Dr. Henry Nzekwu has marketed the Rivers State’s annual cultural event-CARNIRIV over the years, scaling it up to a glamorous event people watch for. He told Roland Ogbonnaya recently that plan for this year’s event is on as he also looked at the emerging trends in events management
The Rivers State annual Carnival—CARNIRIV is a celebratory convergence and display of remarkable cultural content, originality and aesthetics that provides deep insight into the rich heritage of the people of Rivers State, Nigeria. According to the organisers, it is a marriage of art, beauty, tradition, colour and entertainment that dates back to 1988.
It is about showcasing what is essentially a way of life of the people of Rivers State, Nigeria by taking it out of the mundane to give it the status of an art form. Its revival in 2008 gives credence to the deep sense of heritage and pride found among the people of Rivers State, Nigeria.
Port Harcourt ‘the Garden City” and host city for CARNIRIV fills up each year with citizens and visitors eager to explore the abundant tourism potentials in the state. The cream of cultural dancers and performers, the floats, the colourful masquerades, royalties, artistes and celebrities from all over the world makes CARNIRIV the undisputable melting pot of culture and tradition in its most elaborate form.
However, over the years, one man that has been associated with the event is Dr. Henry Nzekwu, who has systematically and quietly been transforming strategic marketing communication from a pedestrian point of view to a higher perspective. Across the country, he has been able to make success of some events, the Rivers State annul end of the year street party—CARNIRIV being one of them.
For Nzekwu, he is just doing his job. “I am not sure whether we have done enough to transform marketing in the country. But what I know for certain is that the companies I have run in the past and the team I have always put together have been primed and trained to doing things at a higher level. I just do not want to use the word being professional. We try to be creative, very analytical in breaking down what the problems are and so the solutions that we come up with are all embracing.
“They are geared towards tackling or solving whatever issues it is. When it comes to implementation, the tactical leg of what we do, we do not spare expenses and we do not cut corners and so, we pay attention to details. Maybe the totality of the way we approach our work is what has given us good marks and repeat business that we get from our clients. That simply is what we have chosen to be,” he said.
From someone with a background in medicine, he definitely would have challenges in marketing and event management and trying to be the best in that sector. He told THISDAY that his training as a medical doctor armed him with tools and the skills to do what “I am doing today. I think that medicine by its very nature equips you to deal with the human being, to look at society and the community. You are not, just treating that individual alone, but you are looking at the environment as a whole and that is the principle that I have brought to bear on the work that we have been doing.
“So it is not that strange. But more importantly, I need to make this point, that for me as a person, I have always considered myself as one who is sitting astride two realms in terms of arts and sciences. I am pretty much an artist as much as I am a science person. And so more of the things that happen within the artistic side, which is where you find marketing communication, have never been strange to me.
“Of course in the beginning when we started, we had challenges. In the early days, some of us were branded illegal practitioners, and we had the advertising agencies come to us just basically to ascertain our level, our competence and our structures. Many years ago, after three such visits, we were adjudged good enough to be registered and I know that subsequently, it was not just myself or the company that I run. There were other persons in the same boat as I am. We were all meant to go to Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) to undergo a crash programme, subsequent upon which we were certified good enough to practice.
“In the beginning, when people hear that you are coming and they already know your background, they are thinking what does he really have to offer and so we never pass-off on an opportunity to sit in front of the client and share with that client what we know. And many times we must have done that, we actually get our opportunity to do the job,” Nzekwu stressed.
He identified challenges, institutional, peer group, “challenges where people are thinking oh, you have come to take our job, what business do you have being here. You are supposed to be a doctor, you are endowed, you are already making it somewhere, what business do you have being here. And my answer has always been that if you are a doctor, engineer or you are an artist, if we all can contribute to the betterment of our society, we all can come up with solutions that address the myriad of problems that we have.” He said that it doesn’t matter where or how one is providing that service, when the commonality in all that everybody is doing is for the betterment of the society, country and indeed the world.
During the France 1998 World Cup Nzekwu set up a formidable team that raised the bar in both programming, content and marketing and Nigerian viewers were impressed. If given another opportunity he said he could beat that achievement. He explained that France ‘98 World Cup was one huge challenge and “I am very happy that in fact everywhere I travel, many people still come and ask me about the state of our football, sports, the state of television, and broadcast and what is going on. Now you must remember that as at that time the way the NTA ran its international sports programme was different from what I think happens now.
“They sold the marketing right to companies. I think two or three had attempted that before me. When we looked at it at that time, we worked actually in partnership with a man I consider a mentor in this business, Mr. Lere Awokoya of then Concept Unit. We looked at it and always felt there was a better way as nothing sits still in life. We did our homework and we felt there were certain elements, we needed to bring up; what I mean is those days, if you remember, lets say for instance, if you have Ghana playing Zambia and all you have is two Nigerians sitting down analysing the match, l bet that no matter how knowledgeable you are about their football, it will be more credible if you have a Zambian and a Ghanaian, on the set talking to us about their teams. That was one of the things we sort to do with France 98.
“Secondly, we realised at the time that the quality of the sets, the studios, did not meet up with emerging technology and interactivity. Then it was basically less email was the just coming in. We had the phone-in and thought we could have a studio were all of these things could be done, we could log on to web site and show it to people at home. We went out of our way to make sure that people really enjoyed quality. Again, we thought we could give real value to the advertiser and once we were able to do that, everybody usurped, ambushed the opportunity to market.
Again ask the medical doctor of all the strategic communications, marketing and events management he has handled over the years, which one was more challenging? He said that challenges come in different forms, while he has had many successes and few failures that have given him and his team the opportunity to learn. The one that he can quickly remember is the attempt to re-brand/re-launch the Akintola Williams Delloite brand. It was one of those events he organised pretty simply and with good script. He felt he could deliver in terms of the name change after sharing ideas with the management of the company. They were excited of the new things because there was the desire from the company to stream that event to their affiliate offices all over the world and that was the first time we attempted to do that from the MUSON Centre in Lagos.
“The amazing thing was that at the time this new logo was launched or presented the audience actually applauded. But if only they knew all of the shenanigans and all crises or challenges we had that day, I wonder if the appreciation of what we had done could be the same thing. It was a key learning, but as you know there is a role for technology in some of these events. You can plan to drop somebody form the sky, with an helicopter, but you must always have it at the back of your mind that if all these or something goes wrong, you must have a plan B. Just do not take it for granted anything can happen. That for me is a key challenge,” he said.