Former president of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) and Chief Executive Officer, 141 Worldwide, Mrs Bunmi Oke, in this interview, bares her mind on various issues about the nation’s advertising industry, noting that the country has not been able to successfully mobilise its citizens, due to lack of a well-defined communication path for the citizenry.
What has it been like, making a living in a male-dominated industry such as the nation’s integrated marketing communication industry?
First, a profession has certain things you need to have in common which cut across, whether you are a man or a woman. I think what has distinguished me in my career is the fact that apart from the grace of God, I have been able to learn the ropes very fast. I think we need to realise something; that whether you a doctor or a lawyer, you have to learn the ropes.
In advertising, you have to understand the ropes. I think I also developed great interest, which explains why I have lasted this long. For me, gender defies professionalism, whether it is a woman or a man is irrelevant. If you are a professional and you know what you are doing, people will respect you. That is why I have also had the privilege to be the president of the association when I finished my tenure in 2014.
I remembered that 90 per cent of those who worked with me at the executive level are gentlemen. It is not about gender but really about what you have got to offer. In fact, gender can be of an advantage. At the end of the day, what is important is that you can do the job.
You were part of the last national conference in 2014. How did the industry fare at the conference?
I represented the marketing communication industry at the conference. And even though I worked in the committee representing foreign affairs and diaspora matters, one thing we were clear about is the role communication plays in rebuilding the society.
Now, we realised that Nigeria needs to develop a very clear communication path for its citizens to understand their roles as ambassadors. At the conference, I was able to realise that ambassadorial calling is not limited to representation of the country in another nation.
Every citizen is an ambassador of that country or profession, or their homes. And the sooner we realise that, the better, because branding and ambassadorial role go together. Whether you are a brand ambassador or a national ambassador, you are representing a bundle of benefits.
We were able to make people understand clearly, that Nigerians would determine the destiny of the future as a country. Countries that people throng to visit today are built on brand benefits. Even though they are not necessarily the best, the citizens have been able to promote those images. Now, talking from that background, we need to ask, what are the marketing objectives that Nigeria needs to attain such heights? What are those brand metrics or citizens’ right that people must imbibe?
For instance, as a proud citizen of Nigeria, this is what I represent. That is why you see some countrymen of other countries always ready or wanting to die because they know their brand benefits. They know that if they die today, there are benefits that would accrue to the families.
In Nigeria, I know we are going through a turbulent time, but this is the right time to take stock and reappraise to determine how we can move forward. Of course, there were other issues like restructuring Nigeria. For me, I don’t believe that the restructuring should be necessarily physical. Rather, it should be mental. I believe communication starts from the mind and the mind is a powerful tool.
But don’t you think that would be an herculean task to achieve, given that the ethnic groups in the country have different value systems?
Just as I have said, coming from the marketing objective, what makes value systems right is the mind. A situation where you are in a country and someone starts to ask if he is a man or a female, Yoruba or Igbo before granting something cannot take us anywhere. For me, it is an irrelevant conversation that we have to get behind us. If we want to move the country forward, we have to do away with all of these things.
You must bear in mind that in marketing communication, we market by objectives. If our objective is to move Nigeria forward, we have to change the orientation, by ensuring that we get the best of men or women to positions. We should not underrate the women or men because half of us are a make up of our background, education and exposure.
That certain practice happens, does it make it right? Not necessarily. Globally if it is not suitable, I don’t think we should make it right in Nigeria. As we speak, I am yet to see a country where theft is legal or lawful. I am yet to see a society where stealing is commended. I am yet to see killing your fellow human being seen as something right, or immorality being considered good.
At the inception of this government, we thought it was going to be a new direction for the nation’s advertising industry, especially with the information minister’s meeting with some key stakeholders, apart from members of the AAAN. How satisfied are you with this development and what is presently on ground?
As far as I am concerned, I think we need to be fair in our comment. That people have not seen certain groups on the pages of the newspaper does not mean they have not been meeting. We have a lot of past presidents who may have had one on one interaction with the minister.
Although we don’t know if the current executive has had a scheduled meeting with him, but one thing that matters to me is the result. For me, the result that we are looking at is to see whether we are using national orientation or ministry of information to ensure that we achieve what we, as professionals, can contribute to get the country right. And this can only be made possible if we get our council operating, to allow some of the day-to-day operation dealing with the communication mix that has to do with advertising is, at least ratified and corrected. I think we should just wait and look forward for results in coming months.