Jenkins Alumona, an experienced journalist, integrated marketing communications expert and strategist, is Chief Executive Officer at Strategic Outcomes Limited Group, a multidimensional company, where he has served a range of industries and working across verticals of businesses in the last 15 years. In this interview with Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf, and Medina Kanabe the alumnus of the Harvard Business School, Lagos Business School, etc., speaks on his career trajectory over two decades vis-à-vis the current business climate and plans for the future. Excerpts:
You were a celebrated journalist, at what point did you know that things were not okay and wanted to try something new?
Let’s say that I didn’t move from journalism to this business, let’s say that I moved from journalism to the marketing communications, working for the troika group and I moved from there to working as part of a team that launched companies for two telecoms networks including: ECONET and GLO as pioneer staff in both companies. I had left journalism for some time before going on to participate in birthing telecoms in Nigeria both from the agency side and on to the client side.
I have seen a lot of things done and I saw that the people I dealt with on the client side had too much of a contractor attitude towards delivering for clients and I felt that I could do it differently. Our attitude here is that the client is our partner and the client achieving his business objective is of the utmost important to us as it is important to the client. So, if we get paid a lot of money and the client is not achieving his objective, then it ends up a short relationship, and it will be a short relationship anyway because if you don’t make money then how do you pay us?
How did you envision the business?
I see things in a spectrum, a hundred per cent. You can’t go into anything thinking that everything will come out a hundred percent but you need to be in it with about 98 or 99 percent positivity that you can do it. At that time I wasn’t seeing myself as an entrepreneur but as a young person who wanted to make a contribution and felt that I was going to bring a different approach to doing stuff and for our earliest clients they were surprised that when we got an opportunity to sit down and make a proposal, and we were sent a brief we would approach it and do everything and whenever we talked about what we expected to get at least one or two people would say, are you not going to get paid and we would say of course we would get paid. But we were more interested in getting that solution that will satisfy the objective than getting paid. We have also as time has gone, changed with the times, being as future forward as we can but we still have retained the essence of our personality as a company which is we want to partner with you, get the best for you believing that when we get the best for you we will also get the best for ourselves.
Can tell us about the learning curve? How easy was it for you to transit from being a journalist to an entrepreneur?
I do not know if there is anything that anybody does without breaking a sweat, I think if you want to achieve something, you will have to break a sweat but the bucket load, or cup of sweat or a tea spoon of sweat is where the difference is. I started writing for The Guardian as a journalist at 17 and I had the opportunity of being in the same newsroom with titans such as the likes of Femi Kusa, Ladi, Ebube Nwandibe as News Editor, Emeka Izeze, Dr. Olatunji Dare and a host of others. Those things impacted in me. You are sitting in your corner and hearing them screaming across the newsroom, it was very exciting time for me as a young person because these were the best at that period and it also made me feel at that point that I could also be the best.
The fact is journalists are best prepared for anything they want to be. Because as a 17 years old boy I was asked which desk I wanted to go to and because I was wearing a tie, someone said I should go to the Business Desk’ and I said no I want to go to the Sports Desk because that was the period of the Olympics and I wanted to be in the middle of it so I was coordinating Olympics reportage at 17 and of course The Guardian had someone there. This was Seoul 88 and it was a big surprise to the older people that this 17 year old boy was able to hold his own and ensured that things went well.
What this kind of background does to you is that it prepares you to be whatever you want to be. If you get commendation from people who you think are at the end of the world at that young age. It was to me the best thing that ever happened to me You could go to the library every day and the smell of newsprint was addictive, I could read about anything I wanted to and I grew in the profession very quickly, obviously, maybe I reported everything, I wrote politics covers, when I moved to the news magazine, I could do anything I wanted and that is what I meant by if you are a journalist you have the opportunity, you can do anything. That is why also here we deal with all sorts of matters, on the strategy level, we consult for big brands.
What do you consider your greatest strength as a company?
I will say quality of people that we engage to be a part of our side of the client business relationship. Because if you don’t have the right kind of people that will understand where we are coming from and what we stand for, then you cannot succeed as much as you want. You should understand that a project is as important to us as it is important to the client so it is not about just doing it and getting paid at the end of the month or when the clients pay us.
How well have you succeeded as a marketing strategist?
As a journalist you are not trained to blow your own trumpet. I mean we have been here for the past 15 years and we have been part of one or two or three brands that have become a huge success. We sit sometimes and argue very strongly, yes we are more of a strategy company and we have many of our colleagues that say no, you’re a strategy company but you do some creatives and you have a firm that does Public Relations. And I say yes, what happens is that sometimes we have found out that when we detail these strategy, when we come up with a proposal, it is difficult for someone to carry it through and so we offer to carry it through and deliver the finished products. We have had cases when we are very happy to just do the strategy and let you go and find your way but you know how it is in our system, in this clime. People are very wary of you and leaving it at that point and they want you to carry it but, what else does strategy will help something as unloved as taxation because the most talked about, discussed things in a country like ours.
Even you love it or you hate it, if Lagos State moves from N4billion to N25billion and FIRS, moves in the time of deep recession and starts breaking records we are glad. Of course we never work in a vacuum so other factors are also in play.
In the last 15 years, what will you say is the most challenging for the industry?
I as a person don’t think that if you have 150kg pot of okro soup today for your villagers and you call a feast, if you have a very good time this year, and next year you still bring that 150kg pot of soup and your villagers of course have a great time and it is okay for them. I think that at some point they will start thinking that you are wasting their time because they have come from far and wide and they are not getting the feel that they want because the size of the pot is not expanding. It is the same thing with anything, even this business. The thing is that only a few people will continue to feed and more and more people will continue to go hungry. The economy has started growing again but for some time now but let us remember that at a time it was contracting. Is it growing at a pace to satisfy the large number of people participating in the business? No. And that’s why when you go to many of our companies, many people are saying that things are not fine. It is not as if the economy is not growing again, but is it growing at a slow pace. So that’s it for the industry. So the creativity is more, you can see from the awards the Nigeria advertising companies are winning that yes, we are doing great and we can do better. But of course, we cannot also do as well as we can in the situation that we find ourselves. What has happened also is that because of the quality of the economy, it’s not just enough to talk about the quantity of the economy, it is also important to talk about the quality of the economy so as they say, how many SMEs even understand the need or have the need for the service we provide. Let’s talk about the need because you must be expanding your business before you talk about going to a firm to help you reach broader or a wider market.
If you do not even have enough power to produce 50 slippers and managing to pay rent with it, how do you consider the possibility of producing 1000 slippers and need Mr. J and B advertising to help you reach 1000 people to buy you slippers.
So all of these things are tied together, you know the failure is us not seeing that one impacts on the other.
What are some of the teething problems you had to contend with as a business?
For the company itself, the challenges we face is being pigeon holed into a particular area. In the earliest life of this company we did quite a bit nonpublic sector. We are in the heart of the first insurance consolidation in the country. But once we started getting a number of successes in the public sector area, we started also, perhaps hearing from prospects that these guys are public sector people. Our people get the kind of training that will frighten other people. I mean, they get training that has nothing to do with marketing communications because we believe that knowledge is everything including things that are not necessary directly related to our everyday business, we have people who can do these things in-house.
There is a tendency for our people to see advertising as just communication but let’s not forget that we are marketing people so we can help you see the market better, help you understand the people, the consumer more. So, if we live in a country where some brands have burst into the market using very unusual means, you all know some of the brands. They didn’t come in the normal way. How do you think they did it? I want to believe that they got an insight into the market and who best provide those insights, professionals in our industry who have dealt over decades with these consumers and understands the needs of these consumer. I think the failure is to wait until you have whatever you have produced to approach marketing communications companies. Sometimes, even eh you are looking for that thing to sell, that thing that the market needs, perhaps you should start when you are creating that product.
As a business, what is your plan B?
We don’t have a plan B, our businesses are primarily focused on getting the best brand outcomes for our clients so we have a company that is an advertising agency but we also have a PR company. We have a sports promotions and marketing company, we have an event company. So, everything is around that area, we have not started doing things outside that area, but what we do is get people focused on specific areas, so if we are working for a brand for instance, and we think that the solution that are suited for the best outcomes you desire are not purely advertising, then we recommend to you. For us the one thing we want to do for a client is sit down, and say that this is where you are going to, this is the strategy that will get you there. Sometimes, it needs something very radical. Let’s talk about GOTV boxing which is one of my favourite, We said, this brand, you need to use sports to sell it, you do not want to come into a room that is already full of people like football, you want the customers, the consumers you desire, what is close to their heart and we said look at Boxing and based on the clients consent we have created a very successful platform for that but it’s still within what we do; brand engagement.