By DARE PHILLIPS
For Dr. Ken Onyeali Ikpe, managing director and chief executive officer of Mediacom Nigeria, style is a way of life. For this foremost intellectual and marketing communication expert, whose company is one of the organisations under Troyka Group, maintaining high standard is key.
The Imo State-born brand master explains why in this stimulating interview. Excerpts:
If you look back, what will be the most memorable landmark in your professional life?
The way I am wired is that every day is almost the same. I am wired to change. I suffer because I don’t lower the standard. When you talk about landmarks, I could say when you do big business that gives you a lot of satisfaction; when you hire a team and see people grow, that gives you lot of satisfaction.
The primary task of a CEO is to deliver profit to shareholders on a regular basis, which we have managed to do in my 12 years as CEO of Mediacom. For me, what I remember are those times that I regret more than the things that I have achieved. I have experienced disappointment because I have seen good staff leave for reasons that are not only flimsy, but shortsighted on the part of my former staffers.
If you told me you were leaving because you wanted to do something bigger than you were doing, I can understand. But when it is a thing that cannot be quantified then I feel bad. I have experienced enough to see very many of them either come back or never come back because I keep track of my people.
How did your own boss feel when you were leaving your former company for Mediacom?
Mediacom is one of the 10 companies in Troyka Group and I have been in Troyka Group for 18 years. We are the biggest marketing communication group in West Africa responsible for over 38 percent of general advertising billing in Nigeria. I think I have the privilege of working in that group and I could realize my potential. So, I don’t understand why I should leave the first rate agency to join the third rated industry. If it is a standard you want, you join an organization that has fibre and capacity to give you a platform to live your career dream.
What is next challenge for you having been CEO of Mediacom for 12 years?
I am a very strong apostle of Troyka Group. I came to Troyka with powerful credentials, which could have given me opportunity in any sector I wanted to represent. So, if I choose to remain in Troyka, it means I could grow not only horizontally, but vertically. There are 10 companies in Troyka Group. So, if I manage Mediacom excellently well, I can take those skills to another group. I could take my skills and experience to any of these companies if I want. That is one option.
The second option is that I could say, “I have reached the height of managerial level, so what can I do for myself?” But I am not an entrepreneur; I am not too sure I see myself setting up an advertising company or setting up a business. I am a trained manager. I want to believe I am one of the best managers, meaning that I can take those skills anywhere or I can take it to leadership in political life.
Some multinationals are beginning to develop their media in-house, how does that compete with what you do and what kind of result are they getting?
It is mediocrity they will get. We are never afraid of that because we have seen it all over and over again. A brewery is coupled and put together to produce beer and that is their core competence. A telecommunication company is put together to produce telecommunications-ability for you to talk. The moment you lose focus of that and you now want to do marketing or media, you have lost your core competence. You will not deploy your best resources to do it and that automatically affects the result you get even though you wanted to save money. It doesn’t make sense at all and it is only in Nigeria you see such things. That is not what you are meant to do, so why are you doing it?
But the contemporary advertising language using more of the creative arts and musicians…
(Cuts in). No, that is not advertising. You have to be very clear what advertising or sponsorship is; they are different terms. If you do endorsement, it grows your affinity; you want people to get close to your brand and get sentimentally attached to it. But if you want brand equity, endorsement cannot deliver and there is the bad side of endorsement.
What if something goes wrong with that property that you are embracing? The DNA of the brand is affected and personality as well is hit, and you start all over again, it will cost 10 times to get back to where you were in the first place. Endorsement is the last step in integrated marketing because your brand should first of all be successful before it is endorsed. So, how can you begin to endorse something that is not successful yet? You need to first create a brand, build a brand and put a personality in there, and then communicate it over a period of time.
How do you identify a good advertisement?
A good advert should hold attention, interest, create desire and induce action. When we re-launched the Mirinda advert those days, for four weeks, the problem of Seven-Up Bottling Company wasn’t sales anymore. It was the problem of bottling. They couldn’t meet the demand for Mirinda. And that is what advertisement should do to any product.
Can identifying the niche market also help the media?
In all businesses you have to first of all identify the market because you cannot be generic, you cannot be everything to everybody. If you decide you are going to be a print house then decide. Do I want to talk to a man or a woman? If it is a woman, what age category, what demographics, what lifestyles?
It is answers to these questions that will determine the personality of your newspaper so there will be automatic marriage, people tend to buy what best reflect their personality. So, you have to first of all define target market and then build personality of your product on it, but if you do it the other way round, that is when advertising becomes expensive because it will cost you money and time to convince people. But if you get it right, you don’t need to spend too much on advertising.
What would you identify as the marketing mistakes you have made?
One of the exciting brands that I handled was Bagco Super Sack back in Insight Communications. We created communications that was very nice but we weren’t really talking to the right people. We adjusted quickly and came back to ask: Who are our right targets for Bagco bags? Certainly, it is not the man building a house who may be literate and rich; you are really talking to the merchant who sells cement, because most of them buy cement in bulk but not to bag them. So, if you do commercials that are sophisticated, they may look fine but you are not talking to them. Our research revealed that these people, although are very rich, are scarcely literate. So, we needed to do commercials that they all understand. And there has to be some comic hook in it. And that is how we came to do all those commercials that were in pidgin. “Bagco Super sac, e no de leak, e no de burst, e good for market women.”
So they liked it and we had some various comic versions of it and the message hit the right target. Today, it remains number one in the cement bag-producing sector. The brand sells so much that people do not realize that there are more than ten brands of cements bags in this country. Today, Bagco is top on the mind; it is what is on people’s mind. Thanks to our creative advertising.
What are the keys to success in integrated marketing communications?
To succeed in this practice, you have to build a very strong knowledge of the market and sciences of the environment. On the surface, you will think all it takes is the ability to communicate well but what are you communicating if you don’t understand the essence of the brand, the make-up and the intricacies of the marketplace? You need to understand who the consumer is, what kind of person he is, and what his psychographics are- his way of life, his habits, what motivates him to buy. Those things need to be understood. And you must understand economics, the marketplaces, your environment and the life around you.
Above all, you must have a passion for marketing communication because it is not a job (unlike other professions) where you go to work at eight o’clock and close by five. You could just do several hours but you must enjoy it. It has to be with passion. And you must be someone who likes to look good because it all has to do with panache and razzmatazz. You must be a real marketing person—boundless, no straight jackets.
What does the transitioning from print to digital media entail in marketing communication?
It has its own consequences. The consequences are that some people argue that it will kill the print media. But this I refuse to accept because print media will never die; it is a way of life. There are people who will read digital and will still want to see the physical aspect on print. What I think is happening and is going to happen more is that the budget for advertising in print media may reduce in contrast to digital media. So the onus is not on me, the advertiser because the entire budget still remains with me. I am only deciding where to put it and where not to put it and in what proportion. The man who is affected is the owner of the platform- the newspaper owner. It is left to him to develop digital platforms so that if he loses on print, he can gain it there.
Knowing well the essence of mentoring, who would you say have been your mentors over the years?
Biodun Shobanjo and Jimi Awosika could pass for my mentors. Shobanjo was all about style while Awosika was about intellectual power. In terms of intellect, Awosika is best amongst the pack, while Shobanjo has the style and that is what advertising is all about. And I was in between both of them.
What kind of books do you read?
My father introduced me to biographies early. He encouraged me to read them. He also named me Kennedy because my birth coincided with when John F. Kennedy was the president of the United State of America, which meant leadership to him. And he gave my grandmother the prerogative of giving a name and she gave me Landlord. So, all these helped me to decide which side I was going to choose in life.
What are the lessons you have learnt in life?
Life has taught me about the tough times of life that you need resilience. It has taught me that when the time gets tough, it’s only the tough that gets going. It has also taught me that a journey of a thousand miles starts from a step, which also mean that you keep walking. For me, my cup is half full all the time, it never half empty. I am an incurable optimist and that is why I came back to Nigeria after schooling abroad. I hate emptiness. I hate mediocrity. I hate pessimist because nothing is impossible. I believe in consistency and discipline. And when you have these two combined, people would begin to feel you are a genius. But you know your secret is being consistent. You will find out that people who really make it in life are mostly not one of the most brilliant brains in school, what kept them on top of their game is consistency.
While schooling abroad, what kept you going?
I am a believer in compartmentalisation. I believe that life should be highly compartmentalised and that has worked for me so far. What this mean is that you open a particular compartment that fits the situation that you find yourself. If there is need to play, you play and if need arises for work, you work. And that is how I have learnt to live my own life.
When would you consider the happiest day of your life?
The day I defended my PhD project was the happiest day in my life. Immediately, I put a call straight to my dad to break this news to him. You know, getting a PhD at the age of 27 was a thing of joy to me. It was a trophy to me.
Tell us a little bit about your parents and background?
My father’s name is Dan Kalio Ikpe and my mother’s name is Celin Ikpe. I was born on December 5,1962 in Kano State. Naturally, I wouldn’t know what the first seven years of my life was all about because I was pretty young, but I remember vividly that when the war broke out, my father, who worked with UAC then in Kano came down to Lagos. When crisis began also in Lagos, we had to move to our native town, Nekede, Imo State. The first time I lived in the East was during my secondary school days. And it wasn’t by accident. My dad insisted that he wanted his first son to be brought up in a particular manner. So, even though I passed exams to go to King’s College, he made sure I went to a Federal Government College, Afikpo (now in Ebonyi State), where I would be able to stay in the boarding house.
This, for me, was a very terrible experience, because I didn’t know the language and the culture. And I have never lived outside my immediate home. At this time, I was just 12 years old. Although, it was a pride then, being in such a school because we had the best students from every part of Nigeria. It was, indeed, a school of distinction. It was a big school. As a matter of fact, it took me about three years to know the nooks and crannies of the school. At this point, I knew life had started. I thought I was being maltreated because I saw no genuine reason why my father would want all these for me. In fact, I thought I was being banished.
Now that you are 50, how does your dad feel?
My father is now late. He died at the age of 61. He died of prostrate cancer and I am paranoid about it now. Every time I hear it, my mood changes completely, because I saw him go through it and I feel a little bit of care on his part would have saved his life. Today, when I hear prostate cancer, what comes to mind is death, a painful death for that matter.
How do you define death?
Death is an event that is inevitable that should be prepared for. When you prepare for death you rise above it, and it would have you know that there is limited time on earth. As a matter of fact, 90 years of age is not too much for a man because the half of it is your formative years. The question we all need to ask ourselves is; what did you do? What are you going to be remembered for? And that is why in my office here I made this frame that reads: “Life is not measure by the number or breath we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.” How many of these moments have you achieved in your lifetime?
What is the next frontier in your career development. Could it be politics?
Yes, it is politics and it has to be executive office. I have made my consultations and have gotten lot of people’s nods. I am exploring the executive platform, not the legislative. I would rather be a local government chairman than a senator because that is where I can impact lives better.
But politics is believed to be a dirty game in Nigeria, why do you want to go into it?
That is what people say to scare good people away. It is not true. It is a campaign. They keep saying it so that good people would stay away for them to perpetrate themselves. There are people in it now who are more decent than I am. Are you saying Governor Babatunde Fashola is a ragamuffin? In 1999, it would have been dangerous for people like me to come into politics. Now, we have gone through 2003 and going into 2015. Do you still want me to feel the same? Things are changing but they don’t want us to see it.