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TMCNet:  Switching Agencies and Mounting Expectations

[May 08, 2014]

Switching Agencies and Mounting Expectations

(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Three months after the British America Tobacco Nigeria (BATN) called for a pitch for its public relations brief, the tobacco company has finally given its nod to XLR8 to handle the account. Raheem Akingbolu writes on the undercurrent of the exercise and expectation from the new agency.


The news early this year that British America Tobacco Company (BATN) was severing its relationship with the Quadrant Company, a leading public relations agency, first appeared like a speculation. BATN is the manufacturer of Benson & Hedges, Dunhill, St. Moritz, and Rothmans of cigarette brands.

The reason for such thinking was obvious. The tobacco company and the top PR agency had been working together for over nine years.

While the relationship lasted, both the brand and its agency passed through many turbulent moments together and came out successfully. As a result of this and given the sensitive nature of tobacco, it was almost concluded in the industry that Quadrant was the only agency that understood the account.

But despite the chummy relationship, the relationship ended early this year. And to fill the vacuum, the company last week appointed XLR8, another agency following a pitch exercise that took place on February, 12, 2014.

Before the announcement was finally made, BAT had been criticised for shrouding the result of the exercise longer than necessary. Even when it got to the public that XLR8 has been appointed, some people still kicked that the way the result was communicated was suspicious.

People who share this opinion had argued that even if other agencies that took part failed, it was wrong not to have informed them of the latest development. Other participating agencies are; Mediacraft Associates, SilverBulletPR, and CMC Connect.

Though both the Quadrant and BAT claimed to have ended their relationship on friendly note, a source close to the two organisations revealed that a disagreement between the Communications/Head CSR at BATN, Mrs. Oluwasoromidayo George and the agency over suppliers' engagement cost the latter the account.

According to the source, towards the end of their stay together, leadership of the Quadrant Company became uncomfortable with the way Mrs. George often engaged journalists with little or no regard for the agency.

Step to appoint another agency To avoid vacuum, BAT had immediately called for a pitch to appoint another agency that would take over from TQC. On February, 12, 2014, a few top agencies took part in the exercise with hope of winning a 'juicy' multinational account. It is not only the multinational status of the account that made it attractive, it was believed that the owners of the brand would not have any option other than jacking-up their PR budget in the face of unfriendly posture of regulators at both local and international markets. In Nigeria, aside the bashing tobacco is receiving on the floor of national assembly, promoters of tobacco have the Lagos state anti-public smoking law to contend with.

To surmount these challenges, especially now that the industry cannot go into advertising, handlers of the account may require thinking outside the box to connect consumers. This obviously explains why in recent time, BAT has been working around Corporate Social Responsibility and advocacy campaign to maintain top of the minds awareness in the market place.

Waiting period continues However, days have run into weeks, weeks into months and no signal from the company that any of the agencies has been appointed, until last week when the news of XLR8 victory was made public. Aside many years of experience in the marketing communication landscape, record shows that the four agencies that participated have worked or still working on big accounts, including those of multinationals.

As critics took on the multinational company for the lateness in releasing the result of the pitch, opinions divided over the performances of the top agencies in the exercise. The earlier report about their performances indicated that the top agencies stunned the panel that oversaw the pitch with their presentations. While CMC Connect, XLR8 and Mediacraft Associates were said to have showcased their experiences over the years, the leader of the Silver BulletPR team, Babajide Satukesi displayed his understanding of the account, having worked previously on it at The Quadrant Company. The appointment of XLR8 will though An attempt to find out what went wrong from the company however revealed a contrary point. Though Mrs. George didn't reply the mail sent to her to state the company's side of the story and her number remained switched off throughout the period this reporter tried to reach her, a senior staff of the company who spoke to THISDAY on the condition of anonymity said most of the agencies that participated didn't meet the company's requirement.

"From what I gathered, the strategic proposition of most of the agencies didn't show deep understanding of the trend in the global anti-tobacco campaign and this may be dangerous for the future of the brand in the Nigerian market," the source said.

However, the long time it took to announce the result of the pitch has led to another insinuation. It was speculated that a cabal within the company might have been at work to handover the account to who they wish through the back door.

Expectation from XLR8 Considering the strength of XLR8 and several successful brands the agency has built in the market, it will be difficult for anybody to doubt its competence. As at today, XLR8 works on Nigerian Bottling Company, Multichoice, MTN and Stanbic IBTC, among other lucrative accounts. The fact that the agency managing director, Mr. Calistus Okoruwa had experienced both the client and agency sides would stand him in a good position to manage the account. At different times, he worked at DHL and MTN. But beyond this, Mr. Calistus and his team will need an extra work on the tobacco brand to stand out. With a global uproar on tobacco issues, the agency will need to think out of the box to generate ideas that will put BAT in the right perspective. Now that anti-tobacco bill is awaiting final signature at the national assembly, the agency may require further advocacy campaign or the brand to turn the tide. Finally, XLR8 will have to be more creative in the use of media to get the expected result.

Unethical practice Like in politics, lobbying and maneuvering are common tools used by marketing communications practitioners in Nigeria to win businesses. Though, in line with international standard, some organisations call for pitch before giving out their business, investigation has shown that most of such exercises are manipulated.

In the last two years, not a few companies have been criticised for shoddy processes, while many accounts that were won or lost have attracted criticisms. Companies like MTN, Cadbury and Fidson Drugs have all been in the news for the wrong reason in recent time. MTN came under serious attack when its managers were accused of manipulating its PR account and later creative recently. Cadbury got its own share when its Media Buying business moved under a controversial circumstance from Universal McCann to Mediacom.

In a related development, Fidson Drug around the same clashed with TBWA Concept. As it happens when election is won and annulled, a result that favoured TBWA was upturned shortly after announcement by the pharmaceutical company and given to another agency.

Another contentious issue is the total disregard for pitch fee by companies that call for pitch. Proponents of the payment of the fee have always argued that if agency pitch fees were a standard procedure, clients would be less likely to drain ideas or abuse advertising agencies without compensation.

It was the need to redefine the agency/client relationship to comply with the international standard that informed the decision of the AAAN leadership to direct the attention of members and prospective clients to the payment of pitch fee, which is a mandatory practice in the advanced market of the world.

But the issue has taken a more severe dimension with agencies clashing with clients whenever the issue comes up before or after a pitch. The position of clients is that it is not economically wise to pay for something they don't need. Despite several attempts to resolve the issue, it still remains a reoccurring decimal in the industry.

Copyright This Day. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).

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