complex inspired agency AFFILIATIONS.
 
Until there is a revolutionary culture re-birth and re-making of the African Personality, we might remain mimic men and women in our orientation, thus affecting and afflicting our cultural productions, communications and consumptions. This essentially explains our lives as a consuming nation and continent. It explains why there is very little manufacturing of African and Nigerian products and services native to us that ought to keep marketing people busy; instead of mass-crowding around foreign brands and services. The lesson of which makes the ‘’Ajayi Crowders’’ feel there is scarcity. It is the scarcity of the foreign of course; and the wrong perception of the absence or scarcity of the local that is often wilfully ignored. The reluctance to grow starters is at the heart of it. And since sales often precedes marketing in the order of producers’ immediate needs and financial ability, it is sheer bunkum to expect that the starter who managed his way up without your assistance when needed, would not scorn and 
rebuff marketing when it chooses to reach out to her in times of plenty.
 
A dependent person and people will always lack self-development in every aspect; particularly the ability to take personal and collective initiatives; a function of a well-exercised thinking faculty. This inability is very evident in governance in Nigerian, corporate governance and professional bodies’ inability to take a quantum leap and propel a tipping point that produces a groundswell from which everybody can feed off. This type of change only happens with catalysing and not cataclysmic leadership. The black world still awaits Nigeria to provide her this groundswell as the one with the manifest evidence to do so from the available eggheads, creative offerings and human dynamism. But the lack of a proper African-made challenger that will force Nigeria out of her slumber which a mixed-race or White-made South Africa has been happily posing since officially ending apartheid is a pointer. Though one wishes that Kenya and Ghana would. Nigeria, like the Creative Marketing Services awaits physics’ law of motion 
because indeed everything remains in a state of rest until acted upon; so every action or reaction is a consequence of an equal or opposite reaction. We await Kenya or Ghana to equal it, or South Africa to produce the catalysing and cathartic opposite reaction for a nation that thrives in crises?
 
THE NIGERIAN DNA DENIES MEN OF IDEAS 
As marketing communication professionals ponder hard on their turn of fortune from the larger environmental factor of global economic meltdown which is not abating, and which doubly suffers from additional lootings of national treasuries to foreign beneficiaries, the Nigerian environment provides an extra problem: an enigmatic DNA that denies its best and brightest from flourishing. The Nigerian bests manifest as seeds that either never grows well on this soil, or that must take very long in growing. They become seeds that fall on thorny, hard grounds.
 
This explains why idea, intellectual and creative ventures labour hard here. Service businesses are a hard nut to crack and thrive in. Consultants as independents without institutional backing labour harder. Corporate entities like Marketing Communications agencies are stretched to break-neck point to thrive; and when they ever do, there is often a foreign brand or affiliate ensuring it. What belongs to them locally gets creamed off by a systemic puzzle or corrupt practices in high and low places that negotiate them down. There seems to be an unsigned agreement in Nigeria that the best must never be got by the best; but the best may be grafted in, inevitably. This explains why hustlers and men and women of contact, our ‘’man-no-man’’ syndrome may continue to thrive better than, and even hire the best of consultants and professionals in this rent-seeking economy.
 
This is also why public service and political communications briefs will continue to elude us. This is also the reason why a Shagari will continue to clinch the presidential elections what is best suited for Azikiwe or Awolowo; giving us perpetually the government of less than the best; the government of average men. This also explains why letters of introduction, business and marketing proposals and presentations will continue to lose their meaning here as legitimate basis for opening up business conversations. So beyond the economics of things in the Nigerian peculiar case, is that Adam Smith’s mysterious ‘’invisible hand’’ that makes us to work contrary to our good like economic forces.
 
THE CASE OF MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS
Potent as the foregoing environmental and the enigmatic are, how could marketing communication be endangered when in the last ten years, it is the reigning and leading sector in business-thought dominance with its concept of ‘’branding’’ toppling Management’s ‘’Corporate re-engineering’’ and ‘’Total Quality Service.’’ The sector that telecommunication with all its whirlwind of information-bearing technology that threatened to change our world beyond recognition and comprehension became dependent on us to bring about its threat when it arrived here, emptying and destocking brand communicators and agencies of its very best to man and woman its marketing operations and to take care of its marketing communications needs? The so-called real sector too has since emulated this search for the Holy Grail where it could only be found – amongst us; even unethically by snatching their service providers’ staffers.
 
How could a professional sector that Nigeria’s Ministry of Information and Orientation and much later called Information and Communication that is ours and meant for us, pursue national re-orientation, borrowing our word, ‘’re-branding’’ without needing us the professional owners? Never was the sector given so much national prominence as when Prof. Dora Akunyili mouthed ‘’Re-branding Nigeria’’ after her predecessor ministers, Chief Chukwuemeka Chikelu’s era of scant professional involvement of Re-imaging Nigeria in his ‘’Nigeria Image Project’’ re-christened ‘’Heart of Africa Image Project by Mr. Frank Nweke, the minister after him?’’ A whole decade of focus on our profession! How did the sector’s lead CEOs, the professional bodies take advantage of these rare and recurrent moments to give the profession a national groundswell that came hand-in-gloves with the arrival of the telecom revolution and its marketing in Nigeria?
 
Our sector has always lacked leaders with the capacity to grow into larger-than-life gregarious personalities that provide charm and ants-to-sugar gravitational pull to the profession as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka have done for creative writing. Our elders have remained just professionals without national influence, which some strive for through sectoral political office, not even through general party politics or thriving charity works or organisations. This also partly explains why national honours have eluded our model elders; beyond the excuse of the Nigerian rot. 
 
Trying to thrive through regulation by strangulation on the so-called ‘’outsider’’; barring people from trying their hands in areas of their inclination, admiration or even illusion is reactive and cowardly. And it would even fail, and should be made to; in this era of lack of opportunities, apprenticeship and mentoring giving rise to the promotion of self-employment, small scale enterprises, small scale consultancies, and entrepreneurship - all consequences of unemployment and bad and failed employers. Strange as this may sound, the presence of foreign agencies and not badge- wearing affiliations is what our big agencies need to snap out of their inertia. This will help to blow the top off the imposed ceiling. This is more needful than the commonly favoured Jonah in the belly of a whale merger and acquisition practice. This will lead many independents back to new havens, and make many of the CEO-by-business card return to become well-paid senior managers and directors; the law of natural selection and even o
f absorption will help us do the slimming down; the downsizing. So let a thousand flowers flourish! Let the wheat grow, let the chaff grow, and let time and tide do the separating.
 
Are Brand Communicators Middle Men That Must Die?
They just might; as this allusion will prove. I was at this year’s Nigerian International Book fair in May at the University of Lagos where the theme was ‘’Technology and the Future of the Book: Implication for the African Book Industry.’’ At a syndicate session, a presenter made an impassioned case for the transformative role technology will play in rupturing the book chain as we know it from the Author- Publisher- Printer- Bookseller- Buyer- Library. He spoke of how books will move in their new forms straight to the end-users through the agency of technology like Kindle, phones, iPad, etc. A woman cried out: WHAT ABOUT BOOKSELLERS? And we all laughed without answering her concern. It was obvious that the booksellers as stationary intermediaries will not be relevant in the newly designed scheme of things. Put differently, they have been designed out!
 
Might this be our fate in the larger marketing and business scheme of things? I hope not. But it might if Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) unlike the Book industry, are ridiculously addressing ‘’Globalising Nigerian advertising: Prospect and Challenges;’’ at the last AGM, totally oblivious that conventions and conferences are used to solve problems rather than showing a lack of purpose by their theme. Just as their creative counterparts, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) did at her 2010 convention; talking about ‘’Myths, Fantasy and Indigenous Theatre’’ (sic) not even dramatic literature their appropriate professional turf (since they are not theatre practitioners) in the 21st century of all times without any comparative intent to seek how one serves or extends the other.
 
Marketing Communications practitioners must be very careful how they allow themselves to be pressured into change without conferencing around it for clarity from individual and collective understanding and response. Oftener, the pressures are more of fads than from imperative change; under-developed or ill-connected aspects of operation taken advantage of by smart invaders to create new needs. At other times, they are mere nomenclatures in the garb of a whirlwind of change as the concept of ‘’branding’’ is proving. But when the change is rooted in a profoundly potent idea whose time has come to affect and shift thinking in a cross disciplinary manner, like Marxism, psycho-analysis, globalisation; or as a technology whose operational make-up insists on rocking the status quo, as printing technology did to 19th century communication, and not as TV did to Radio, or PR to Advertising, then we can fret and flutter.
 
All too often we respond to threats that are peculiar problems of professions we admire and want to be like. Sometimes these seeming imperatives are just attempts at belonging to the Joneses. At other times, we are just transplanting other people’s pressures upon ourselves from lack of understanding. Such as trying to force ourselves into becoming a quantitative result orientated profession when our core is qualitative by virtue of creativity, not hard-headed data practice as Mr. Rotimi Olaniyan would have us convert to in his piece bristling in part with brilliant sophistry. He persuades the unguarded to accept that there is a difference between creativity and market innovation. As though innovation is not a derivative or enhancement of the created; like a translation is to an original text.
 
He wishes for the industry, his own personal conversion into what his client would have him be, rather than be what the client cannot be so as to be needed and hired. The only thing valid in such positions is that we welcome the arrival of any tenable device that measures creativity or furthers it, but we must never lose the creative essence of our being and profession. Even the case for pragmatism is irrelevant if we understand the purpose of applied or functional creativity. There are times when we have to hear but not listen to clients whose cases might sometimes be akin to dealing with a damaged personality. Trying to win the love of a medically damaged person without a clear-headed psycho-analytical understanding of excavating his background to know what informs his behaviour towards you, will always end in vain. Sometimes you might just need to kick away some clients to retain your creative being and sanity.
 
Where the real quantitative and operational business change is needed, is in overhauling our Client Service departments to rise above merely looking good and imitatively smart like clients without the business grounding and professional exposures of model clients. As a creative, I once stumbled upon a well developed template that my well-celebrated former marketing boss, Mr. Chris Ogbechie developed for the client service department. Watching a senior client service manager adapt herself so faithfully to it made me lose respect for the whole function of this unit of marketing communication. For me, it only makes for the flight of initiative, creativity and the preferred need to have a customised response to every brief. The demand on strategy should weigh more on client and Agencies’ client service unit and its research counterparts than it should on the Creative who need it to for the anchoring of the creative treatment in our relay race styled workdelivery. It is the huge intellectual and operational gap of client service departments that are largely giving the clients a sense of dissatisfaction. Especially as most newly born agencies are often off-shoots of client service products departments of the Agency. A huge investment in re-orienting this unit in total marketing, management and business understanding is desperately needed against the prevalent client-contact, errand delivering orientation and practice. Populating that unit with economists, accountants and financial analysts with good communication skills as against well-spoken graduates of Mass communication and English will readily stand up to fill the quantitative gap needs and the procurement practitioners assaults that now knock us out at competitive pitches for new clients and methods parallel to our traditional practice.
 
More than anything else that threatens our profession is ironically too, the faulty business model handed down to us un-reviewed, and so un-rejected. That which allows us to voluntarily go into debt in carrying out a client’s job and choosing to be paid within 30 to 90 days of fixed and non-negotiable 15% of our earning, is self-impoverishing! We needn’t wait for any threat to know that we now need upfront mobilisation payment like big businesses and a bracketable or no fixed percentage. We need a collectively enshrined operational decision on this, and not the splinter group approach of labelling ourselves consultants to avoid this epidemic payment system.
 
But are the present Information Communication Technological changes sufficiently threatening? Sometimes the creation of new channels does not necessarily mean the death of other older canals. It could very well be a mere movement from the scribbling finger on a slate, to feather-in-an-ink-pot; to the writing hand on a pen, to the typewriter, to the keyboard, to joy-sticks and back to the finger on iPads and tablets. I think they are reformatory and not revolutionary; and so should not be allowed to assume a role beyond their abilities. But there are times when an idea or technology causes a sea-change. This we should fear and respond to with habit breaking urgency. The twin combination of the internet and telecom with their seamless mobile interactiveness leave us happily with new communication tools and handy channels almost as unlimited as hand-held radio was and is with batteries without the limiting accompaniments of electrical power. The internet and mobile technologies are not a threat; they are only additional new dimensions to the broader parts of communication; the other half of our marketing communication practices with marketing done. All we need to do is master our fears of its over-advertised powers and threats to our profession, and go ahead to own it by domesticating it within the creative department, or locate it as an independent department within the reach and practices of the creative department for their mutually close operations. This is how we should respond rather than allow newcomers threaten us with their young language and practice as to make us change ours so readily like one suffering from inferiority complex. So we don’t need to be called marketing communications solutions company since they have already owned the word ‘’solution.’’ Shouldn’t we know better?
 
Let us assume that we are brutally eliminated like the booksellers in the book chain mentioned as market intermediaries are wont to in the new age, will we also lose out as connectors; as bridgers of physical, psychic and psychological distances? Sales and salesmen may, marketers won’t. Messengers of love and match-makers may fade away, but can the messages and mediums of love, perish? Where love letters do, they will surely return as emails, text messages and other new forms. Human or mediated communication will remain with humanity forever either for social or /and for commercial reasons.
 
Our triple heritage of creativity, communication and marketing will always put us in reckoning if we live in its full purpose. And until the entire world, founded, formed and framed on creativity the bedrock of our profession stops sitting firmly on these pillars would we vanish; except we endanger ourselves carelessly by trading places with rival siblings of the creative industry, or become clones of clients.
 
POST SCRIPT
As already alluded to in this piece, the state, stature and status of the wider marketing communications industry to which Public relations is a part in Nigeria, is a reflection of its state of health and height in the business community and in the Nigerian nation.PR and other sub-sectors, more than Advertising, has suffered a debilitating arrested development that can only be cured by the presence of international practice on our soil as established companies and not as hired hirelings. They are welcome to provide the required stimulus that the industry leaders need and the higher practice that the entire industry seriously crave for. Agencies abroad are welcome, but not as mere hirelings!
 
Chike Ofili drives Reputations Consulting, a cause championing brand communications consultancy; a 2007 Nominee, Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, has been Chairman, Association of Nigerian Authors, Lagos.  Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.