In white, she’s pristine. In fuchsia, she’s eclectic; electric. In black, she’s bold and beautiful. Her stunning looks, dazzling attire represent belief and an unassuming aura. The only item that suggests her influential status is the power suit that drapes around her shoulders. She is a tempest in Nigeria’s TV industry. Ibironke Shilelola has been there, done that. In 2014, she recorded a milestone in her career with the launch of the first Nigerian-produced telenovela. Vanessa Obioha writes that she is still pushing the envelope with the opening of a cinema exhibition hall
Before her arrival, one of her employees, Mojisola Sapara, gave a summary of Shilelola Ibironke’s impressive curriculum vitae. It included running a television content marketing company, MicroMedia Marketing Limited which portfolio boasts many successful TV programmes such as the critically acclaimed first Nigerian telenovela, ‘Taste of Love’, and TV drama series, ‘The Casino’.
From the way she narrated the achievement of the woman she called ‘boss’, it was apparent that she harboured great admiration for her. Thus, when Ibironke Shilelola finally arrived, it was a delightful Mojisola that led her to the head of the dining table of the Radisson Blu Hotel restaurant in Ikeja.
There is an unassuming aura around Ibironke. Her gentle mien didn’t betray the power she wields in her sector. The only item that suggested her influential status was the power suit that draped around her shoulders. That piece of clothing and her position on the table indicated her trailblazing feats in a male-dominated industry.
Call her a tempest or a wild rose on TV and you will not be wrong. Shilelola is simply an unstoppable force who is constantly pushing the envelope in her field of play. She shatters the glass ceilings with little noise, rather allowing her works to speak for her. From producing content to distribution, Shilelola has penetrated areas where others would merely take a gander. Her zeal to achieve her dream is admirable. Take for instance when she wanted to enter the East African market in 2016. She wrote to almost all the broadcast networks in Kenya but none was willing to give her a chance.
“Without knowing anyone in Kenya, we enrolled for a conference and set out to cover all the TV networks in Nairobi. Doors were shut on us but we persevered and prayed. Finally, we got an offer from KTN, the largest TV network. As we were packing our bags to leave Nairobi, I looked at my colleague who travelled with me and told her we should take advantage of being in East Africa to cover all the key countries. We ended up going to Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The reception and continuous patronage of the TV networks in these countries gave credence to the quality of love for Nollywood dramas by other African countries,” she narrated with enthusiasm.
It is one of the major highlights of her career.
Her TV drama series are currently broadcast in 40 African countries including Anglophone, Francophone and more recently Lusophone African countries. Her distribution channels include pay-TV, free-to-air, video-on-demand and OTT platforms. Her next move is to put her content on aviation onboard entertainment platforms.
These are some of the milestones that have marked the 20-year media career of the graduate of Economics who started her TV content marketing career in Consolidated Media Associates (CMA). Her initial plan was to be an actress after modelling during her university days. She starred in the Wale Adenuga TV drama series, ‘Super Story’, as well as the family comedy-drama, ‘Papa Ajasco and Company’. But her choice of career didn’t go well with her parents.
“I started from being an executive to become the head of marketing in CMA. Moreso, I am the first person that launched Soundcity in Nigeria. I toured the whole of Nigeria with MTN and also other brands for over two years. After marriage, I left the role of marketing and started thinking of how to start my own, something that will just be okay for my children and as well focus on family life. However, once you are a professional and you are skilled in a certain form of business you will just keep building,” said Shilelola.
In September this year, Ibironke scored another first by opening a cinema exhibition hall in Alimosho local government area of Lagos state. Called Heritage Cinemas, the mall boasts of two theatre halls, retail outlets for businesses and a lounge.
“Going into the cinematic chains is part of the dynamism that comes with the media industry and the ability for you to envision what next; what exactly the viewers are watching, where they are and what exactly are the consumers doing. Owning a cinema exhibition hall is one of those ways we can offer our value to our consumers. It is a place where they can come to watch blockbusters because the viewers want to see exactly what has been launched in America, in the western world at the same time with the same offering of stylish and luxurious setting,” she explained.
With Heritage Cinemas, Shilelola has added to the growing number of cinemas across the country, thus increasing revenue for content distribution through the medium. The country currently boasts of over 50 cinemas across the country with Lagos having the highest number of cinemas. Most of these multiplexes are situated in the posh areas of the state, making it majorly accessible to residents within the area. Shilelola aims to offer the same sophisticated setting to local communities with Heritage Cinemas.
For her, not situating her cinema in the key cities is not a minus.
“Because we try to look out where exactly is the line of that analysis, where exactly is the underserved environment, where do you want to play in the market, what chunk of that market share do you want to take. I don’t need to fight over a big name we can start pretty small and then grow. it is the beginning of other chains that would come onboard.”
This strategy is the hat-trick she used to set up her company years ago. She settled for a name that suggested a diminutive amount to those who misunderstood the economic term.
“When we started MicroMedia, a lot of people called me asking why I settled for such a diminutive name. Micro is actually an economic term meaning playing in a competitive market. It was important to function under a micro perfect where there are laws of demand and supply but they didn’t quite understand the reason for the name until later when it became big.”
For Heritage Cinemas, she settled for the name to show the indigeneity of Nigerians. Her ultimate
If you ask Shilelola who turned 38 in October her magic weapon, she will refer to the popular Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey duet, ‘When You Believe’.
“Many nights I prayed,” she said referring to the lyrics of the song. “During the day I was faced with skepticism on achieving this goal. It surely looked far-fetched but today, we are a testament to miracles happen. If you believe it, then you can achieve it. Launching Heritage Cinemas was a major career highlight, the entire project development was outside of my forte and there was a heavy reliance on artisan and technical skill workers. Ultimately, achieving the project within a specific time-frame of 12 months was record-breaking jubilation,” she stated.