Taiwo Agboola

Losing his mother at seven, he grew under the tough tutelage and grip of his loving but firm father where intrinsic life values became a lifestyle. His friends and neighbours nicknamed him ‘Nnamdi Azikiwe’ because of his love for books and newspapers. Taiwo Agboola, Managing Director, 7interactive, shares with Adedayo Adejobi, his lost passion for the wig and gown trade and journalism, among others  

Let’s talk about your recent award, what inspired your entries and most crucially how did you come out tops?

The winning entry was a CSR campaign we ran last year and this year. Due to prevalent rape cases, the creative team thought of an anti-rape campaign. When they came to me with the idea which won us the award, I wasn’t very comfortable. The idea was to use some artistes names to endorse the brand without their knowledge. I was afraid for backlash which indeed came, but the truth is when they wrote to us through court, lawyers, we told them the reason and they were more than willing to support the cause. We entered this particular campaign for some awards, however for this year’s Lories award which held in Durbar we were the only West African agency to win an award at this year’s Lories which is the African version of Cannes Festival. It was an exhibition of creative excellence and innovative works. I am very proud one of our works made it to the continental stage.

Did you at any point know that you were going to win this, and if you did, when they called you what was the feeling like?

When we create advertising works there is always the intent on being recognised, however it is. We entered the competition with the zeal of winning. When we saw the shortlist two days before the award proper, we were only three Nigerian agencies. I was hanging out with friends when my Creative Director called to say we won. Awards and recognitions are our reward for creative excellence. In our few years of being in business, we’ve given a good showing of ourselves. We are not resting on our oars.

Two years on, how have you managed to accomplish this feat as a young agency?

In all honesty, I don’t think that we are where we want to be, but we are grateful, it’s been a combination of luck, great team effort, confidence reposed in our clients. Our aim is to be the first Nigerian agency to win the prestigious Cannes Lion.

With a young workforce, do you allow your team creative freedom? What is your own creative approach?

Our clients allow for creative freedom from the start. There is creative liberty and the trust of our clients on briefs.

What is your idea of an ideal hire for talent, what kind of staff would you hire?

Passion. Passion is the first thing we look out for. Passion and creative ingenuity. Now, this does not necessarily mean the person must have worked in a creative agency before. If I ask you some questions, I can deduce if you’ve got the knack for the trade. If you haven’t passion, there is no way I can hire you.

As a CEO, you are faced with so many challenges. How do you learn?

I learn from the best. I am still learning on the job. There have been challenges, but what you do is you look at people that have grown successful agencies. Learning on the job and the ability to manage people from different background is not easy. But I learn from things around me, my wife, friends and people I respect in the industry.

With the recession biting hard on businesses, where media budgets are scaled down, how has your agency been able to keep its heads above the waters?

It’s a tough one. The recession coupled with initial fluctuation in exchange rate, has made so many clients cut down budget. We’ve been ingenious by ensuring the client’s keep us. Things are changing. It was worse, but now the money is coming out. Clients are getting smarter, as they want to see returns on investment quickly. We are doing our best to provide that.

How did you cut your teeth in this trade?

I wanted to be either a journalist or a lawyer. I had my internship in the news room with one of the big newspapers in Nigeria, and after my NYSC programme, I ran two radio programmes on the radio arm of Akwa Ibom State Broadcasting Corporation. On return to Lagos, I worked as a writer and researcher with marketing mix Nigeria where we published Brands and Products, which became M2. I joined insight Communications and was then seconded to now defunct second line agency FKG2. I left for ZK advertising, then to X3m Ideas and 7interactive. I think it is a combination of passion, hard work, luck, being in the right place at the right time. I am passionate about this job. I sleep and eat advertising. I tell my team this story when they complain about clients calling them in the dead of the night.  In 2008, our power had issues, so we rented a generator so as to deliver during Ramadan. We finished by 9p.m., as the client requested I personally send the job to the media houses. With a list of phone numbers and emails I did as instructed. I went home by 1a.m. and the client called to say the ad copies need be in the papers that morning, and all the people I claim to have sent it to didn’t get it. I was shocked. I told her I’ll revert in 30 minutes and cut the call. She called 35 minutes by then, I had driven from the Mainland to the Island and was in front of the office.

She called and was screaming ‘I did not tell you to go back to the office’. She quickly called my MD that she didn’t tell him to go back to the office and that we were going to look for a way to manage it. My Managing Director called me by the time I had resent it again by email and got confirmation. The THISDAY Editor then confirmed receipt of it. My Managing Director came and insisted I slept in his house till the next morning. Since then, if any of my team members say something is impossible, she will say no because Taiwo makes things possible so you too should. Some clients can sometimes be irrational, but there are bad clients. All you have is a bad service provider.

If you had the opportunity to turn back the hands of time, would you want to be a journalist or lawyer?

My job is not too different from being a journalist. We both have deadlines and beats to cover. I probably will still want to be a journalist, maybe not a lawyer anymore. I could replace that with the business of creativity and journalism. If I don’t read some newspapers in a day, the day is not complete. I might not explore the creative business of journalism on retirement.

What kind of child were you growing up?

To some I am an introvert, to others I am an extrovert. I looked forward to receiving newspaper from the vendor every morning. As a child, they called me Nnamdi Azikiwe because of my love for books and newspapers. Regardless of the fact the company buys some newspapers; I still buy books and more newspaper every day. Growing up, I was in the literary and debating club. I had my own share of fun. I got beaten when my twin brother and I went to welcome the footballers who came second at the U-17 world cup. I wanted to see them, so we left our house in Mushin and went to the National Stadium. Apparently they were looking for us all over and we were just having fun. They’ve gone to the police station to make a report and at that time I remember we were beaten. I also love football. I watch local football and I tell people who cared to listen that there is no reason why the present crop of officials we have should not bring back the fans to the stadium.

What values did you grow up with?

The words, ‘‘Remember the child of who you are. I may not have everything but I have one thing honesty,’’ I lent a book from a colleague in primary school- The Pacesetters. My dad was checking my bag, I lost my mum early, and he affirmed not buying the book for me. My father sent one of my sisters to go with me to school to be sure I borrowed it. The guy said that I borrowed it. Then my father said if I perform well, he would buy the pack of four for me, and he kept to his word. My dad taught me contentment and honesty.

What’s your relationship with your dad? Is he still alive?

Both my parents are late. Mum died when I was seven years, and dad died 17 years ago.

How does it feel stepping in the role of being a father to your children?

I can’t know what my father was going through without a wife then training us, because right now, my wife complains about them being naughty. So, I step in as the big man and tell them the repercussions. I model them very well. I learnt a lot from my dad, and am trying to be the best dad.

When you see your children what do they remind you of?

They remind me of myself in different ways. My knack for information, inquisitiveness and voracious reading. I am the number one role model to my kids; they always look up to me for anything and everything.

How did you get to meet your wife?

We used to work in the same advertising group- FKG2.She worked at Insight and we met through our mutual friend. The first time we were introduced, she was like cocky. Some months down the line we met at a party and that was it.

At what point did you know you would marry her?

It was when I moved to Ghana. We had a fallout prior to my moving to Ghana. I was living alone in Ghana and I felt I should call.  I woke up and called, she picked the phone, and we spoke as though there was no fight. I wanted her and she wanted me too. We are 11 years in marriage and it has been fantastic. Like any marriage there have been rough times, we are still growing. We know how to settle rifts better than when we first got married. When I’m angry, she knows how to calm me. I look forward to going home despite the fact that I am a workaholic.

There have been times one has thought of giving up, but when we think of what we shared and the kids, things fall in place.

Who is the most romantic of both of you?

She is the one.

How do you make up for your inadequacies?

I buy her lots of gifts to make up for my being less romantic.

What is your favourite vacation destination?

Barbados. If I have to go to anywhere in Nigeria, it will be Ibadan. The closest I’ve come to nature has been Ibadan.

What five books have changed or impacted you positively?

My Life, by Clinton, Obama’s Audacity of Hope, the full works of Shakespeare, the whole series of James hardly chase.

What expensive vanity items, do you invest in?

I don’t have any expensive toy. For me, its shoes- Gucci and Boss and wristwatches would be Rolex. I am not a car freak; I can drive anything as it gets me from point A to point B.

What influences your sense of style?

Simplicity and being comfortable.

 In the next five years where do you see yourself?

That’s the question I dread the most. I want to be at the pinnacle, to have impacted the knowledge I have in people, and also to have taken this company to the greatest of height. In my private life I want my kids to be what they want to be. I want my marriage stronger, better, and being closer to God