Osunsoko: Our Ambition is to Top the Industry’s Creative Space


Chief Executive Officer of Leo Burnett Lagos, Mr. Sam Osunsoko, in this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, highlighted the factors that have helped the agency’s growth and how it clinched 13 medals at the 2016 edition of the Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival, held in Lagos recently. Excerpts:

Despite the global economic recession, is it possible for a business or brand to do without adverting and what can it do for an economy like Nigeria if well explored?

I will answer the question in two ways; what you referred to advertising has actually changed its form today. What advertising was 10 – 15 years ago is not what it is today. If we are talking Marketing Communications today, I doubt if any business or brand can survive sustainably without leveraging marketing communication solutions. A brand might thrive in the short run but it will not flourish in the long run. We have seen many brands that were not keen about marketing communications before but today they are out there using the platform to woo their target markets. One major thing that will not make it possible for any business to survive on the long run without marketing communications is the basic principle of competition and competitive dynamics. There are a lot of brands out there calling the attention of the consumers. If you are there not applying necessary marketing tools, consumers would see your competitions and not see you.
Now to the second leg of the question, what can a country like Nigeria gain if marketing communication is appreciated and better explored?
Let’s look at say, the State of Florida in US, where well orchestrated marketing activities have been successfully explored to market its tourism potentials. Today, Walt Disney attracts huge traffic because of its perceived value. Now back to Nigeria, you will agree with me that we have a lot of potentials as a country that have not been fully explored or marketed. Therefore, whether there is recession or there is boom, I don’t think there can be an excuse for any country not to properly market itself as well as its brands.

Leo Burnett Lagos is approaching its second year anniversary, how has the experience been?
Our 22 months of operations have been eventful and highly rewarding on account of the key millstones we’ve crossed within the short period of time, a lot was parked in. We’ve been able to put together a crack team of very brilliant and highly creative minds with very strong knack for transforming brands and businesses. It’s for this reason that our objectives of business and creative leadership in this country seems to be taking shorter time for us to achieve than we initially projected. We hit the ground running from 5th January 2015 when we officially opened shop but strategically decided to lie low and build formidable business and creative fundamentals. Following a highly competitive 5-agency pitch during our transition period, we managed to challenge the status quo by defeating 4 other well-established, bigger and older agencies to clinch the Konga.com account and we formally started work the same day we opened shop. Konga gave us our first shot at fame, and then follows a number of other businesses. Within few months of operation, our work got a mention at the African Cristal Awards in Morocco; we equally won the Campaign of the Year Award in 2015 for Konga.

What are those things you can point out as the factors that have helped the agency in the area of creating innovative solutions for clients and brands?
Let me start this way by relating it to the parable of the gazelle and the lion. Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up, it knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up, it knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve. It doesn’t therefore matter whether you‘re the lion or the gazelle –when the sun comes up, you’d better be running. So, when we started operation in 2015, we knew we must not just have a challenger mentality but we must sustain it, otherwise we would find it tough achieving our long-term objectives in the market. We opened shop at a time when large, strong and highly creative agencies were prowling the landscape and the recession was also on the horizon, so we had to go the extra mile not to be consumed by the circumstances of our birth.

Now to answer your question, a few setout goals made it possible for us to make the some of the impacts that you’re seeing today. One; our creative philosophy – we believe that because creativity is the most potent force in life and therefore has the power to transform human behaviour, then we must the best at what we do to consistently be relevant to the brands we work for. Number two, which I think is perhaps the most important, is our Humankind approach to eliciting the deepest of humaninsights, which ensures more spot-on creative solutions. At Leo Burnett, we pride ourselves in being Eternal Students of Human Behavior. We seek to understand human beings – who you know as consumers, better than our peers. In understanding people, we understand their fears and motivations, we understand what their wants are and because we understand them better, we are able to elicit deep rooted insights which help us come up with competitively better creative solutions. We ask ourselves, what do people really want? What do consumers want? We then seek to match that with what the brand can competitively do and we develop our brand promise around that. By doing this, Leo Burnett Lagos has been consistently rewarded by the consumers, who buy the brands and we have also been rewarded by the industry that recognises our work and the solutions we provide.

Could all these be those things that give you the confidence to take a risk of competing with older agency at the just concluded LAIF Awards? As a follow up, what are the ingredients needed by a new agency like yours to survive the current recession and what are those things you think would give you an edge?
Very interesting question I must say. It’s a flat world out there. With due respect, you will agree with me that excellence is no respecter of colour, race, age, personality or anything of such. What gives us confidence is the robustness of our fundamentals and our approach to creative problem solving. One thing that keeps an average marketing director or brand manager of most organisations awake in the night is the questions of how consumers react to their brand and its proposition or promise. How can they consistently reinforce the equity of their brands and drive volume through the roof? To the consumers out there, they keep trying to figure out how to maximize value of their brand consumption experience. For any new Agency therefore, you must keep your eyes on the ball of what really matters to your primary targets – the consumers and the brand owners to ensure that their objectives are met at all times. To the second part of your question, verifiable impact of our creative solutions on the brands we work for has seen us thus far – irrespective or recession or boom. What really matters to clients isn’t exactly how big or small the marketing budget spent is but how much value comes back to the brand relative to budget spent. This is what will continue to make the difference between frontline creative agencies and – if you like, the laggards.
What are the measures being put in place to make sure you sustain the tempo at which the agency is growing now?

I must say that Leo Burnett Lagos is part of a global network agency but we have the mentality of an independent agency. We know that nothing worthwhile comes easy; we must strive for any success that would come our way. With a start-up mentality, we operate primarily with a determination to make an impact in the market through the sheer brilliance of our work and its effect on our clients’ brands. We then complement this with the established norms of the network, its global best practice and tools etc. Like I earlier pointed out, the Leo Burnett network has one of the highest creative rankings in the world today, thanks to the brilliance of the work from the different offices in different cities around the world. Now, if you combine this with our independent agency mindset in a market like Nigeria, you can be sure of generating an explosion of creative solutions despite the odds and the challenges of running an agency here.

Is being rumoured in some quarters that Leo Burnett is a fighter brand that is being positioned to tackle some young agencies, how can you react to that?
By “younger agencies” if you meant only those that are newly formed or those that started operations over the last few years then the answer is a resounding no. Please see a copy of Creative awards ranking released by AAAN; the organizers of LAIF, most of the Agencies that we beat are way older than us – they are not necessarily the young ones. Leo Burnett Lagos started business with a mandate to redefine the discipline of marketing communications in Nigeria, across age groups and competencies. From a creative standpoint the next few months would witness why Leo Burnett Lagos is the Agency to beat in this environment.
When we set out in 2015, we were out to achieve two things; we would be known for creative leadership and we would be known for business leadership. We set out to get to the top in the creative ranking of the industry. To achieve this feat, we knew that within two to three years, we must get into the consideration set of the industry and feature among top three on creative awards ranking. And within five years, seek to lead from both the creative leadership standpoint and business leadership standpoint. If you ask me, we are less than two years today and we are close to achieving the first objective. Using the LAIF award you referred to as a yardstick, we came fourth on the table of the awardees and I think that is quite commendable. Therefore, there is no doubt in my mind that with the pace we are running we will not have problem in achieving our five years goals and objectives.

Your agency was said to have won in a category described as miscellaneous. How does this category put you on a rating ahead of other competition?

To be honest with you, sayings like this should be expected when underdogs win the race or come close to winning the race. Someone wins presidential elections in the U.S. and some other guys are suggesting recounts……. (Laughs). Leo Burnett Lagos does not organise LAIF Awards. The criteria for winning and the different categories were set by LAIF long before we submitted our first entry. We have never participated in LAIF before, this was our first time of putting in entries and we couldn’t have had more experience as to what categories to enter for than older, well established agencies. Honestly I will say that we won what we won fair and square.

How did you arrive at the categories you entered for at LAIF Award?
We looked at the different categories put up by LAIF organisers versus the work that we have on ground. The truth is that we don’t just design our work for awards, we actually works to ensure that the quality of our creative solutions meets both the short and long term business goals of our clients. Because we have said to ourselves that we must be the best at what we do, that then put us in a good competitive position anywhere we find ourselves and I think that was what worked for us at LAIF. We don’t just work for awards but we try to ensure that the quality of our work is able to deliver on the objective of the brands we work for. Our approach is to always apply the principle of constructive dissatisfaction, which is a philosophy that makes us know that nothing that we do is good enough to the extent that it cannot be improved upon. We have worked for a number of clients and brands and we apply this principle. Beyond Konga, we’ve done some amazing work for Nestle across brands, Crusader Sterling Pensions, Beloxxi biscuits and Heritage Bank just to mention a few.

How many categories did you apply for and how many did you won?

We entered for quite number of categories. In all we won 13 medals; we have 3 gold, 5 silver and 5 bronze medals.

What should we expect from the agency in the next five years?

More brilliant work that consistently delivers superior ROI for our brands