Aggrey & Clifford was recently named top independent agency by thenetworkone who organizes the prestigious “World’s Leading Independent Agencies’’award. The Exchange sat down with Rashid Tenga, Chief Executive Officer of Aggrey & Clifford to tell us about the company and take us through the journey of its success.
Tell us a little about Aggrey & Clifford and how the business idea came about.
The business idea came as a result of my passion in this industry, after I graduated from university. Prior to that, I worked for different companies. I had a stint with a company called BlueBay Advertising; then later I worked for Foote, Cone & Belding (FCB) and as I was getting close to graduating I decided that when I got back to Tanzania I would venture into doing something with my colleague at that time, Kwang Lee, also from FCB. Once I got back I started a company called Creative Eye Ltd. We were the minority shareholders of that company; the majority was owned by a businessman here in Tanzania. Three years into it we had grown the company to about three countries in Africa-Tanzania, Rwanda and Ghana. We were in those parts of the continent because one of the clients we were handling, Millicom (Tigo) was operating in those regions.
Then three years into it, I realized my vision was for building a marketing communication company, one I would like to be a part of, and second, people would want to be part of as well. I realized I could not achieve this with the partners I had at the time. So I decided to go out and build my own company and structured it in such a way that it would fit the dream I had of having a company that is truly African, understands the world of advertising and marketing communications, always aware of the surroundings and challenges that are in this part of the world (East Africa) hence the start of Aggrey & Clifford.
How has Aggrey & Clifford helped companies grow their business?
There are different measures to how brands grow. Some clients might approach you and tell you we are doing so well but nobody knows us out there so the issue becomes about publicity and them being known by creating that ‘top of the mind awareness’ (TOMA). In other aspects companies might say we are not doing so well in sales, we want people to buy our products and be the preferred choice of consumers out there. Others might say we have realized the competition is beating us on awareness and that we want to maintain the good name we always had so we want to rebrand and introduce a new corporate identity that would give us a fresher look and appeal. So we have helped brands grow in different aspects; companies have come to us because they want to introduce new products, some want to introduce their brand because they had low TOMA, some want to have more sales. So we have helped companies grow in different ways, have had a quite a solid track record.
You have a lot of companies operating in the region but only a few are accustomed to media agencies. Why do you think so?
When you say only a few are accustomed to media agency, that statement would be true to countries like Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda but for Kenya a lot of companies know the value of having a marketing communication company to assist you to build your brand. So you will find companies that make toilet paper or chewing gum advertise and have huge marketing budgets, but you rarely find that in these other East African markets for different reasons, I think.
For instance in Rwanda, few companies use marketing communication agencies but this is not because they are unaware of the benefit, but reason is that the economy is also small. So what is the likelihood of having a sizeable marketing budgeting a small economy to actually appoint a marketing communication company? In such an instance most of the budget goes to sales and distribution. However in Tanzania and Uganda, yes, your statement could hold water because historically if you look at Tanzania for instance, we were a socialist economy for many years and in such an economic landscape, it is very difficult to find marketing communication agencies existing because everything is owned by the state. You have to remember that our industry can only thrive where there is competition, like when you walk into a supermarket and you find ten different brands of shampoo or ten different brands of juice– that is when you will find marketing communication agencies thriving because there is competition between companies. So to put it simply, the advertising industry in Tanzania is very new, barely two decades.
I would assume that in Uganda given what they had gone through in the 70s, that might have slowed down the level of investment and capitalism, slowing down the economy in general and after that everything had to be rebuilt over time. Kenya is the only market across East Africa that has been consistent its economic policy for quite some time, since its independence, and it is no wonder the awareness of marketing communication is quite high there. Most multinationals see it as a hub.
Out of the three regions you operate in, which is your most lucrative and why?
Tanzania, being that this is where the company is founded. We have built our business in trying to understand our home ground and becoming good at building brands at home and then slowly working our way out to other parts of the East African region. As in any business, you have to be good at what you do at home otherwise if you go to other markets you will find other people who call that place home and it becomes difficult to challenge and become competitive.
Most companies are shifting their focus towards digital platforms. How is Aggrey and Clifford harnessing this trend?
We have had to also move in that direction; it is something that is happening globally. I think in each market there are different ways in which companies are required to adopt or assimilate to this change and we have to consider different ways of how to tackle that. Two years ago we launched a Below-The-Line division that introduced one of a kind digital platform to keep track of activations in real time. Meaning clients, anywhere in the World, are able to see what’s happening on the field through their phones and computers. An improvement of the same innovation has given our business growth into sales and distribution. Also, last year we launched a division called Binary, a digital media company in which we have signed a number of influences who we have exclusive rights to, to put ads on their social platforms and we saw that as one of the ways to build brands in the social or digital media that is quite effective in this part of the world. The challenge is: do you just go put ads on Google, or Facebook, or do you place your brands where the content is generated and preferably by the person who generates the content for you to become believable? That approach was more appealing to us and so we started the division which is doing quite well.
There are a number of media agencies in Tanzania competing for the same big brands. How has Aggrey & Clifford managed to set itself apart from its competitors?
We do not really worry much about what the competition is doing. That is not our way of thinking. To set us apart from what the competition is doing is to say we have a great understanding of what the competition is doing. We only know what they are doing on the surface. As to what makes them different or how we should do things differently we do not really look much into it. Our focus is into trying to make our systems, structures and our people become world class but at the same time have a great understanding of the local insights. So you will realize for instance at Aggrey & Clifford we have people from Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, India and at one point we had people from South America, USA and so on. That is because we try to get the best breed from all over the world with a great understanding of what is happening in the advertising industry. Infusing that with a great local understanding of the market, so as to come up with solutions that would bring positive results where we operate, and further ensure that the execution is at a level that would be appreciated globally. Now that’s where our focus is, not what others are doing.
How would you assess the Tanzanian market in terms of current and future growth potential?
Currently with the cry of less liquidity in the economy, companies have slashed their budgets, so companies are now more careful of what they spend on and how they spend it. That has had a significant impact on the industry as a whole so we are waiting to see if it will change but we remain positive that things will work out for the best.
What are some of the challenges you face as a company in meeting your objectives?
We handle mostly corporate clients, so the understanding of what we do and the value we bring to the table is really not an issue but every now and again we come across clients- local clients mostly -who do not understand the value that we bring to the table. Operating in this market where you have people or institutions that come and gauge or evaluate what it is that you do, that becomes difficult to explain in this part of the world. So you find, for example, students who graduate from universities here in Tanzania do not have a great understanding of the marketing industry so it makes it very difficult for companies such as ourselves to recruit people who lack a good understanding of marketing communication, so we have to spend a lot of resources on training.
We are in partnership with Vega School of Advertising in South Africa whereby twice a year they come to Tanzania and train our people just to bring them up to speed with the rest of the world.
We would benefit greatly if the government had put a closer eye on how to support local marketing communications companies as you know we are the only one at this level in the market that is locally owned, the rest are foreign owned companies. For example, you would not have companies such as Publicis which is a huge advertising company based in France, if the French government for many years did not protect that industry; that is why companies such as Dentsu from Japan, WPP from UK and others have thrived. So in Africa we need to make sure we do the same thing, we protect our own.
What advice do you have for young entrepreneurs at a start-up level?
Make sure that you do what you love. Do not get into something because it looks appealing or because people from a particular industry seem to have the right clothes, cars and so on. I think young people get misled that way. For example, you might find people getting into legal services because they see lawyers in suits and cars. Whatever it is that you choose to get into, the first thing should be the passion for the industry. I did not get into this industry because I thought there was money to be made; I got into it because I love advertising. Anybody who knows me well will tell you it is something that I like and I enjoy doing immensely.