Big brands are getting serious about Africa – that is beyond debate. FMCG companies in particular are desperate to add some sparkle to a tough global outlook, and Africa’s double-digital growth offers a very attractive prospect.
Creative agencies have been embedded in key African markets for some time, but North and South Africa aside, global media agencies have been conspicuous by their absence. That is for good reason: the majority of markets in sub-Saharan Africa have been beset by immature media markets, dodgy payment practises and an absence of highly-skilled talent.
Uncomfortable with the idea of simply parachuting in its GroupM agencies, WPP acquired a majority stake in dominant local player Scangroup, which dominates 70% of the regional media buying market. Two months ago it took this one step further, by officially launching its MediaCom, Mindshare and MEC agencies in sub-Saharan Africa.
M&M Global met with Monica Kambo, the newly-appointed managing director for MEC sub-Saharan Africa on a visit to London, to discuss what GroupM hopes to achieve with its latest division. The answer? Simply to bring that “best-in-class media investment service”.
“Every entity coming into Africa is looking for growth in the business. Given the fact that we have global clients, they are moving into Africa as well. It is key for us to provide that network across Africa, meaning clients can start to plan with having MEC in the region,” says Kambo, who formerly led the media team at Ogilvy Africa.
It remains early days: GroupM has a combined 44 staff across sub-Saharan Africa, with 22 of those in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, which will provide the primary hub for its operations. Next in priority list is Ghana, Tanzania and Uganda, but for the majority of its 27 markets it will operate with partner entities.
That presence on the ground is vital, says Kambo, given the vast differences between the markets in the region: “There is no homogeneity when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa - I don’t feel the markets will ever be on a par.
“Kenya is a highly sophisticated market in terms of the cost of media, the content that is available and the level of capacity as well. Whereas a market like Burkina Faso or Chad is so behind in that respect.
“It’s almost like we’re trying to bring up that capability. We have resources which we will take from Nairobi. It’s not an overnight fix, but it does have some bearing,” she says.
There is a similarly challenging picture when it comes to a media industry which is slowly shifting towards a focus on quality local content.
With markets divided between French-speaking and Anglophone broadcasters and publishers, the search for premium content requires a country-by-country approach. Truly accurate data and measurement sources also remain scarce, though that picture is slowly changing.
MEC has struck agreements with pan-regional satellite TV broadcaster MultiChoice, as well as the likes of Google and Facebook, though most media partnerships will cover only three or four similar markets. And TV broadcasters risk losing audiences with the ongoing switch to digital formats.
However, thanks to increasing urbanisation and the electrification of rural areas, the digital and mobile revolution is likely to make life easier for advertisers, says Kambo.
“It is pushing the media landscape to change. Previously, radio was the key media in Africa, but it is now switching. We have five screens – from tablets to TV,” she says.
“In addition to that, you have a mobile explosion. The cost of feature phones is coming down. The landscape will change in terms of consumption and spend, and we’re seeing lots of global companies moving into digital.”
The biggest obstacle to growth for GroupM, however, is talent. Working closely with MEC’s global team, the agency has launched the ‘One Africa’ training programme, attempting to improve skills in areas such as strategy, digital training and client leadership. The focus, says Kambo, is on developing local talent, rather than flying in dozens of agency staff from international offices.
“Some markets have good talent, so that is where we place the hubs. Kenya is one of those, so is Ghana and Nigeria. We take talent from those markets and put them elsewhere, so if Colgate wants to do something in DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] then we can try that,” she says.
“It takes time but we are willing to invest in that because people are our most important asset. We will get a lot of help from London, if we’re talking about strategy for instance, and Allison [Coley, client president, global solutions at MEC] and her team have been very supportive. But it’s about growing what we have locally.”
The strategy for MEC’s sub-Sahara Africa operation is to develop a greater sense of autonomy from the central team, both in terms of capabilities and revenues. While the desires of its global clients have been integral to WPP’s expansion across Africa, Kambo believes local businesses may provide lucrative in the long term.
“Lots of businesses are coming up – even in the banking sector, some of the banks winning international awards are African. Local brands are starting to be strong, and are giving international brands a run for their money. You will find a local FMCG company, for instance, which only set up two or three years ago but can challenge a global brand,” she said.
“One of the things which helps is that their production is local, whereas a global company will look to import from Egypt or South Africa or wherever. Therefore, the local FMCG company can compete better. We need to have the global clients, but I feel the local clients will provide the stability.”
Alex Brownsell, London