2019: Key Clients Strengthen our Resolve to Explore Africa ’s 1.3bil Population – Babaeko
In this interview premised on reviewing 2018 and projecting into 2019,Steve Babaeko, CEO X3M Ideas with operations in Nigeria and Southern Africa says it’s time to go Pan –African as continent offers fantastic opportunities for businesses. With exposure and learning from critical clients, he looks with relish on exploring African sub-regions, he explained while fielding questions on how to explore Africa ‘s 1.3bil population, sundry business issues and the industry.
What is your assessment of the year 2018, business wise?
I think it’s pretty tough. Ideally, in an election year or a run-up to an election, they do say businesses/economy especially the marketing communications industry should heave a sigh of relieve, or enjoy some boost but that’s not been happening if the current situation in the country is anything to go by. That general notion too may not be the case for X3M Ideas because we have deliberately stayed away from that genre of (political) communication. This is because we want to be able to stand by anything we sell. If I am marketing a brand, it’s sure a brand I believe in. All the brands we work for are brands I totally believe in. I do not want to sell a thing I do not believe in which is why we’ll rather stay away from doing political marketing for now. However, overall it’s been a challenging year for businesses in Nigeria but hopefully, in the last quarter some people and businesses experienced more spending which is good for the economy.
What are the parameters for that submission, government wants us to believe things are looking up?
Well they must have their own statistics but for me as an entrepreneur, I am looking at the brand health indices for some of the sectors of the economy. For instance, manufacturing – I know it’s been challenging, a couple of businesses/manufactures have actually closed down; Procter & Gamble closed their factory in Agbara, even in the banking sector, we are witnesses to the turmoil going on in there. These were the some of the viable sectors of the economy so if they’re facing challenges, imagine the reverberations or after effects on productivity and the economy in general.
In the advertising sector of the economy, are there positive landmark developments in 2018 that suggest growth?
Well, I will answer “Yes” and “No”. Yes, because you can feel that the regular players – top five or six agencies are still there, able to weather the storm, which is good news. “No”, because you know that so many agencies have practically disappeared today, no thanks to the squeeze in the economy. The real thing is that the clients we all work for are limited in number but the agencies keep opening shops, there is more internal competition among these agencies scampering for those pieces of business. Therefore, you have to be in the top five or six brackets to be able to keep your head above the water. So it’s been pretty challenging.
Does this bring to your mind, Sir Steve Omojafor’s position on consolidation in the industry, you followed that line of thought a few years ago. Do you still advocate same?
Honestly. It beats my imagination. Getting an answer may be pretty difficult. I know Sir Steve Omojafor said what he said because he can suggest it but he cannot force agencies to merge or acquire each other and consolidate to build a bigger agency or media enterprise. The way I see it is that at some point, we would be forced to go that route because the more you have all these bits and pieces agencies, the more volatile our industry becomes. So the ideal is to have a few big and very viable agencies that will be able to fly the flag for the industry more effectively. The bankers do it every day, in manufacturing, it happens. Advertising? I am not sure we have got to that level of business sophistication where we can see the big picture that will make us say it is the right way to go.
Do you see the growth happening in 2019 as against the lull of 2018?
It will take common sense to dictate that to happen. Once we begin to realise that 100 percent of zero naira is zero. So if you want to own your own space without doing any business, you might as well close shop or if you have the alternative of buying into other people’s business and become a bigger force, people will gradually see the sense in the latter and follow that line.
About a year ago, you commenced your Southern Africa operation, how has it been?
Quite frankly, working in a new country is challenging. It involves new set of regulations, tax regimes among others, you have to just work by the law. Be that as it may, we are trying to get used to that space – X3M Ideas Johannesburg, Lusaka. We are resolved to explore Africa. Towards the end of the year, we did some business in Accra. If that business continues to do well, I am sure, we may consider setting up in Accra as well. I am really excited because we are the only local agency in the country today, operating at that regional level. We are like trailblazers in our bid to explore Africa. It is mostly the foreign advertising networks that usually do what we are doing at the moment. We are sort of experimenting and paving the way for other agencies on the continent to be able to go this route, explore Africa.
What’s your model for overseeing X3M Ideas’ foreign offices from Lagos, in addition what the motivation?
Technology makes it happen. But beyond this, because of the kind of the work we do, I have the opportunity to sit in front of big time entrepreneurs. Every time I go out there to present to them, believe me, it is like being in a business school. Though just presenting, but I watched the way they run their operations and I am inspired. I am learning from those well grounded business moguls like Dr. Mike Adenuga, Chairman, Globacom. Every opportunity of being in front of him in the last one year, it’s been a year of continuous learning from the grand master.
Just about a year ago, X3M Ideas won the Glo Business, how has it been, working for the brand?
Within me I think it is one of the most interesting businesses we have ever had to work on. You are talking about the Chairman who is totally passionate about advertising, not every client is like that, so that is the edge you have working on the Globacom account first and foremost. The Chairman is passionate, will give you all the support you need, he will push you, challenge you to deliever your best. That is a kind of inspiration. So, it has been an inspirational year for us – going in there, listening to him speak, take his suggestions and feed backs. Sometime, you go and may be, he is not pleased with the concept you brought, he has a way of challenging you and provoking those ideas that make you come back better. I do not think this affects the Globacom business alone, some of the support and suggestions he has given us over the year has made our entire team stronger. I think it’s been one year of fun, learning and excitement. Some of the biggest commercials we shot in the year were for Glo – World Cup and the Glo Oga sim.
How were they received, any Awards?
Yes, quite a number of them. We already won about three African Crystals for Glo at the pan-African level and then at the last Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival (LAIF), X3M Ideas won five awards for Glo – 2 Gold and a couple of Silver and Bronze medals. It is actually more difficult for you not to win because the Chairman really encourages you to display creativity, he wants you to think and think big. He puts everything behind you to make sure these big ideas actually fly and you succeed with them.
It’s a 2-way thing, how has the businesses impacted each other?
Honestly if you compare our business to Glo, it’s like a drop in the ocean, there is really no basis to compare. But I will say we have really drawn inspiration. Some of the things we are doing now are inspired by our relationship. The Chairman believes in excellence so much. Each time I watch how much energy he puts in, if he could still work this hard, I am more determined to work harder and be a better person than I am today.
What does the new year hold for the industry?
Hopefully, the election/transition will happen smoothly, once that is achieved, I believe we are going to see the rise of the industry and the Nigerian economy in general. 2018, I emerged the Vice President of the AAAN, under the President, Ikechi Odigbo, we would really want to continue to actualize some of the promises we made during the elections. We have started: the AAAN secretariat today is no longer what it used to be six months ago, it’s wearing a new fantastic; The 2018 LAIF Awards held with support from LAIF partners, members of association, the exco and clients. Now, we want to make sure that in 2019, all the efforts to explore Africa by pushing the awards beyond the Nigerian shore, materialize. We aren’t giving up.
For X3M Ideas, we really want to explore this continent. The opportunities are fantastic, 1.3billion people on the average, what else do we need to be able to trade among ourselves? We want to go beyond sticking a pin somewhere on the map. The level of poverty on the continent, is probably greater than anywhere else. The only way to get out of poverty and pain is to encourage entrepreneurship. We need people to provide leadership, create opportunities and platforms that will get people out of poverty. This is what we are really passionate about, we might be doing East African and extend slightly to West Africa.