Majority of Creative Works in 2015 Elections Were Done By ‘Brief Case’ Agencies | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Majority of Creative Works in 2015 Elections Were Done By ‘Brief Case’ Agencies

Steve-Babaeko
Posted: Apr 28, 2016 at 2:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

Olamide Bakare

Lagos

In the creative industry business, some small agencies are towering high above established players one of which include X3M Ideas.It is arguably one of the fastest growing agencies in Nigeria having won several awards within limited time of its existence. In this encounter with Olamide Bakkare, Steve Babaeko who runs the three year old agency dwells more on his business, industry growth drivers, the new revolution among other issues.
There is a new revolution in the industry where equity partnership seems to be a trend and affiliation dying out. In your view, what is the future of equity partnership?
Right now, the APCON law says no foreign agency can own above 25% in a local agency. As long as you are a member of AAAN and by implication you are registered with APCON and licensed to practice, you must adhere to that law because that is the law may be tomorrow it will change if the law increases it, may be.  For now, that is what seems to dictate the future that we are headed.
If somebody today offers to buy 25% stake in your company, would you sell it?
If you had asked me this question about a year ago, I would have said no. But this year (now), with the unfolding reality, I will say may be. But then, it won’t be dependent about money or equity participation alone, I want to see that the value you are bring to the table is really worth it. This is like a marriage, you don’t just see a beautiful woman and say “come to my house”, if you guys are not compatible there will surely be crisis. So it is about the value system, the culture. If I can see somebody or organization whose culture is similar to ours! And our culture is simple, we want to create fantastic works, we want to break boundaries, we want to be innovative and edgy in our creative works. I see somebody with these values then, sure we can sit down and talk.
 
 
 
Let paint a sinister picture of a crash which kills all the frontline players, what will happen to the industry?
God forbid! But you know what nature abhors a vacuum, there is no vacuum in nature. This same scenario you painted happened to the Zambian national team one time and do we still have a Zambian national team today? Yes, we do. In that wise, a new crop of people will emerge and take over and move the business forward. Even by the definition of the so called “one-man agency” tag, it does not doenough justice or service to structure of especially some the very credible, professional agencies we have in place. Mind you, the leaders of those leading agencies you talked about do travel, some of them attend course for months and yet those operations run, the agencies still function. So if it runs while you are not there even if with the aid of technology or whatever, there are structures that allow it not to be tied to the apron strings of the CEO. If you look at the structure of the Wieden + Kennedy, Droga 5, there will always be one guy that looks like he is the face of the agency even internationally. Look at Martin Sorrell, these are the faces of the brand, it does not mean the apron strings of the operations are tied to their waists.
Without an academy or formidable training institution in Nigeria, what is driving the industry?
I think the individual passion of key individuals and key institutions within the business that is still driving up new talent. Until a couple of years ago when a couple of us entered into this business  again and brought a little bit of panache to it, you didn’t find many young people who will wake up and say “I want to become an ad-man”. That generation of that was dying away but its picking up now, you could see the way young people trump these new marketing academies if you go there, you’ll see that the passion for advertising is on the upswing again. And it’s just due to a few individuals who are passionate and spreading the gospel about creativity and being able to build brands and I think that is where the future lies.  Can we do a lot better that we are doing? I think “Yes”. Can AAAN now suddenly kick-start the academy like it has tried very hard under Kelechi Nwosu’s leadership? I think “Yes”. I think it is possible to do a lot more better in the industry.
Nigerian agencies are usually not bold enough to identify with their works for politicians unlike creative for FMCG brands, what is responsible for this attitude?
There are a number of things we do as Nigerians because those things are buried into our social cultural idiosyncrasies as a people where an elderly man talks to you and you are not supposed to talk back at him because he is an elderly man. That is our culture, you respect elders. So if you do that you do not want to be seen in public then because the way politics work in Nigeria is still a winner takes all syndrome where you control everything including the Central Bank and the business fortune of the people who are either for opposition or not. Once you create a level playing field for all Nigerians or agencies, such that there will be no repercussion if your client loses an election then people will be able to come out boldly and say this is we are working or we worked on this campaign and we did a credible job. We find agencies in the UK they outwardly support their parties either Labour or Conservative and they work assiduously at it and they get paid handsomely too. And when any of the parties wins or loses, nothing happens to the agencies’ business. No one or organ of government threatens to shut down your business or so. What happens here, I think it is still part of our social cultural system but ones a level playing field is created that it does not matter either your party or candidate loses or wins then agencies will be bold enough to stand by their works for political parties because there will be no repercussions.
The last general election that ushered in this new administration, did you work for any of the political parties?
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to work for any political party or politician. If we had we would have gladly do it. I believe as marketing experts we are like surgeons, we are experts in marketing communications. If there is a marketing challenge and you come to us, we shall proffer marketing solutions. I have no nothing against agencies working on political campaigns. It is the norm outside this country.
Sitting back, how would you assess the quality of the works that were churned out during the elections?
To be honest, it is a difficult position to access the jobs of your colleagues. However, what I can say generally is that what I saw as the general trend was that it looks to me that most of the communications were created by briefcase agencies or man-know-man one-man outfits that were not professional and it showed in the total packaging of the jobs because in few instances that where I saw that agencies actually worked on some of the campaigns, I saw the difference, you could see a professional structure to these particular ones. It should tell us that even for the political class may be for the next round of elections, it will be desirable to talk to professionals to work on their campaigns.
 
 
In the last elections, there were agencies who created Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs) to work for the elections and their flagship brands were not in the forefront of running those campaigns, could that have been the reason why the campaign materials were not tagged?
It could be, although I am not aware of this information. It could be well one of the reasons. Again, this translates that we need to sanitise our social-cultural thinking elsewhere in the world, some stand for Labour not because Labour not necessarily because wants to pay them, they do this because they believe in the ideals of the Labour Party, so they’ll go ahead and work for the party. May be when we get to that place where ideals and ideologies begin to drive our thinking when it comes to political issues. As an advertising person, ideally, you don’t sell what you don’t believe in. We work for Etisalat brand for instance, I have three phones and they are all Etisalat which means you can’t call me on another network because I don’t have another network. The reason is that I want to be able to know if network has issues, let it not be outsiders telling me. I know and experience it because that is what I use. Same thing goes for all the brands that we manage, I am passionate about them.
Are you not worried that some agencies who are being owed on account of last elections may be seriously affected sooner or later?. Further into the earlier question,as someone who has been running business for few years now, what are the consequences of such debt on the industry. Are you also worried that Nigerian Agencies are not quoted on the stock exchange, what is the likely effect of this?
Although I have no figures and possibly do not know much about this, I could not say who was owed and who is not.  However, if it is true that some people were owed or were not paid fully, of course, it will further acerbate the debt issue – the crisis we have in the media sector. Now you start to ask yourself which one came first, is it the chicken or the egg? Is it because clients are owing agencies that agencies are owing media houses? Or is it because media house are being owed that they in turn are owing their suppliers? It is a complicated question. The truth is if you really want to run a very decent operation where you allow your conscience to be your guard in this business, once the client pays you, you pay the media house as when due. This is the most I can say on this.
On the second and probably more critical issue of agencies out-living their founders, even for other  sectors such as the media, how many of us as entrepreneurs  have built in structures in our businesses to ensure that they outlive us? It is obvious that this is one problem that we are all still grappling with in the Nigerian private sector. I am sure if you ask most agency owners they’ll tell you “in my heart I really want this business to outlive me” because that is what we all hope and pray for. I just hope time has come for all of us to take active steps to open up our business. Even if we don’t quote it on the stock exchange, we can do private equity listing and open up the board and let more people participate because you will be richer for it, corporate governance becomes more enforced, you’ll know its not just you just picking up your check and signing off anything. You are accountable to set of people, your own team and your board. You have to sell the vision of what you are trying to run. I am sure we will get to that point, I am sure that it is not far away. In Nairobi, we have agencies  quoted on the stock exchange.
Today,the fall in the price of all is affecting all sectors of the economy and I am aware  the agency is not insulated. How does a revolutionary agency wriggle out of this situation?
Sure, the fall in the price of oil in the global market affects all. A revolutionary agency the only way to get out such situation is to be more creative because the client is throwing you more briefs and challenges with far less budget. This is the time to tell the difference between agencies that really know their onions from those that are only out to make money. If it is only about making money, then you know the budget is already gone to the dogs as it is. An associated issue is the challenge of funding projects, elsewhere, you could get a mortgage for longer period of time and not only that, interests are in the single digits in the UK for instance. Everybody knows that the interest rate is crazy here, it’s quite high, there are certain capital projects that you want to embark on what choice do you have? You have to cope with the reality of the high cost of funds. At the same time, how do you plan? You have to make sure that you plan your operation. It’s all about planning. It you fail to plan, you plan to fail! How am I going to embark on my capital project still battling with the high interest rate and still be able to plan and not over expose yourself to the point where you begin to affect your cash-flow and you can’t manage simple overheads and salaries anymore.  All these bother on careful planning.
How does the forex crisis affect agency operations?
It affects the industry significantly, clients the real sector –Oil & Gas, FMCG etc are cutting the numbers in terms of staff.  Jobs are being lost because clients are cutting costs significantly and this is happening in several sectors. What we do as an agency is to be able to expose our people. The numbers of agencies that will go to Canes this year are probably going to drop by 50% though I do not have any statistics. Why? because if you spent N2million to send your people to Cannes last year, you are going to use double the amount this year because of the devaluation of the naira. This is one way it affects agencies because it is important for your people to be exposed at that global level. The talk in the industry is “we want to win Cannes Lions”, you have to go to Cannes to win Cannes lions. So if the economy makes it impossible for you to even attend, how are you going to win? So you can see some of the challenges facing this business.
You just commissioned a new office three years after setting up, what is the idea behind it and how were you able to achieve it within that shortest time?
I think it is a matter of God’s grace. God grace has been a huge factor in the business.
Two strong reasons, the first is our people. The environment you operate from is important. If you put people in one face-me-I –face-you apartment and you tell them to be creative, how are they going to be creative. So you bring them out and you set up something like this, a much more edifying environment for people to now create, it is my strong conviction that they will create a lot better. I can see different, I can see the transformation and the results. You want to send the people ton war to fight, you tie their legs and their hands behind them, you take away their guns, how are they going to win the war? To whom much is given, much is expected.  We have provided a conducive environment for people to unleash their creativity.
The second reason for this is our client. If we are able to harp up and improve the level of creativity of our people, it will directly impact on the business of our clients talking about businesses we have in our custody. The clients are able to the results, are guys are getting more creative. The brands they give us to manage are reaping the rewards. Those are the two reasons why we did what we had to do.
As an entrepreneur, what are the key factors or values that got you to this height so soon?
For me it is discipline -fiscal discipline.  This business is not the business for showing off and self aggrandizement.   The margins are quite small in advertising contrary to what most people believe. If you cannot manage the margins very well and operate with a strict fiscal discipline – salaries to pay, overheads to run, the entire P& L to take care of – if you do anyhow, the results can be disastrous.  Again, starting is important but sustaining is quite more important. If you look at records is a country, you find out that people star well at times but they are not able to sustain it – may get derailed along the line, lose vision, focus but if you keep consistent focus on the spirit of the business you set out to build and the culture you are out to create, it doesn’t even matter either you are there or not, culture can be enduring.
Four years ago, you are a salary earner. Today, you are paying salaries as an employer. Are there lessons to be learnt in the transition?
What has work for me in my career since I started about 21 years ago is that if you work for someone, pretend you are working for yourself. That is the only saving grace you have because you are working for yourself if doesn’t matter whether you boss is offset with you, the client did not smile at you or your colleague is trying to play politics, you don’t quit and say because such and such thing happens let me abandon the business, you will stay the course if you are working for yourself. It makes you more together and focused. If God now blesses you and you start to work for yourself, pretend as if you are working for someone else because that will safe you. Wherever, you are working now earning salaries, if they say resumption is 8:30am, there is a reason why you are not allowed to come there at 12:30pm. There is a reason why you are not allowed to go to finance and take N5million and fly to Dubai and do shopping. If you now feel that you are now working for yourself and you can do all those things, you kill your own business. That is the mantra I use. Today, I work like if I don’t do my job somebody is going to fire me. I am one of the first people to resume here and I am one of the last people to leave. I love my job.
You have written many copies, what was the most unforgettable or challenging of them all?
This in itself is challenging but let me say the “Proudly Nigeria” campaign for BAT.  I remembered that  One Kingsley Wheaton was the Marketing Director in British American Tobacco then. They wanted to start local manufacture of the product and a research shows about 14% of the consumer claimed they will boycott the product because they fell the locally produced product will be inferior to the foreign one. So they gave us the brief. Why it was challenging was that there was no written brief. A verbal brief – I don’t want you to say made in Nigeria or anything like that just do a campaign that will help us break the ground and subliminally communicate to Nigerians that things made in Nigeria are not necessarily inferior to the foreign ones. So you see where the complexity of the brief comes from. We came up with that campaign, it generated so much debate, “Oh BAT is doing this because they just want to sell more cigarettes while some people were saying they don’t care whatever they want to sell but that for the first time in the country a brand is standing up for this country. So I think that was very complex. I have been working on the campaign throughout but I finally cracked it 2:30am in the morning. I called Suleiman Momoh, my art director that I have cracked it, he created that logo. I called and told him that early morning while he was sleeping, “O’boy, I don crack am”. He said, “Idiot leave me alone”. It was very exciting for me. 
 
What is the plan of the company going forward?
Considering that we are just three years old and we are just trying to grow in this business, I can tell you that we do have plans. Honestly, I won’t even mind to be the first agency to be quoted on the stock exchange. It is not a bad ambition to have. It means that if you can raise more money, more equity for this business, we can do bigger things. If being self funded, we are able to do all that we have done, you can imagine what happens when we open up the business and there are more money invested in the business then we can do a lot more.