‘Creative People Should Think Like Businessmen to Avoid Being Dominated’



Steve Baba-Eko is the chief executive officer of X3M Ideas, an advertising agency. Baba-Eko, who just returned from serving on the jury of the New York Advertising Festival, in this interview with Olaseni Durojaiye, shares thoughts on how his agency is revolutionising the industry and the company’s plan to do a private placement

How important is the New York Festival in the global advertising calendar?

The festival is one of the oldest advertising festivals in the world, it started in 1957; and one thing they are very proud of is that they select the best jury and they try and select the world’s most creative advertising works. So, that was why I was so excited when I got the invitation and for me, I always tell my team that we are in Lagos doing our thing, we don’t know who is watching but we must always give our best, I don’t know anybody on the board of the New York Advertising Festival but based on our track record they were able to trace us and invited me to be on the jury of the festival. It was a fantastic and eye-opening event for me.

What is the difference between the New York Film Festival and Cannes Advertising Festival?

Cannes is like the World Cup of advertising if you could describe it in football parlance; this one is also a major event on the advertising calendar globally but Cannes is the Mecca of advertising practitioners; it is where everybody in advertising comes to for awards; while the New York Advertising Festival is also a major international advertising award but it does not necessarily involve everybody.

One of the differences is that Cannes goes on for say five, six or seven days, the New York Advertising Festival holds for two days; that’s one clear distinction. Cannes is not just about giving out the awards, it is also about seminars, workshops, bringing together veterans in advertising and politicians, virtually anybody that has some perception about building brands to come and give some kind of speeches.

How do some of the creative materials that you judged compare with what the local advertising industry locally have created?

I may not be fair to do a comparison because advertising does not exist in a vacuum, it exists within a political, socio-cultural and economic worldview. The level of education in some of those countries is way ahead of ours. I judged the digital, mobile and online advertising and what they are able to do because of the advancement of their digital space we cannot do it because we don’t even have enough bandwidth to make videos play without buffering. But I give it to them; most of the works that I saw were quite interesting.

Your industry doesn’t score good in terms of knowledge share. How prepared are you to share some of the learning from the festival with your colleagues outside of your agency on the board of LAIF Awards?

I think the process has started already and it goes beyond LAIF awards. What we are doing now is one of the processes of amplifying the key learning, even beyond LAIF, we can share it with the larger public.

Secondly it is easy because as vice chairman of LAIF, it is incumbent on me to pass some of the learning on to my colleagues. In fairness to the executives of Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN) they always ensure that knowledge are shared amongst colleagues because I know that before now, another colleague was on the Jury of Crystal Advertising Awards last year and we borrowed copiously from his experience to include in part of the processes for last year’s edition of LAIF Awards. So I don’t see an exception here; I believe I will be able to do a debrief to the team.

Really, we run an industry that is over 100 years old, it’s not any different from the banks that may have been in the country for a few years longer, the banks are in the capital market, why not advertising agency! At X3M Ideas, we are thinking in that direction, we’ll probably do a private placement as a precursor to going to the stock exchange. If you go to Nairobi, Kenya, you have an advertising agency in the stock market; so, why not here?

Forget that the stock market in Nigeria is going through this schizophrenic stage where nothing is assured because of the economic headwinds that we are running against; that said when the economic indices begin to clearly show the government’s economic direction it would be a good direction for us to go.

In maritime, legal profession, through the Lagos Court of Arbitration and even the aviation sector, the country is the hub of West Africa. Is this realisable with the advertising industry?

It is part of our association’s plan and it is already happening. I can name one or two agencies with branches in two or three west African countries today and I think it’s just part of the beginning because it is part of our five year rolling plan at X3M Ideas. Our plan is that by the time we are five, we should have at least an outpost outside of Nigeria. Really, if you are busy and a major player in this market, it will be wrong of you not to think in that direction because for all the clients that you work for, that is part of their blueprint. The smart thing to do is to follow the footprint of the client; it makes eminent sense for you to head in that direction because you are there to provide service.

A few Nigerian agencies had ventured out in the west coast and closed shop within a couple of years. What makes it a profitable thing to now do?

The difference is that this is not you prospecting for business, if a client is moving into a new market and you follow suit, it is a much more sustainable business model as opposed to a scenario where you set up X3M Ideas in Accra and then pray to God for business to come. That is my business model and if you look at what we have done, it is to dismantle the advertising model in Nigeria and come up with our own model and it has worked for us and added value to the businesses of our clients.

There is a cliché that what is not measured is not improved upon; yet a major criticism of the IMC industry has to do with measurement. How does your company measure success or otherwise of your work?

We are passionate about it, which is why we’ve set up a brand research outfit. It is to help us measure our work especially in the digital space which is important. Besides the client, it is in the interest of the agency itself. If I executed a brief for a client and I can justify that it worked by showing proofs that it moved the client’s brand from point A to point C, and I say to him that: for the next brief we want to work on can you just increase my fees by ABC amount?

What prepared you for the dual role – Creative Head and Business Head – that you currently play at X3M Ideas?

When I was in 141 Worldwide, my designation was business/creative director and I held that position for seven years. What I learnt as creative/business director in my former agency, three business schools couldn’t have taught me that. I had real time hands-on experience on how to successfully manage a business.

Even before then, when I was in MC&A as a young trainee copy writer, I was the only person who was in the creative department who will go to finance to inquire how we were doing in terms of our billings versus forecast. I was the only person who constantly goes to finance to find out how are we doing in terms of our projections versus actual.

I loved doing it because I know that if we are behind, any brief that comes to my table I have to attack it with more viciousness and bring it out and that if I bring it out and clients approve it and spend money we can cover the ground.

Until most creative people start to think like businessmen, they will continue to still be subjugated. I tell my creative people that every brief that is on the table is a cheque that you either let us cash or lose; because if the most brilliant idea doesn’t meet the timing of the client, it is useless; so creative people have to think like businessmen.