Thursday, July 12, 2012

In Lagos, stakeholders canvass review of outdoor regulation

THE grievances, many practitioners, agencies and clients, in the outdoor sector of the advertising industry had bottled up in the past couple of years were laid bared at the 2012 Advertising Forum held in Lagos, last week.
  The forum organised by Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) for hours looked at the germane issues in the outdoor business. And it was not just coincident as the theme of the day focused on regulation and control in the outdoor.
 From the various speakers to the comments by the participants, it was clear that the practitioners were not happy about the state of things in that sector of the advertising industry. They did not just air their opinions, the tone with which their opinions were delivered, was one that signal an aggrieved group.
   As they took turn to talk, they maintained that the present trend of regulation and control cannot continue, otherwise, they will soon be out of business and in no long distance, the economy will also suffer. This, to them, is why something should be done urgently because the trend is not something encouraging whether for operators or advertisers.
  Although, only one state regulator was on ground, he defended his state’s action and promised that as a practitioner, he knew what his colleagues went through in the Lagos experience, so he would not want to inflict more pains on them.  
   Setting the tone for the day’s discussion, the Chairman of APCON, Mr. Lolu Akinwunmi, in justifying the reason for the choice of the topic and the focus on outdoor in his welcome address, aptly voiced the position of many of the stakeholders when he said, “Outdoor is a major component of the advertising practice which in recent years has suffered some decline especially as a result of various regimes of regulation at various levels resulting in high costs of operations for the practitioners, making the hoardings too expensive for clients who have gradually been investing their budgets in other media.”  
   The President of Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), Mr. Charles Chijide, in his paper, also re-echoed some of the positions of the Chairman of APCON.
    In conveying the position of his association about the state of things, he said, “Let me confess that I am touched and impressed by the choice of this year’s theme, as nothing would have been more appropriate at this time when outdoor advertising is enmeshed in the quagmire of statutory regulations and controls. It is indeed like swimming in sharks-infested, highly troubled water. There is no contesting the fact that issue of regulations and control is obviously a universal phenomenon as no social organisation or business environment survives in an atmosphere of indiscipline, disorder and anomie.”
   Expressing the downturn in business as a result of state regulation, control and monitoring of the outdoor business driven mostly to increase Internally Generated Revenue by most states, Chijide disclosed that over 70 per cent of operators’ hoardings are now vacant while many agencies had reduced their staff strength by over 50 percent.
   Besides the local, state and federal governments levies, he said the challenge of street urchins or miscreants had become a great threat and dangerous development to the outdoor advertising practice, “because most times not less than twenty thousand naira are paid to the area boys when his members need to put up something on their hoardings,” he lamented. 
  Also speaking on the theme, the Director General of Oyo State Signage Advertising Agency, Mr. Yinka Adepoju, who observed that to a good number of people, the moment regulation and control is mentioned, people become jittery because of the so many factors associated with the subject matter.
  “To some, regulation and control is scary because of the weight it carries while to others it is a punitive measure. Of course, you and I know that it is not.”
 Adepoju, who went down memory lane to give an insight into efforts by some government officials to clean up the city, which negatively rubbed off on the outdoor business, said that the deplorable conditions of outdoor boards and signage in many of the states including Oyo, has forced the government on some of these states to align with the local government councils to combat the challenge of clusters and restore sanity to the state landscape.
 “Without being unnecessarily biased, the pattern of outdoor in existence before the emergence of some of these regulatory agencies was nothing to write home about.”
   Using his state as an example, he gave a pictorial account of what he met on ground when he came in and also gave a pictorial insight of where they hope to be.
   “When I assumed office two months ago, the outdoor environment was in a sorry state. But, because we needed to quickly turn around the deplorable outdoor space, we immediately embarked on cleaning up exercise though not without resistance to make our environment aesthetically appealing.
  “State governments are now very conscious of their environment thus they not only see as top priority the setting up of agencies to control the practice of outdoor advertising in their state, which to them, is key especially in line with environmental laws, they also see it as another cash cow importantly as a tool of increasing their internally generated revenue to support other developmental projects in the state.
   “Another major concern for many responsible governments would be to ensure a safe, descent and billboard friendly environment for its citizenry and visitors into the state. Such environment no doubt will be conducive for business and other economic activities that would make the state to develop fast,” OYSAA boss said.
   The lead speaker, Mr. Tony Idigbe SAN, gave a brief about the regulation and control of outdoor business in United State of America, pointing out areas where the Nigeria could learn and borrow ideas from.
   Idigbe listed multiple regulations and taxes, uncertainty in regulation, absence of compensation for arbitrary intervention as challenges confronted the sectors.
  According to him, some of these actions had promoted impunity while some of the agencies had gone beyond regulation to providing the service. He requested for the passage of a law that nothing should be removed without payment of compensation. This, to him, will stop the arbitrariness.
  For the President of the Advertisers Association of Nigeria, (ADVAN), Mr. Kola Oyeyemi, all stakeholders must tread softly so that the whole process will not collapse and nothing will be available.
   “We have said different kinds of things from the issue of the rate, that are quite expensive and driven a lot of advertisers out of the outdoor media. We talk about the multiple regulation and taxation, which has also affected the practitioners and how advertisers use the space. We also talked about the conflicts between certain sector in the outdoor industry, sites between military formation and how that affects advertisers. 
   “We also talked about the ultimate impact of this on the economy, if businesses are crippled because of this high cost, it means people are going to lay off at some point and that has a huge impact on the economy.
  “It is important that the relationship among all the various arms of governments and regulators is harmonise to the extent that we are able to form a proper way forward for the industry so that we do not just get the cost exorbitantly because it will be eventually passed to the consumers, and we all are both consumers and service providers,” said the General Manager of Consumer Marketing of MTN. 
   The Chairman of the forum, Senator Enyinnanya Abaribe, who is also the Senate Committee Chairman on Information, disclosed the Senate’s willingness to work with the stakeholders to move forward and make the necessary positive change in the advertising industry.

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