My agenda for outdoor advertising practice in Nigeria —Ajufo, OAAN president
The newly-elected president of the Outdoor Advertisers Association of Nigeria (OAAN), Mr. Emma Ajufo, in this chat with Akin Adewakun, unveils his plans for the association and outdoor advertising practice in Nigeria, especially his strategies at addressing at addressing the myriad of challenges facing the practice today.
CONGRATULATIONS on your election as the president of OAAN, can you let us into your agenda for the industry, and the association in particular?
It’s very simple. I intend to complete what my predecessor did, that is what he started. We have some unfinished businesses, and one of them is this issue of research. The industry is talking about it. We intend to talk about it. Besides that, for a long while now, our members have been asking themselves, what value are they getting as members of OAAN. We are trying to answer that question by trying to bring value to our members. The third one is that we have found out that a lot of our stakeholders do not understand us, that is why it seems as if we are always having friction. We have also decided that we are going to be engaging our regulators, because our business is outside. We can not continue to pretend that all is well. So, we’ll continue to engage our stakeholders so that they can understand why we talk the way we talk. Then from our client point of view, the issue of debt has been very heavy. So we want to talk to them more because it has not been like this for some time. We, therefore, intend to engage our clients and talk with them. And at the wider industry level, we want to join forces with other sectoral heads to see that APCON has a council, and to also to begin to meet. This is because we feel a whole lot of industry issues can be addressed when the heads of sectoral group meet as they were doing before. So these are some of things we want to try and achieve.
But what is your assessment of the state of outdoor practice in the country?
I think we can do better. Both the practitioners and the regulators have a lot of catching up to do. The economy has also not helped us. On one hand, the economy is dealing with us. On the other hand, is the fact that both the practitioners and the regulators are not working in tandem. We, as an association, don’t have any problem with regulation. But we have a problem when they see us as just there for IGR. So to that extent we want to shift ground and see how we can then move on. I’m also aware that the clients are expecting more from the us, they are looking at what more outdoor can give. But, it is when we sit down to talk that we can address all these areas that the clients are looking at. Definitely, we have a lot more to do. But, in summary, I think that the future is still bright for the industry. In other climes, we see that outdoor is growing, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t grow here, because the basis of our economy has thrown a lot of people outdoor. And so we feel that our business is still very relevant, all we need to do is to tidy up the few areas of concern for both the industry and the practitioners.
Seems there is an issue here if outdoor advertising is growing in other climes and it’s not here. What could be responsible for this?
One reason clients give is that they are not able to justify what they spend on what they get in terms of reach. You know that in advertising, when you put in some money, you expect to, at least, have a reason to spend that money. That is what we want to find out what our industry is contributing, and the reason we believe research is very critical. When we now do the research we can take it to the client and say this is where we stand, because, of late, they have been talking to us about digital advertising and that it should come from our own money. But we are of the view, and strongly so, that if they are supposed to take from anybody’s budget, it shouldn’t be from out –of- home, it should actually be from other platforms. But if we don’t have a concrete evidence, it would just be in the realms of speculation, and that is what we want to get away from. That is why research is very critical to us.
The Olive branch was extended to your members at the last AGM by some state’s outdoor ad regulatory agencies in the country. There they pledged their commitments to further enhance their working relationships with your members. To what extent have you ensured these gestures are being reciprocated?
I’ve alluded to that earlier on. The truth is that Olive branch was extended to us when we had our AGM in Abeokuta, this year. I can also confirm that after the AGM, Rivers State has visited us at OAAN and even emphasized the fact that they were ready to partner with us to make sure that the practice is well entrenched in their place. And so what we are saying is that we are going to continue to engage them because they actually gave us the Olive Branch as you have rightly said, and we are talking to our members to also continue to talk to them. You see, a lot of us talk about the payment schedules of our clients. But, with or without the payment schedules, I think that if you are owing somebody, and you talk to the person, the person will understand you more than when you decide to keep away. That is why I alluded to the fact we are going to be engaging our stakeholders more, and our members have keyed into it. The fact remains that you don’t keep away from somebody who is supposed to understand you. It’s a partnership that we are building and we hope that the partnership will work.
A lot of eyebrows were raised when a critical stakeholder, the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA) was absent at your last AGM. Considering the importance of Lagos to outdoor business, what are your strategies at ensuring more rapprochement is created between the association and the outdoor regulatory agency?
Let me just tell you that the LASAA MD gave us reasons why he wasn’t there. He spoke to my immediate past president. And I can confirm to you that even, as at today, we had a very warm and cordial meeting with the LASAA MD at OAAN Secretariat here, in Lagos. We had that meeting earlier today. And we have all resolved to give ourselves support. So I expect that some of those issues that we used to have before will reduce, significantly. And like I keep saying, you can only appreciate one another, if we talk more. But if all of us take positions and not talk about those positions, nobody will shift. But if we talk about those positions, people will shift. Like we said, at the meeting, we don’t have any issue with regulation. The man also said his interest is to develop the industry. So, the interest of both of us is that the business should grow. If OAAN does not have problem with regulation and the regulator wants to grow the industry, what it means is that all of us are in for a jolly good ride then. And I believe the journey has started now.
The sector was recently enmeshed in some controversies, concerning an indecent exposure, via a mobile outdoor platform, with some heaping the blame on OAAN, APCON and LASAA. How justified are they to have done this?
Well I think that on the surface, they are justified, because if you talk about licence, you talk about APCON; if you talk about regulation, you talk about LASAA; and if you talk about outdoor, including mobile advertising, you talk about OAAN. So, to that extent, they are justified. And I can tell you that these three bodies immediately got involved and condemned the act. And I’m happy that our members are not involved because we can beat our chests to say because of the internal regulation, put in place by the association, we know that none of our members can actually do that. When I was joining forces with the regulator and our APCON, I was doing that with all the strength in me, knowing that it was something wrong, and also knowing that none of our members could get involved. And, of course, you saw that we condemned it in strong terms. I also used it as an opportunity to tell our regulator to tell those who are not members of OAAN to come on board, because the unfortunate development just confirmed what we’ve been saying all along. If they are members of OAAN, some of these regulations will be known to everybody. It’s a known thing that our Code of Practice does not allow that kind of a thing. But, I’m sure the relevant authorities are still doing their best to unravel what happened.
Illegal activities are prevalent in the sub-sector, what are your strategies at checking this?
If the market is not there for these illegal operators, they also would not be there. So what we are doing now is that we are talking to three major partners to see how we can encourage people to join us. We are talking to the regulator, who gives out the site to them, we are talking to the clients who patronise them and we are talking to APCON, because it is important that all these people belong to the sectorial group or are properly regulated. So it is something that I will continue to talk about. And you know OAAN can not force some of these things. But I believe we’ll continue to engage. That was why I had the courage to tell whoever cared to listen immediately I learnt of the unfortunate incident that that’s what we’ve been talking about. But, we will not relent. We’ll continue to talk . I know we have succeeded in a few areas; since they have now included being an OAAN member as part of some clients’ registration processes. So we are getting there gradually, but we are still not there, but I believe we’ll get there eventually, especially with OAAN’s engagement of all the three parties that I have said earlier on.
Whenever it is election period, rules and regulations, governing outdoor advertising usually go to sleep, a development that has continued to affect the business, negatively . What do you think can be done to lay the ghost of indiscriminate pasting of posters during electioneering period to rest?
The election before the last one, I’m sure you know that a lot of our members participated. But we are still suffering from the outcome of that election. People were a little bit careful this time around, because some people did not want to pick our bills. I’m sure they looked at other unprofessional ways of exposure. But I think that, again, it comes back to the issue of engaging relevant people in the industry. What we’ve decided, as a sector, is that we’ll be visible to government, so that they will see our relevance, in and out of election. We shouldn’t just be there at election time, whether they are using our services or not. We want to be partnering government in such a way that government will recognize us and see us for the usefulness that we contribute to the economy. God willing, in the next election you will not see that kind of a thing, because we are going to be real partners. I do not expect what happened this time to happen in 2023 or the build -up to 2023.