Mike Adenuga inspires me each time I meet him— Babaeko

Steve Babaeko is a fast-rising digital advertising/ marketing/branding entrepreneur. He is the group chief executive officer of X3M Group, made up of X3M Ideas, X3M Music and Zero Degrees, among others. In this interview with ODINAKA ANUDU, he speaks on how he gets his inspiration, the advertising industry and prospects for 2019.

 What is your assessment of the out-going year?

I think it has been pretty tough. Ideally, in an election year or a run-up to an election, they say businesses/economy,  especially the marketing communications industry, should heave a sigh of relieve or enjoy some boost, but that has 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 is 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 would rather stay away from doing political marketing for now. However, overall it has been a challenging year for businesses in Nigeria but hopefully, this last quarter, some people and businesses may experience more spending which is good for the economy.

But government actually 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 has been challenging, a couple of business/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 are facing challenges, imagine the reverberations  or after-effects on productivity and the economy in general.

In the advertising sector of the economy, have there been positive landmark developments in the outgoing year pointing to 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 almost 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.

There has been this perennial discussion around consolidation, as it is happening in the banking sector. Why are players in your industry not keen about this?

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 down 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 big agency that will be able to fly the flag for the industry more effectively. People may lose one or two titles or so but the industry and profession is certainly going to be more viable and the better for it. 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.

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, and 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 – Johannesburg, Lusaka. We just 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, if you like. 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.

How do you sit in Lagos and run those offices?

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. For every time I go 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 has been a year of continuous learning from the grand master.

It was at about this time last year that 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 deliver your best. That is a kind of inspiration. So, it has been an inspirational year for us – going in there, listening to him, taking his suggestions and feedbacks. Sometimes, you go and maybe 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 has been one year of fun, learning and excitement. Some of the big commercials we shot in the year were for Glo – to sell the World Cup and the Glo Oga sim.

Any Awards to their credit?

Yes, quite a number of them. We have already won about three African Crystals for Glo at the pan-African level and then at the last Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival (LAIF), X 3M 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.

How has the businesses impacted each other?

Honestly, if you compare our business to Glo, it is like a drop in the ocean. There is really no basis for comparison. 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 next 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. In the year, I emerged the vice president of the AAAN under the president, Ikechi  Odigbo. We would really want to continue to actuallise some of the promises we made during the elections. We have started some: The AAAN secretariat today is no longer what it used to be six months after as it is looking fantastic. The last LAIF Awards held with support our LAIF partners, members of association, the exco and clients. Now, we want to make sure in 2019 that all the efforts to push the awards beyond the Nigerian shore materialise. We are not giving up.

For X3M Ideas, we really want to explore this continent. The opportunities are fantastic. There are 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 thing 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.

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