Recession has beat down auto shows —Aina-Scott

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The founder of the Nigeria Auto Awards and publisher of On Wheels magazine, Mr. Jabez Aina-Scott, shares his marketing experience with TOBI AWORINDE

Why was it important for you to launch an awards platform for the auto industry?

We did not start with the awards. We came out originally as a service provider for the industry. We felt that as an industry unlike any other, the auto industry would also need service providers in the area of public relations, product exposure, recruitment and product presentation, launching, awareness and so on. When you have all that not being done, what we thought we needed to do was go in there and tell these things to them. We felt we needed to take advantage of the skills we had. Fortunately, they saw the need for those things we recommended.

They would bring in products and put them in their showrooms. Back then, you would hardly see newspaper adverts, unlike now. After bringing in the vehicles into their showrooms, because most of them were in highly commercial areas (in Lagos) like Adeola Odeku and other places on the island, they thought that people passing by would do most of the buying. But it turned out that they needed something more than that. That was how we came in with our knowledge of the media. So, we were able to talk to them and over time, they yielded. As you would expect, there was some resistance. Those who did that later had to change their minds when they saw that it was paying off for others, especially in terms of product launches.

We invited managing directors of business organisations to see the latest in cars. Note that some organisations give cars to their staff as per their level in the organisation. For instance, in a company, they could say all managers at so-and-so level would drive a Toyota Camry or a Nissan Primera, which meant they were not likely to buy just one at any time. They could buy between 10 and 20, depending on the number of managers. Those were the things we found out for them, wrote papers on and presented to them. When they tried it, it worked like magic and that was the sell-out.

How did your research change your mindset about the auto industry?

Initially, my impression of car sales was more of salesmanship because that was what we had been seeing. So, when I got in, I thought about using alternative methods. That was where product launching, exhibition, and other ideas came in. There is a guy in the industry that does auto shows every year. Your product goes there, so that people who attend will also see your products. The economy has beat down that aspect of the business because you will discover that people are not coming to the show anymore. But we encourage them to go for exhibitions.

Alliance Autos trained me through Nissan. South Africa, I think, was a major route through which those things (vehicles) are brought into Nigeria. I am not too sure. But I have attended several workshops and trainings there. I have also had the opportunity of going to Spain, and Iran, which has a good auto industry that Nigerians won’t believe. All of this would expose me to what happens in other climes, which could be borrowed to help uplift the country.

Where did your love for PR come from and how did you transition to auto?

When I was in secondary school, there was only one Rediffusion (channel) in the whole school. In those days, there was Rediffusion (broadcast channel) in all the houses in Nigeria, broadcast by the Rediffusion Company of Nigeria. It would give you news and music. Those who had a lot of money would buy Radiogram, but it was not as popular.

In school, on Fridays, there was this man, Benson Idonije, who was a disc jockey and when he started introducing the programme, I was always fascinated by his elocution. He was the one that spurred my interest in broadcasting. I felt, ‘If somebody can be talking like this, apart from people knowing him, he would have a lot of money.’ I think by the time I finished my secondary school, I found myself gravitating towards mass communication. I went to University of Lagos and eventually went into sociology. I ended up working with Lagos Television. All of that brought me the joy I wanted.

I also discovered that in secondary school, I always had good grades in English, even in composition and history. Even as young as I was, I knew that writing was my strength. I said to myself, ‘I won’t allow this to die.’ So, I had to start a magazine for the auto industry, On Wheels. This magazine was also what I used to penetrate the market. There was a company that engaged me permanently as the public relations officer, but I would also say, ‘You’ve just brought out this product. We could do the art design for you, create a little event for you and so on.’ That was what led to the creation of our PR agency, MMQ (Multiple Media Quality).

How long did you spend in broadcasting?

I spent 32 years with LTV. My involvement in the auto industry started there. I had this small note that I carried around in my pocket which I called the book of ideas. One of those days, I wrote: ‘On Wheels is designed for everything that runs on wheels.’ Initially, it was airplanes, cars, bikes and so on. I discovered over time that it would be too difficult to put them together. Initially, it went well, but after a while, I saw the airplane people dropped off. So, I decided to focus on the automobile sector.

I then started a radio programme. We were talking about automobiles generally. Dunlop was still around then and they were big. I would write the scripts, get a radio presenter to read them, and a member of my staff would take it to Ogun Radio. We weren’t making money, and I was thinking about (paying) salaries. So, I said to myself, ‘This thing is getting tough.’ One day, I went to the advertising agency and got the commercials of Dunlop and another company.

We played them and all of a sudden, people started going to Dunlop to say, ‘How can you be sponsoring a good programme and not tell us?’ Engineer Lawal, who is now my best friend, was in charge of things like that back then. He started looking for us; we didn’t know anyway. One day, after about three months, somebody showed up at our office and took me to Dunlop. That was how I met Lawal, who was complaining that I was going to get him in trouble for using their jingles without telling them. He took me to the MD. When I got there, I played him one of the episodes and he said, ‘This is good. Lawal, let’s sponsor this programme.’ I was so excited.

We eventually took the programme to NTA 2 Channel 5. That was after Dunlop closed down. We tried as much as possible to keep it on, but the financial burden was too much. So, I went to print and since then, I have not looked back.

What inspired you to launch the Nigeria Auto Awards?

We noted that the industry was so dull, like it is now. They were not doing anything. They had a body that was not holding meetings. So, I asked, ‘How can we bring these people together?’ That was how we started the Nigeria Auto Awards. Up till two years ago, we held the awards for 21 uninterrupted years. What we then did, to extricate ourselves from blames of bias, was to make it an open system (of evaluation) that would make outsiders participate in choosing the car of the year. There was even a year we went on Cool FM and people voted. To a large extent, Toyota has dominated the awards. It is now being pursued seriously by (President/CEO of Coscharis Group) Cosmos Maduka because the rate at which Fords have sold is unprecedented.

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