Perez Tigidam: Inside the Mind of Corporate Nigeria’s New Darling

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Perez Tigidam wears many shoes as an advertising guru, brand strategy consultant, as well as the Chief Executive Officer and Creative Director of Arden & Newton BMC. In this interview with Nume Ekeghe, the new darling of the advertising and corporate world shared how they evolved from just being a brand strategy consultancy into a full service, integrated communications agency with in-house capabilities across brand management, public relations and reputation management, digital transformation, corporate communications, and content marketing focused integrated brand, marketing and communications agency based in Lagos.

Last year, your company was named the most outstanding young creative agency in Nigeria. In fact, you also seem to be the topic of conversation in both industry and corporate circles these days, what is it you’re doing differently?

I’d respond to this in two ways- the first part of that question will be about what I do and then we talk about the difference or the how. I am a trained and practicing brand strategy consultant, Chief Executive director and creative director of Arden & Newton brand management company, a budding Pan-Africa focused integrated brand, marketing and communications agency based in Lagos. I think this helps establish the context of what I do.

Now, about what I do differently, I’d love to think it is about our positioning as a strategy-first consultancy, a delicate route we took into a highly competitive industry. When we started out, we identified an obvious gap in the industry and decided we were going to step up to the task. While this was first a business strategy for us, it was also about honor for the local industry.

Something was missing or maybe I should say dying, and we wanted to resurrect it. It was the cherished practice of corporate brand strategy development, it is an intellectual sweet spot of our practice that was in comatose and we sought to revive it and perhaps play a leading role in defining the future of our industry.

At the point we were entering the market, it seemed like brand strategy development as a service could only be gotten overseas from global brand consultancies. The practice for large companies in Nigeria carrying out a rebranding exercise would usually be to outsource the strategy component of this exercise to international agencies and upon completion, local agencies where then engaged, only to execute the creative campaigns. Brand strategy is a hugely intellectual exercise and it doesn’t come cheap, especially with some of the global agencies in New York, London and South Africa.

A few years ago, if you went through the web portfolios of most South Africa and UK based brand consultancies, you’re sure to find brand strategy case studies done for four out of five of some of the biggest local brands in Nigeria. We began to ask ourselves a lot of questions, we wondered if corporate Nigeria did not trust our local players to bring intellectual capacity to the table? Why? Why not? We asked all manner of questions, but you see, problems don’t solve themselves, people do so we decided to step in and like Robert Shuller rightly puts it, “problems are not stop signs, they are guidelines.”

This insight became a guideline and roadmap for what we wanted to do and how? We studied the Landors, Wolf Ollins, and interbrands of this world and built our internal competencies accordingly, this helped shape our outlook and the difference we bring to projects we’re engaged in.

Perhaps, if you say we’re the topic of several conversations, this is why. I believe we’re a breadth of fresh air in an industry to is going through rapid changes and challenges.

Since your emergence into the scene, can you give us some highlights of some of the brands you have worked with?

There are quite a lot of projects we’ve worked on, while they are all unique, none is more important than the other as every project is focused on solving specific problems. What I’d love to do is to rather mention the most recent, timely, and concluded project as there are some others still running after several months.

I think we were fortunate enough to have been the lead brand strategy consultants at the forefront of two of the major corporate acquisitions in Nigeria in recent times.

One of which is the transformation of Forte Oil PLC into Ardova PLC. After billionaire oil magnate Femi Otedola decided to sell the controlling shares of the company to a new management, we were brought in from the onset as brand strategy consultants to work with the new management in the entire corporate transformation process with specific focus on brand and culture transformation, the project was quite complex, yet interesting to work on as it was at the heart of an industry that the Nigerian economy is wired around.

Part of our strategy was to future cast the industry and design models upon which the company can re-emerge with a new identity. We had to device a strategy for coming up with a new name, sustainability strategy for the company, brand identity and service culture redesign.

While this was ongoing, we were also tapped to as lead brand consultants for the rebrand of Mainstreet Bank Capital, a foremost investment bank in Nigeria, this came on the back of our experience working with several other companies in the financial services sector.

We also happen to have a steady portfolio of clients that are pioneers in their industry, we’ve worked for Kian Smith, Nigeria’s first gold refinery and also PitStop Lagos, Nigeria’s first fitness & wellness themed restaurant, something only previously seen in places like London.

There is so much disruption in the market space globally in the last one year, which has changed the style of communication, what has been the impact on the local marcom industry?

I really would love to sound modest in responding to this question, but at the risk of blowing our own trumpet, I would want to say that we are fortune tellers and foretold most of what is happening in our industry today.

A few year ago, we took a critical look at the industry and began to reinvent ourselves in line with where we believed the industry was headed. We

We were convinced that what we know today as communications practice across its different expressions is radically evolving, in the not so distant future of our industry, dichotomies will disappear, lines will blur, and the only constant thing will be creativity, not just in approach, but in delivering measurable results. Bygone will be the days when practitioners said “our agency was focused on traditional media or digital, or we are a PR agency not an advertising agency”.

We knew this will happen but didn’t see it happening so soon until the 2020, the year of the pandemic unravelled everything.

When the pandemic broke and cities around the world were shut down, the world stopped selling, the world stopped convincing, the world stopped trying to keep up an image, the only thing that mattered was empathetic storytelling. Most practitioners realised that it took more than any one specialisation to ‘communicate’. For the first time, we realised that the strategy was a people-first approach and not a company or product-first approach to message development which we’ve all known.

Secondly, technology is rapidly reshaping the industry like a hurricane on a small island. While technology is empowering most agencies to do more without the usual delineation, to some it is diminishing the power of big marketing idea and replacing the role of humans in shaping outcomes. The machines are taking over, and depending on the prism through which you look at this, most agencies will go out of business.

Today, using facial tracking technology and genetics-based algorithms, we have situations where posters are rather looking at humans instead of the opposite. Posters that are able to read human expression and change messaging based on how you reacted. Is the local industry ready for this?

Marketing budget is always the first target during a recession, is it possible for brand owners to do away with Advertising at this time when companies need to rebuild after the lockdown?

So you’ve interconnected two things here, an economic recession and the lockdown which happened as a result of the pandemic globally. On the side of the lockdown and pandemic, it was absolutely necessary that companies stopped advertising, there was no case for it, the world just wanted to survive another day and consumerism was the least of our worries. It’s a no brainer not to stop all forms of advertising and rather find a way to humanise the brand and become a part of our shared humanity.

About advertising during a recession, (assuming this isn’t related to a pandemic and the lockdowns) this is sort of a chicken and egg question and tricky to answer. It’s not an either or situation here and context and nature of business must be applied when reaching a decision on this.

From the side of the table where the CFO sits, the first reaction for most, is to cut off all marketing and advertising related budgets. Their decision is understandable but not without flaws. It is usually a knee-jerk reaction for many and in most cases some have found it to be harmful to their brands while for some, it presents them with an opportunity, I’d explain as I move on.

There’s a popular advertising adage that says “when times are good you should advertise. When times are bad you must advertise.” This will be hard for most Nigerian executives to agree with but it is what it is. During good times, you have a market environment saturated with cutthroat advertising and what we’d refer to as noise, everyone trying to outspend the other to get top of mind awareness. However, a period of economic slowdown can present you with diverse advertising opportunities.

During periods of slow down, the noise levels reduces as the competition reduces advertising budget, this presents an opportunity for your brand to take centre stage with the possibility of repositioning, re-introducing a new product. The most important thing to note here is that cutting back during a period of slow down reduces share of mind for advertisers.

Now let’s go personal, can you give an overview of your company?

I am the founder and creative director of Arden and Newton brand management company. A We like to call ourselves the brand experience design company for an Africa-first world, a local company with a global outlook. We have a deep passion to build and grow local brands through purpose-driven and meaningful creativity. This Africa-first passion and focus has seen us build presence and executed Africa facing projects within West and East Africa and a global media relationship for our reputation management clients all within a short period of our existence.

We look at communications differently and all the projects we’ve ever worked on are there to prove this point. Also to note, we are currently one of the only few young agencies with full service capabilities, a rarity in the industry today, especially for young agencies. Arden & Newton works offers services that cut across brand management, marketing and corporate communications, PR & reputation management, content production etc.

I think it was on the back of this versatility that we won the award of the most outstanding young creative agency in Nigeria 2020 at the Marketing Edge Awards. Our work for local clients have also been recognized on major international publications.

How can you rate the growth of advertising in Nigeria today?

I think it has come a long way from where it used to be but I honestly do think that the industry is grappling with the rate of disruption caused by technology. The challenge is one that is beyond the industry, it is hinged on the state of education, exposure and enlightenment among the populace.

You see some exceptionally executed campaigns elsewhere around the world and all you can do is admire, reason being that their advertising practice has been elevated to the level of their enlightenment of their populace while we are still grappling with some basic and mundane issues that people have to worry about and understanding a highly conceptual advertising campaign becomes the least of their worries.