The Chief Operating Officer, Insight Communications, Feyi Olubodun, discusses the advertising industry and his passion for the profession in this interview with ANNA OKON.
It is common knowledge that Nigeria does not have a special school for advertising. Where and how do you source competent personnel?
As a business, we have a talent strategy that is reflective of where we are going and not where we are coming from.
Since we are aware of the fact that we are going towards a future that is digitally dominated and driven — where innovation is very key — we are focused on a future where the client wants the agency to become trusted advisors and partners. We are now looking beyond advertising. We look to other industries where real innovation is happening and we bring people from there. We also train our people differently.
We stay relevant by staying true to our DNA. The founders of Insight stated clearly from inception that we have nobody to copy from, adding that if we do what everybody is doing; we have no reason to exist. It is this ethos that we have carried on with.
We have always been the pathfinder in this industry and we will remain that. So for us, competing is not just about innovating; it is about taking things to the next level and leading at that level. For us, the only way to sustain leadership is to continue leading.
With all the small agencies now competing in the industry, how does Insight continue to stay relevant?
By staying up to date. I had to get a Global Executive Master’s degree from the Duke University in the United States because I need to think like a business manager and not like an advertising person.
Also, if I am going to sit in the boardroom with clients who are Chief Executive Officers, it is not advertising they want to discuss; they want to discuss business. They want to discuss their balance sheets. They don’t want the head of the advertising agency to come in and be discussing pontoon colours with them. They have a creative director to do that. Therefore, even the way I was trained to fill the role is very different from the way you traditionally train an advertising person.
It is alleged that Insight wins accounts on the basis of high-level networking. How true is this?
I have also heard that story too. However, I have found the story to be a myth because I have gone through some really brutal new business pitches, some of them with new people that are close friends and we still didn’t win those accounts.
Sometimes, we didn’t win because the creative was not deemed to be good enough; sometimes because we didn’t make it through the negotiation stage. No matter how much a client knows you, it is only a foolish client that will give an account to a friend that will not help him win.
Does Insight know people? Yes we do but we don’t know people because we are unethical. We know people because; remember they call us the University of Advertising.
We have clients that are chief marketing officers that passed through here who will not forget us. Again friendship versus value has always been there, and it is not going to go away; but clients are always chosen based on value.
Why did you choose to be in advertising?
For one thing, advertising has given me the opportunity to solve big problems for clients. Another thing is that I have wanted to work in an environment that is continually stimulating.
You know when you are solving different problems from different brands, you as an ad man in a single day will wear about 10 hats. Because you go through 10 different clients, with 10 different industry issues across 10 different industries, trying to create solutions each day. So it’s the excitement and the challenge that have kept me going.
There is also a personal philosophical belief that pushed me towards advertising and it’s the belief that brands are the most powerful tools for social change.
Personally, one of the things I want to bring back to advertising is the pride of the profession. Over the years, that pride seems to have evaporated. Advertising people had come to be seen as people that couldn’t get into the clients’ side or didn’t do well on the clients’ side. We are changing that.
Those of us who are in the industry today can work anywhere else. We just chose this industry because there is beauty in it; there is excitement in it. Moreover, there is opportunity to change other industries, brands and lives.
Going forward, what should the new government of Nigeria sell to the world?
We need to sell the Nigerian spirit. Look at us as a nation; we are an incredibly resilient people. We are an incredibly creative people. The challenge has been that opportunity has been limited across critical sectors of the country.
Nollywood’s growth came because it was allowed to grow. In a short while, Nollywood has become the third largest film industry in the world. I think the government needs to put in place policies, systems and processes that will encourage different industries to thrive and give the Nigerian spirit room. We can make the country great; it is in us.
With over 20 awards, Insight Communications emerged the foremost award-winning company in the Lagos Advertising & Ideas Festival Awards. How has that impacted on the company?
The awards did two things for Insight. One, it has given us a very powerful new business tool because every time we go to pitch a new business or we have to share our credentials, when we go there and say we are the best award-winning agency in LAIF for the past 10 years, it makes a strong statement for us.
It is like peer group endorsement for Insight. It reinforces our credibility, our competency and our consistency over time. If there was no LAIF, we won’t be able to make such a statement.
From the management’s point of view, it has also given us a motivational tool, particularly for our creative talents. They gun for the awards. They want it against their names. And it helps us to challenge the creatives internally and to motivate them.
You need to see the creatives internally; they take it personally. You know they start the year saying, “I want to win more awards on my account.” So it has gone beyond the management of Insight because it is the creative on the shop floor showing a firm’s resolve to win these awards. They are proud of the fact that they are part of an agency that got the highest number of awards at the LAIF awards.
Considering that the LAIF Award is already 10 years, what do you think about it?
The LAIF Award is a brilliant initiative. Every industry with a well-developed recognition system tends to stimulate growth and healthy competition. In my opinion, this is one of the strongest things the AAAN has done to stimulate the growth of the creative business in this country, and it has evolved tremendously. Year on year, it is getting better.
But why is it that no Nigerian agency has won Cannes award? What is the missing link?
The missing link is very simple. We don’t seem to understand Cannes. Yes, one might argue that they also do not understand our country, but that is not where it starts. A lot of the agencies that have gone to Cannes have gone there approaching things from a Western point of view. So Nigerian agencies enter works with Western feel there and anticipate winning. My take is that you cannot beat the West at their game.
If you look at Cannes today, suddenly countries from Asia, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, and South America are taking over. This is simply because the works they present at Cannes are local to the countries of origin.
You see works that tap into the nuances of their environment, and that’s what we need to do in Nigeria. We need to go back to creativity and not craft. I think today, there is too much emphasis on the craft of the work. You know whether it was shot with some high resolution production capability and all of that as opposed to what the idea is or the cultural insight in the communication. That is the link that we need to bring back.