As Nigeria’s advertising industry witnesses a challenging period with both big and small agencies surging the turf of tough business environment, the Registrar/Chief Executive Officer of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), Alhaji Garba Bello Kankarofi, in this interview with ADEDEJI ADEMIGBUJI, explains that APCON is doing all it could to encourage agencies.
APCON just rose from a conference on Management of the Potential Impact of Alcoholic Beverage Marketing and Marketing Communications on the society. What do you intend to achieve with this stakeholders’ gathering?
APCON as a regulatory body encourages business decisions that protect especially the consumer, the marketer, the advertiser, the manufacturer and everyone involved. How do we do this? It is our aim to strengthen the bond between agencies, sectoral groups, consumers and other institutions by constantly organising these fora that create an atmosphere where stakeholders and interest groups can listen to and understand the perspectives of others within their industry and outside of it, in order to make business decisions which positively impact the society but does not cause an unnecessary chink in profit margins. After these discussions, a communiqué is developed and agreed upon, which highlights key issues raised and recommendations or solutions decided-upon by the stakeholders representing various interest groups. Organising such for a is one of our key responsibilities as a regulatory body to ensure there is synergy which allows us operate as one, mindful of our actions and impact on society. This synergy helps develop our economy, instills a sense of social responsibility and respect for our culture and economy and ultimately boosts our international credibility. This is what we strive to achieve through the organising of these various fora.
What informed the choice of bringing World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) as key speakers at the conference?
The new school of thought embraces the world as moving towards global best practices as opposed to just being individually minded. Our actions have a positive or negative impact not only on our society but are also available for the world to see or copy as the case may be. WFA which stands for the World Federation of Advertisers helps its members to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of their marketing communications by creating avenues and policies that encourage the sharing of knowledge and experience. WFA is a global leader and their network is global networks of marketers who help each other navigate the fast-changing marketing landscape by discussing key marketing issues which affect its members. The just concluded summit on Alcohol Marketing and Marketing Communications is indeed a global concern and we welcome a global perspective on the topic. Who better to enlighten us than the Mr Stephan Loerke, Managing Director of WFA who has drawn from a whirlpool of information and resources shared by members all over the globe. It was Mr. Loerke’s very first visit to Nigeria and we were indeed excited to be hosting him and introducing him to our regulatory structure and culture.
In the last decade, APCON has made efforts to save businesses of agencies by calling stakeholders forum, the recent being attempt to save billboard advertising agencies, has the situation changed?
The theme of the forum was “Outdoor Advertising Regulation and Control in Nigeria”. Participants at the forum were stakeholders from the various segments of the Advertising industry, officials of various local and state governments in Nigeria, members of the National Assembly and other members of the public attended. The forum reviewed the state of outdoor advertising practice and regulation in Nigeria, identified and analysed areas of conflict and proposed some measures that need to be taken to achieve a better, thriving and mutually rewarding outdoor Advertising industry in Nigeria. The exercise is still an on-going process of which the major part was taken care of through discussions and resolutions reached at the end of the forum. I am sure when the changes begin to take effect, you will be adequately informed.
But generally, the industry, is faced with reality of global economic crunch, with some agencies, closing shops, how worried is APCON as a regulatory authority?
As unfortunate as it is, APCON has no impact on the business operations of corporations or agencies but does the little it can to encourage agencies, advertisers, etc. It is indeed a tough economic and global climate and that is why we encourage attendance of both our for a and training programs as we invite key speakers and resource persons to discuss, educate and enlighten individuals on shifts in business practices. By organizing such forums and trainings we hope to encourage or do our little bit of value added services to the community that show we understand it is tough out there but one way to roll with the tide is to expect it and be prepared for it when it happens. Our training programs accomplish this. Coincidentally, the fora we had was on Outdoor Advertising Regulation and Control in Nigeria which covers the regulatory issues but the training programmes we are holding would have some of the most creative minds teaching us about creative ways to develop more out-of-the box thinking to bring us closer to our global counterparts.
Nigerians are exposed to so many advertising messages, how much had APCON done to vet these communications to protect the public from deceitful advertisement?
We have a monitoring unit that daily monitors which advertisement has been vetted or not vetted. Every week a team of APCON monitoring officers also goes out to monitor the out-of-home media. They also listen to radio stations and watch the TV to know which advertisement has been vetted or not. APCON also engages the services of media monitoring agencies who report illegal advertising to the Advertising Standards Panel, ASP. We have professional Diploma programmes that provide opportunity for those who have interest in advertising to come and acquire the required knowledge and skills that empower them to practice. Our seminars/workshops and other continuous training programmes provide platform for practitioners to update their knowledge. I believe with all these, APCON is playing its role effectively.
How many per cent of ad materials has APCON vetted so far?
I think I would rephrase your question so it covers a broader scope. The real question should not be how many but how compliant have individuals, corporations, media houses or agencies been in regards to vetting of advertisements. The answer to this question would demonstrate the level of understanding that these individuals/corporations/agencies have of the reason for APCON’s existence as a regulatory body and its duty to the society and consumers. By insisting on pre-exposure clearance of all advertisements, APCON strives to check all forms of abuses such as misleading statements, spurious testimonials, visual and verbal exaggerations, misleading offers, suggestion or pictures offensive to public decency, etc. The level of ethical compliance by advertising practitioners is very high at 80 per cent and we believe we will exceed this soon as APCON is working assiduously to compel practitioners to comply with the Code of Advertising Practice and many are really complying.
How much as APCON achieved in terms of compliance with vetting rules especially as regards political advertising?
Those that are charged before APIP are certified practitioners who breach the oath of practice. If you do anything contrary to what you swore to then you go before Advertising Practitioners Investigating Panel, APIP. For instance, if you expose an advertisement without approval, ASP will take you to APIP. After conducting its investigations, the complaint is passed on to Advertising Practitioners Disciplinary Committee, APDC. APDC is the body established by law to decide cases. It is like a High Court and any person who is aggrieved about any decision given by APDC can only appeal to the Court of Appeal.
Since your appointment, how much has APCON achieved in terms of registration of practitioners as a prerequisite for practice?
We are compiling the list of practitioners at the moment. In the book, we have about 4,600 practitioners and those that are actively practicing are not up to 1,500. I am sending letters to every registered practitioner in our system to inform them that we are producing the Register of advertising practitioners’ in October 2012. If your name does not appear in the register, that means you have left the profession. We have been campaigning both in the print and electronic media to inform persons who are not up to date in payment of practice fee to do the needful or risk being delisted.
What is the compliance among foreigners practicing in Nigeria?
Under the new licensing regime, you can choose to operate under AAAN or not; under OAAN or not and so on. The new code stipulates that if you register through AAAN, for instance, it will be a little easier for you. The process seeks to ensure that you are legitimate, that you have the right documents, the right passport, the right visa and working permit. We don’t expect foreigners to come and displace better qualified Nigerians. No responsible government will allow this. Anybody coming must be better qualified than Nigerians because it will be sad to allow Non-Nigerians fill job positions which Nigerians could perform. Brazil did it and today Brazil is a world power in terms of advertising and probably one of the most vibrant economies among the third world countries. Some people will feel hurt probably at the moment but it is for the future.
You set up an executive business diploma for experience practitioners. What inform that idea?
Our professional diploma programs are aimed at strengthening the caliber and value of our advertising representatives. Think of it like planting a seed, watering it and watching it grow. Our executive training program is like a bridge exam for people whose current job positions put them in a position to handle marketing and advertising related functions or monitoring their progress whereas our professional diploma programs train and instill the core disciplines of advertising which are vital in shaping the industry representatives of tomorrow. This is one of our duties to society as an institution.
How does APCON monitor compliance in other states?
Every part of Nigeria is under APCON jurisdiction and we have zonal offices in major states which also service surrounding areas. These offices are: Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Oyo, Kwara, Rivers, Kaduna, Imo and Enugu. Additional offices in Sokoto, Maidugri, Bauchi, Benin and Uyo will be operational before the end of December 2012.
There are questions over vetting and approval of some adverts that are deceptive. How objective is APCON when vetting?
The ASP which has the mandate that requires practitioners to submit their advertisements for approval and obtain certificate of clearance before exposing such advertisements to the public has membership from various interest groups including Nigeria Communication Company (NCC), Nigerian Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Consumer Protection Council (CPC) and Manufacturers’ Association of Nigeria (MAN). We also have Council for Women Society, Radio and TV stations, newspaper houses, all have represented in the 21-member committee. During the approval process, CPC members in ASP will vet what you say and they must substantiate it. We have our own checks and balances and we do not clear any advert that does not meet this requirement. On the issue of registration, under the new licensing regime, you can choose to operate under Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) or not; under OAAN or not and so on.
APCON is set re-register advertising agencies in Nigeria by January, what informed that decision and how do you intend to go about it and what is the relationship between APCON and these sectoral groups?
The APCON Committee on Advertising Practice Reform (ACAPR), is on course. The committee was established about two years ago to look at advertising reforms and they have completed their job. They have submitted their report to Council and the Council has deliberated on their report and formulated a new code of advertising practice and sales promotion which will become operational January 1, 2013. What is happening in the interim is the sensitization being taken to the doorstep of sectoral groups. I have written to all the sectoral groups within Council to sensitize them. We have been to AAAN already. They had their AGM in Ibadan and we were there to brief them. Don’t forget that AAAN are major stakeholders. We are going to meet BON in September at their general assembly. We are also going to other sectoral groups including voice-over artistes, model managers who can now register with APCON under the new code. When the new code is published and gazette, I can then speak freely on the content.