The numbers are there, the markets are recovering, the media options are diverse. There has never been more opportunity and potential pay-off for doing media business in Africa.
Any idea what the Swahili word ‘harambee‘ means?
In Kenya’s national language, it means: “Let’s all pull together.” Harambee is a relevant and important concept in today’s world. Covid-19 has required us all to be collaborative, agile and resilient, perhaps especially in Africa, where the crisis has pared economies, stifled investment flows and slowed the pace of development in many countries.
As such, overall business conditions remain compromised. Infrastructure, regulatory systems, transparency and levels of corruption need improvement. But aggregated African GDP rebounded to 6.3% growth in 2021. High-level stakeholders have been spurred into action. The business leaders and managers I meet in the course of daily operations are taking ownership of solutions. If anything, the crisis has crystallised the scope of opportunity in Africa.
Favourable trade winds
Global mega-trends augur well. The accepted and understood importance of environment, social and governance principles will underpin improved business conditions. Shifting economic axes, already resulting in higher South-South trade, will solidify economic growth. The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), signed in early 2021 and projected to triple intra-African trade by 2030.
Digitalisation, too, is transforming the continent. The StartupBlink Global Startup Ecosystem Index Report 2021 ranks Lagos as the top start-up city in Africa, edging into the top 10% of 1 000 cities assessed worldwide for suitable infrastructure. South Africa, Namibia, Rwanda and Kenya compare well internationally. Already, online and mobile connectivity has streamlined communications for intra-continental media business. Today we are literally the press of a button away from initiating a proposal, finalising a deal or resolving a problem with any of our many media owner partners.
A fundamental of marketing – and thus of marketers’ use of media – is understanding populations and profiles. People, after all, are potential users of services and consumers of products.
Africa has the world’s second-highest and fastest-growing population, projected to increase 25% to 1.7-billion in the next decade. Unlike many developed nations, the proportion of working-age people (aged 15-64) is rising, notably in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet overall advertising spend in Africa contracted 23%, to R76-billion in 2020. The continent remains the smallest advertising market in the world, out of synch with its population.
In its Lions (still) on the move: Growth in Africa’s consumer sector report, global consultancy McKinsey projected African consumer spending to reach R32-trillion by 2025. Setbacks, including regional strife and Covid-19, have since dented this prediction, but the premise still stands: Over and above the potential demographic dividend, Africa is an entrepreneurial and dynamic market. Smart marketers should be communicating with these consumers now.
Cutting through complexity
Interestingly, I often get asked about viewer or listener numbers, where the real question should be something else: “Can you mitigate the risks involved, and can you help put together an effective plan?”
The answer is a resounding “yes”! Implementing media strategies in Africa is now supported by solid information, statistics and an ecosystem that is robust and reliable, if not always easy to navigate. Furthermore, not only are most media owners flexible and eager to negotiate based on criteria such as volumes, commitments, first-time advertiser arrangements and payment terms, but they are also willing to assist with strategies, ideation and co-creation based on a brief from the advertiser.
Still, outside of Kenya, one area of the media paradigm that continues to frustrate is the limited release of independent, standardised and comprehensive media-consumption data. To a lesser extent, the shortage of industry-wide advertising-spend information is also problematic.
Contextually, we should remember that even in the well-funded South African industry there have been significant changes in the collection and collation of this information, with strategists needing to adapt to large gaps in available data, fragmented sources and reduced synchronisation. The gist is that the importance of data and monitoring is well understood by the management of African media houses. The tools may be less sophisticated than the industry would like, but there are many information sources to guide decision-making. The Pan African Media Research Organisation, for instance, provides annual general reports on the media habits of African consumers, and publishes frequent country-specific trend bulletins. And GeoPoll, specialists in remote, mobile-based research in emerging markets, can rapidly generate bespoke insights to tailor a media or communication strategy.
Besides, complexity is no excuse; challenges should be embraced. I believe we need to become more comfortable with being uncomfortable. We need to take a degree of risk, because every act of invention, each step towards a goal, involves it.
The concern that doing business in Africa is fraught with transparency and accountability issues and administrative hurdles is overblown – and has been for many years. Where valid concerns remain, media leaders acknowledge and actively seek to address them. For instance, pushback against government influence and control or restrictions to growth is strong. Electronic media industry bodies consistently lobby for open airwaves, light-touch licensing and regulation, and equitable government campaign spending including privately owned stations. Digitisation has helped trigger recent successes in Botswana, Kenya, and Zambia, among other countries, but my associates acknowledge this to be an ongoing journey.
In the print space, it surprises many people that six African countries rank higher than the US in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.
Nevertheless, I am encouraged that African media owners continue to express concerns about government influence within the media environment. It means they aren’t being complacent. Indeed, this is one of the most impressive aspects of meeting businesspeople in Africa: a sense of dynamism, always looking ahead, seeking improvements to their core business models. Many media groups, having accelerated initiatives in the digital space, are now diversified and offer advertisers bundled platform deals across combinations of TV, radio, print, digital and outdoor, or comprehensive, value-add, 360-degree arrangements.
It’s my experience too that media owners go the extra mile to help refine clients’ campaigns and drive results. Perhaps because of the difficulties in sourcing regular data, they constantly probe for qualitative information. They are deeply insightful about their audiences or readers, and constantly strive to add value to them. In this respect I believe we have much to learn from our media colleagues in Africa.
Media in Africa remains woefully under-utilised
Building a marketing presence in Africa should no longer be considered optional. Media strategists should be looking to redefine their contribution to their clients’ business growth, and reset objectives to include penetration of populations in markets with huge potential. In almost all African countries the media landscape offers opportunities for powerful, mass-reach strategy implementation as well as niche or test-market approaches. Constructing a meaningful strategy – and ensuring its diligent fulfilment – has never been more doable.
As influencers and decision-makers, we should reframe our assumptions, and ask the right questions. Are we aligned with our clients’ business strategies in seeking opportunities for growth? Do we relate to and embody their values, which, I am almost certain, embrace inclusivity, empowerment, and equity? Are we in synch with a vision of fuelling the continental engine of economic growth, for the benefit of everyone?
If we assess doing media business in African in that context, there are huge audiences to reach, major campaign objectives to be boosted, and spiked sales results to be generated. And yes, significant profits to be made, too, provided we pull together. If we practise the spirit of harambee.
Mark Knocker founded Marnox Media 20 years ago as a specialist media representation company, selling advertising space on behalf of media owners based in neighbouring countries as well as across the African continent. Facebook: MarnoxMedia, LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/company/marnox-media/, Twitter: @MarnoxMedia, www.marnox.co.za
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