Tolu Onile-Ere: Spotlighting Digital Success in Nigeria 

Tolu Onile-Ere: Spotlighting Digital Success in Nigeria 

Tolu Onile-Ere, Managing Director of Playhouse Communication Limited, a qualified lawyer, chose Marketing as his career path,  as this allowed him to express his creative side. However, he stumbled on digital and got hooked by the potential, so he set up Playhouse, a digital communications agency back in 2011. Twelve years down the lane, the firm has grown to become one of Nigeria’s leading digital agencies. In this interview with MARY NNAH, he talks about his firm’s digital creative economy initiative, “The StoryStoryHub”, which celebrates the growing contributions of the digital creative industry to the nation’s economy, launched recently in commemoration of the firm’s 12th anniversary

Can you tell us about the recent initiative,  “The StoryStoryHub”, launched by Playhouse Communication Limited as part of its 12th anniversary?

As an agency, we like to just try stuff. We have built a site that tracks which emoji is the most used in Nigeria; we have tried to create a ranking scale for plantain chips and we set up our podcast last year to have conversations around digital and tech in Nigeria, Africa and beyond. So this year, we were just thinking of telling our story to mark our anniversary and as we worked on it, we thought it was interesting and that some people might find it useful. And that made us think of all the stories that exist out there. So, we thought, let’s share ours, invite others to share theirs and let’s keep the story of the digital creative economy going.

Besides, as you do with most anniversaries, you spend time navel gazing and looking at where you have come from and where you now are. So we were looking back and came across a video we produced 10 years ago called Shey You Sabi. The video was about highlighting some insights into the Nigerian digital scene. And looking at it, it was amazing just how far the Nigerian digital landscape has grown in the 10 years. So, we thought it would be interesting to tell our story as that ties into the development of the digital ecosystem – and to get others to share theirs as well. So we can see how the digital creative economy has impacted Nigerians. So, we’ve set up StoryStoryHub to collect these stories.

What motivated “the StoryStoryHub” and how does it connect to both “Tales by Moonlight” and celebrate the contributions of the digital creative industry to Nigeria’s economy and renaissance?

I’m glad to say that the motivation for StoryStoryHub was the fact that the Nigerian digital landscape has progressed over the last 12 years – and Playhouse has progressed with it. So, it is a celebration of the growth and the positive impact. And we wanted to share our story in case it can inspire others. And we’re trying to collect other people’s stories to show the progress of the digital landscape.

The tie-in with Tales by Moonlight is because the way we have traditionally captured our history and shared it is by telling each other stories. And so as we look to celebrate the Nigerian Digital Creative economy, tying it to storytelling just felt culturally right.

What is the strategy behind Playhouse’s success in the digital space, and how does it aim to maintain brand presence and leadership?

That would be giving away our secrets. But what I can say is that we believe in creating strong partnerships with the brands that allow us to work with them. We work on building understanding and trust so that our clients feel that we are part of their team. Our client list includes MTN Nigeria, Pernod Ricard, ExxonMobil, AAVA Brands (Lucozade) & Stanbic IBTC.

You have won five awards. What do these awards mean to you and how do these recognitions reflect the company’s pioneering role in the digital marketing industry?

 Yes, we have won several awards including The Marketing Edge Digital Agency of the Year 2019, 2021 and  2022 and most recently, The Marketing Edge Outstanding Digital Agency of the Decade, 2023.  As an agency, we set out to do great work for our clients. That has always been our focus so we see the awards as recognition of that – not of us as pioneers but rather of the great work we do for our clients.

Again, awards serve as validation for the hard work, creativity, and dedication of our team. They affirm that our approach to digital marketing and storytelling is not only effective but also recognized by our peers and industry experts. More importantly, awards motivate us to continually raise the bar, push creative boundaries, and maintain the high standards that have garnered such recognition. They are a source of pride for our team and a testament to the positive impact we strive to make in the digital marketing space.

You have been lined up for activities celebrating the 12th anniversary of Playhouse in grand style. Can you tell us more about Playhouse and why reaching 12 years is a big deal?

Playhouse is a digital marketing agency based in Lagos. We believe that successful brands need to create communications that engage. And we believe that digital offers a cost-effective platform for creating and maintaining this dialogue. It should be noted that we don’t do technology for technology’s sake. So at the core of all we do is “The Idea” – The Idea that inspires and connects a brand with its audience so that they willingly give their time. So that they invite the brand into their space and enter into a conversation. We believe that’s where every brand wants to be – talking with their customers rather than at them.

With regards to our 12 anniversary and the celebrations, 12 isn’t in itself a milestone anniversary or anything like that. We just believe that each anniversary is something to be marked and celebrated. We’ve had quiet ones and we’ve had bigger ones, like this year’s anniversary. This year we just had the idea of sharing the story of our journey and as we looked back, we started wondering what stories other people might have about the digital creative economy – and so, we thought let’s share ours and encourage others to share theirs.

There seems to be a correlation between Onile-Ere and the name of the company, Playhouse”. Tell us about it.

Yes, there is. I am Yoruba and the translation of my surname is the owner of the house of fun. And so when I was setting up the agency, Playhouse seemed suitable because it was a translation of my name but it also captured the culture I wanted to create in the agency.

How much profit is Playhouse as a business and the StoryStoryHub bringing in?

As the Managing Director of Playhouse, I appreciate the interest in our business and the recent launch of StoryStoryHub. When assessing the profitability of Playhouse, I’d like to offer a perspective that goes beyond traditional financial metrics.

First off, we don’t just focus on profitability at the bottom line. Our top priorities include adding value for our clients, developing a stimulating and rewarding work environment for our staff, and having a good influence in the digital space – all of which are closely related to financial sustainability. We think that a comprehensive approach to business is the key to measuring true success.

We have managed our finances in a way that enables us to compensate our skilled staff fairly, make investments in continuous learning and development, and execute initiatives like StoryStoryHub. Our strategy for profitability is in line with the idea of “enough”—having the means to support the expansion and innovation of our team in addition to maintaining the business.

About StoryStoryHub, we are enthusiastic about its potential, even though it is still in its early phases. We also consider success to be measured in terms of benefits beyond money. The encouraging stories we’ve selected and the platform’s good reception are proof of the value it offers to our audience. StoryStoryHub will not only enhance the reputation of our brand but also open up new avenues for growth in the future.

To sum up, our definition of profitability has a broad perspective that takes into account monetary stability, customer happiness, team fulfilment, and the beneficial effects of projects like StoryStoryHub. We are dedicated to long-term development, meaningful endeavours, and leaving a legacy of significant contributions as we negotiate the ever-changing terrain of the digital creative economy.

What impact has StoryStoryHub made so far on the digital community?

Right now, it has only just launched so it is too early to judge the impact it has made. What we are pleased with is the positive response to the stories we have so far been able to curate. The overwhelming response has been that the stories are inspiring.

How does it connect with Tales by Moonlight?

The connection is the idea of storytelling. Culturally, storytelling has been the way we pass down our history, build our communities and share learning. Historically, these stories weren’t necessarily written down but now technology allows us to capture them as video. But at the core is still the idea of telling the story.

How do you plan to establish a lasting presence in the digital space?

Our sustainability strategy revolves around maintaining a balance between creativity, client satisfaction, and financial responsibility. We focus on delivering quality work that adds value to our client’s business, ensuring their continued trust and partnership. Additionally, we stay adaptable to industry trends, invest in our team’s professional development, and explore innovative projects like StoryStoryHub to keep our brand relevant and dynamic in the ever-evolving digital space.

How do you see this initiative empowering young people?

StoryStoryHub serves as a platform not only for sharing our experiences but also for encouraging others, especially the youth, to share their stories in the digital creative economy. By providing a space for diverse narratives and insights, we aim to inspire, educate, and empower the younger generation to explore and contribute to the digital space.

What difficulties have you encountered so far, and what are your approaches to overcome them?

Challenges are inevitable in the dynamic field of digital marketing. We’ve encountered issues ranging from staying ahead of technological advancements to maintaining a balance between creativity and practicality. Our strategy involves fostering a culture of continuous learning within our team, staying agile in response to industry shifts, and being open to experimentation. Embracing challenges as opportunities for growth is key to overcoming them.

Where do you see Playhouse in the next five to ten years?

In the coming years, we envision Playhouse as a leading force in the digital marketing landscape, known for innovative and impactful campaigns. We plan to expand our reach globally, forge new partnerships, and continue pushing the boundaries of digital creativity. Our focus will remain on delivering value to clients, nurturing a creative and collaborative work environment, and adapting to emerging trends in the industry.

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In the coming years, we envision Playhouse as a leading force in the digital marketing landscape, known for innovative and impactful campaigns. We plan to expand our reach globally, forge new partnerships, and continue pushing the boundaries of digital creativity

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