One of the leading marketing communications firms in Nigeria, SO&U, recently appointed Biodun Adefila as its Chief Operating Officer. In this interview, Adefila appraises the industry and maps out strategies to sustain the status of the second-generation agency. Raheem Akingbolu brings the excerpts.
What picture do you see when you take a critical look at Nigeria’s Integrated Marketing Communication Industry?
I see both challenges and eureka moments. The challenges are enormous. To overlook them would be unwise. At the same time, we can’t roll over and die just because things have gotten tough. This is where our creativity comes in.
No doubt the environment has changed from what we used to know even as recently as 5-10 years ago. There’s more impact of digital on our business and the target audience themselves have changed. There’s more emphasis on the youth market globally and for good reason. Take Africa for example; about 46 per cent of the 1.3 billion increase in the continent’s labor force over the period 2015-2063 will be young people aged 15-34, averaging 12.1 million a year.
Questions then begin to arise on understanding this market thoroughly, their aspirations and how we can appeal to those for brand resonance.
So, for the IMC market, there are challenges and there are opportunities. Intent listening, keen observation, and insight-based innovation – driven by the first two actions, will become the survival process.
Elongation of payment period by clients is one of the challenges seriously affecting the Ad industry, what is the way out?
It’s a tough one and again we will need to collectively pull together to chart a course of action. Very few agencies can survive on this proposal. The profit margins are eroded already so committing to a 120-day payment cycle when our own suppliers demand advance payment is to put it very mildly leaving us at a crossroads. The fact though is that we all need each other and by the time we sit down to talk, all parties can see where the others are coming from and we can all arrive at a proposition that works.
You are appointed COO of SO$U Group at a time the industry is challenged by a number of socio-economic factors, how do you feel?
I feel very humbled, but at the same time very inspired.
Humbled because the scenarios are really tough and this is truly the play out of the survival of the fittest. Inspired because it’s an opportunity to demonstrate that the founders of the business have brought it this far and they have enough trust that handing over to the next generation will not only sustain the business but take it even higher.
A respected senior colleague once said that challenges are meant to be dealt with not worshipped. This is exactly what we’re going to do. We have a vision of where we want to go. All we need to do is examine ourselves to be sure we have what it takes to get us there. We’ll examine ourselves along the way and make necessary adjustments. It’s a journey and we have our compass. We remain focused and we’re assured of a successful arrival.
As the new COO, what are your functions and what new things are you bringing to the table. Are you focusing on any new business to grow ROI?
My number one function is to be the Chief Inspiration Officer. We want our people to be aligned and on the same page with us. As I said earlier, we’re embarking on a journey and it’s a journey that will require everyone to put in 100 per cent, sometimes 110 per cent of themselves for us to attain our goal. Letting everyone know the purpose of this journey and constantly reminding ourselves of the rewards of successfully arriving at that destination is my key role. If we have that, we can win at all points anytime, any day and anywhere. A key focus of our new journey would be for us to re-orientate ourselves and begin each day as DAY 1. Day 1 is a concept we’re adopting from Amazon Inc, one of the most successful tech companies globally. The Day 1 concept sustains the excitement, fire, dreams and ambitions of Day 1 even 100 years later. Our mentality is geared in this direction whether with respect to existing or new businesses. Our vision is to inspire the world with our passion and ideas. We will go wherever that takes us.
SO&U has weathered the turbulent business environment storm over the years, what factors accounted for this feat?
One of our core values is Ingenuity. We are in the creative business. Being able to use every available opportunity to demonstrate relevance to our clients has always stood us out. We offer service like very few organisations. At SO&U we put passion into all we do. We have this mantra that our clients must never complain. It makes us bend over backwards to achieve results where others may have stormed off in irritation. We also value relationships. When we sign clients up, we’re in it for the long haul. We believe in total involvement and total commitment. Put all that together, you’ll see why clients relate with us as partners and not just “the advertising agency”. It’s all about partnerships that work extremely well together.
Understanding the client’s business and the market they operate in will always deliver results. This is what we’ve done.
As a person who has climbed through the ladder, what are the challenges in this job as a marketing communication executive?
Focus. Advertising is not for the faint hearted. You need to be on your toes all the time and have your wits about you.
You deal with a lot of people with different temperaments, background and level of knowledge. You engage with suppliers alike. In the midst of what might look like constant madness, you need to hold on to your purpose. Be flexible where you have to be and keep your eyes on the ball.
This field tests not only your mental and physical abilities; it tests your emotional quotient as well because it’s a people business. I believe if you can succeed in advertising, you can succeed in any other endeavor.
You are one of the few women on senior position in an industry dominated by men, how do you feel and what would it take more women to climb to this position?
I feel very blessed. I must however say that this is not my achievement alone. I attribute it to having a supportive family, colleagues and a world-class organisiation which recognises merit whether it comes in a female or male package. Advertising is a very transparent job. If you’re doing well, everyone takes notice. If you’re not doing so well, you can’t hide for long. My advice therefore is for everyone male and female to be focused in what they do and have the determination to succeed. When you’re relevant in your post, promotion is always a matter of time. Maybe a little patience too – knowing that some things take time and being able to hold out. When you’re focused and you’re following a course, you know not to be agitated but follow through.