CNN’s International Commercial’s Senior Vice President, Ad Sales, Europe, Middle East and Africa Region, Cathy Ibal, has engaged well with top African brands and interacted with many business owners from the continent in recent times. On the sideline of the 20 years anniversary of Inside Africa, held recently in Lagos, Ibal speaks to Raheem Akingbolu on the vibrancy of the brands and how Inside Africa is contributing positively to positioning Africa and her array of brands
With CNN’s strong presence in Africa, how has the experience been working with African brands?
Africa is very important for CNN. We are very loyal partner here with long-term partnerships with Glo, Access Bank and importantly Zenith Bank. Of course, Zenith Bank is the reason why I am here today because we are celebrating the 20 Years Anniversary of Inside Africa. Last year was the 10th year anniversary of African Voices. With this background, so you see how important the long-term partnership we have with the African Continent and Nigeria in particular. I think, we have weekly, 11 hours of programming; African Programming. Therefore, we are really committed to the Africa Continent. I am here because of ‘Inside Africa’ and the 20th anniversary and how it has been so far. It’s quite a nice experience, especially with Nigeria being one of the biggest markets we are dealing with.
Given your experience with Zenith Bank, Glo, Access and other Africa brands that you have had relationships with over the years, what’s your view about them?
As you know probably better than I do that African brands and Nigerian brands are really into innovation and looking for innovative solutions. So, I would say that initially, the way we engaged with these brands was of course on a TV side. People come to us; brands come to us for TV because that’s the biggest reach then. But through the years now, we have evolved and the brands too have evolved to more innovative solutions in each platform; solutions involving social, mobile and digital and that is how we operate with these brands. Now we have moved to about 75 per cent of our campaigns, are multiplatform and of course mobile is very important. It will also interest you that 64 per cent of the visits from Nigeria are coming from mobiles, so that’s the way we engage with the Nigerian brands.
One of the aspirations from brand owners in Nigeria and other African countries is to become that global brand in quote. Do you see partnership with CNN as something that can make such dream come to pass?
I’m glad you mentioned that because I have mentioned earlier that Nigeria has very powerful brands, like Zenith, Access, Glo, Dangote and I think the association with a brand like CNN which is also a very powerful, is very important CNN has a huge reputation especially in Nigeria and I think the association makes sense because all these brands associating with CNN will have more exposure and international recognition.
The media landscape is changing globally as you have rightly alluded to and media consumption habits are also changing. How is CNN responding to these changes?
First, I can tell you that I’ve been at CNN for quite a long time, evolving from research, sales planner and then an executive position. I can tell you that long time ago, when we were pitching into a brand or to a client what we used to do was to send a media plan with the number of spots on the TV. That was the solution we were working with most of the brands. Now to your question, how we are evolving now is because of the data, because of the branded content and we have the studio Create [the name of CNN’s in-house studio is Create], editorial contents, the solutions are now so much more sophisticated and of course the African brands are very active and very interested and we are evolving with that. How do we react? As you have rightly observed, the world has transformed, the Media world has transformed and we are trying our best. I think we are in a pretty good position in CNN with the appropriate solution.
Are CNN campaigns also evolving along the changes and the new consumption pattern?
As I said before, we were having a brand campaign, an advertising campaign and we fill TV spots on air a long time ago. It was quite quick and effective. Now we are having what you see in the brand in so many different platforms. It is not only TV, but a mobile, wearable tech, we have more than 35 different platforms. So, we have moved from being one TV to about 35 distribution channels
Africans and Africa are ambitious to tell their stories; they want their best to be celebrated. What role do you think CNN and especially, ‘Inside Africa’ can play in repositioning Africa as a continent?
As I said initially, we are very committed to the African continent, we have quite of number of programmes 11 hours weekly.
Beyond CNN, there are broadcasting brands in Africa, what is your view, compared to a global standard?
I think it is quite okay, there are a lot of brands and networks and publishers that are coming from the region and I think this proves the interest. I think CNN was probably one of the first to understand Africa very clearly and the good thing now is there’s a lot of new commerce and new publishers that consider Africa a very important continent to consider.
Now let’s go to Inside Africa, Africans and Africa’s ambitions to tell their stories, they want the best from them, and believe that in many parts of Africa, the foreign media aren’t doing enough to position Africa. What role does CNN play in repositioning Africa as a continent?
wAfrica is very important for CNN For instance, if you look at African Voices, Inside Africa, Avant Garde, Market Place Africa, we have quite a lot of programmes about Africa which demonstrate importance of the continent. I think, of course, we could do always much better. Especially with the profile of the population, which is very young and using mobile, I think it will come. The Continent is so important that I think other international media should come and be more present in Africa.
Are there innovative programmes and products you are looking at that focus on Africa?
We are also working with several other countries where we have that short format – 60 second vacation, to showcase the destination and that is a format which is very successful for us. So, across Africa, you would see 60 seconds of Rwanda, 60 seconds of Ghana and others. But of course, as I mentioned, because of the innovation, we also are exploring every new format or new content. Back to the question, we are eager to produce new contents and to have new things, innovative things. We are expecting to grow the contents from Africa with our partners and that is going to come with the brands we engage more and more.
Are there new things viewers should expect this year in ‘Inside Africa’?
Yes, we are working on changing the format. We have a fantastic partnership with Zenith Bank and of course we are looking forward to having new awesome vehicles, using more social media, using more digital, even TV is so important. So yeah, we are working on new format but I think we are still quite pleased with what is happening with Inside Africa. It is a franchise which is really important and which has been here for 20 years. Out of the 20 years, Zenith Bank has been the sponsor for 12 years.
Is there opportunity for any other brand to come on board?
No, Zenith has exclusive right.