By Idowu Omisore

The outdoor advertising sector is undeniably a key component of Nigeria’s creative economy but fraught with challenges. Research has shown that 60 percent of the country’s total advertising market is domicilled in Lagos State. It is a sector that accounts for N58.9 billion turnover yearly and is responsible for over 100,000 people in its workforce contributing hugely to the revenue of the nation. As such, the survival of the outdoor advertising sector is a matter that cannot be trifled with. Over the years, the industry has been bedeviled with a myriad of problems, some of which have become historical despite several interventions by stakeholders. A case-in-point is the effort made by the management of the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency (LASAA). Early in the year, the Agency’s management team went on a fact-finding-cum-familiarization visit to a good number of outdoor advertising firms. The mission was clear: to find out the challenges facing the industry and possible ways of resolving them.

As widely reported in the media, LASAA later organized a Stakeholders’ Meeting to address the burning issues. According to the Managing Director of the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency, Mr. Mobolaji Sanusi, “In our efforts to ensure sanity…it is important to find lasting solutions to some of the issues that have bedeviled the outdoor advertising industry…” This is a commendable move by the Lagos State Government. No one should be surprised that LASAA decided to rise to the occasion as no responsible regulatory agency would fold its arms and watch the gradual quietus of a sector with such huge potential.

From all issues discussed at the parley, it became apparent that the repugnant issue of media buyers is the real Goliath, not LASAA as perceived in some quarters. The outdoor advertising practitioners voiced out their concerns and spoke of how the media buyers have refused to pay them as at when due and that some go as far as discounting their payments. This situation, according to them, has impacted negatively on their ability to pay permit fees due to LASAA, reason behind the huge debt owed to the Agency. Reacting to the appeal made by Mr. Tunde Adedoyin, the President of the Outdoor Advertising Association of Nigeria (OAAN), Mr. Mobolaji Sanusi explained that the Agency would be willing to support the fight against the unfair payment practices of media buyers but that the Agency would be crossing its boundaries, if it gets itself directly involved in collecting payments from media buying firms for the outdoor advertising practitioners as suggested by one of the leading practitioners.

He further stated that LASAA does not regulate media buyers. As stipulated in Section 387 of the harmonized Environmental Management and Protection Law 2017, LASAA’sjob is to control outdoor structures to be used for signage and advertisements; protect the environment from potential adverse impact from visual blights; control the number, size and location of outdoor structures. There are other connected functions but the ones already mentioned will suffice.

It is high time the Media Independent Practitioners Association of Nigeria (MIPAN) looked into the unethical practices of some of its members. In other climes, where global best practices are adhered to, payments are made to outdoor advertising firms 30 days after the issuance of the media purchase order and execution of the project. The interesting situation is that some of the media buying agencies are affiliated to foreign media independents. One would have expected them, the Nigerian media buyer affiliates, to imbibe the culture of 30 days payment. Sadly, this is not the case. It is disturbing that 30 days is now turning to 60 days, 60 days to 90 days, and now even turning towards 120 days. This is not the only dimension to this issue. After execution of the campaigns, total amount payable to the outdoor advertising firm is heavily discounted by the media buying agency. The outdoor advertising company gets a cheque with an amount completely different from the one on the media purchase order (MPO) – an amount drastically reduced. This is an unspeakable development that needs to be addressed immediately by both MIPAN and the Advertisers Association of Nigeria (ADVAN). There seems to be a conspiracy of silence by all parties.

One would have expected the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON), the umbrella body that regulates advertising practice and profession in Nigeria, to have identified and dealt with this intractable problem long before now, considering the fact that OAAN is seen as a “trade union” under APCON to regulate the outdoor advertising practice in Nigeria. Based on the foregoing, this writer completely agrees that LASAA cannot engage media buyers directly, that would be going beyond its brief as a regulator. OAAN has to first step up to the plate before it can expect any backing, considering the fact that there are other stakeholders like the MIPAN, ADVAN and APCON involved in this chain.

The highpoint of the Stakeholders’ Meeting organized by LASAA was the formation of a 15-member committee. The committee swung into action, met severally and came up with points of agreement. Having considered the clamour by practitioners that LASAA rates are arbitrary and not empirically verifiable, also that business has been bad due to recession coupled with clients cutting down on advertising budgets, and the complaint that media buyers are discounting their payments; the rates have been reduced as promised by LASAA. Actions, they say, speak louder than words.

By fulfilling its promise to lower the permit and vacant board rates, LASAA has proved the fact that it wants to ease the burden of outdoor advertising practitioners and promote the growth of the industry. In a letter from OAAN, the body has since expressed its gratitude and acknowledged the responsiveness of the current management of the Agency. In their words, “…we must appreciate your sensitivity and responsiveness to the adverse experiences of your constituents and admit that your timely intervention has in no small measure, infused life into the outdoor advertising sector.”

Moving forward, OAAN needs to take responsibility for the future of its industry by showing sincerity and commitment in dealing with the challenges affecting the sector. For a long time now, OAAN perceived the Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency as the predator that wants to kill the outdoor advertising business but events have proved otherwise. LASAA, on the other hand, should accommodate OAAN a plea made by the body. While making efforts to create a favourable environment for the outdoor advertising business to flourish, LASAA should continue to do its best to be a listening regulator.

For over a decade now, LASAA has been in the vanguard of redefining the outdoor advertising environment. Initially seen as a negative force by a section of the industry, the continuous transformation of Lagos streetscapes by the Agency has proved otherwise. As of today, Lagos State continues to set the pace for other states of the federation when it comes to outdoor advertising regulation. Lagos parades more innovative out-of-home (OOH) structures and signage, living up to its appellation as the nation’s centre of excellence. The Lagos State Signage and Advertisement Agency and OAAN are like Siamese twins that must work together to give the outdoor advertising industry the much needed quantum leap.

Idowu Omisore, an advertising buff, writes from Lagos.