“We will change the advertising industry in the next 18 months with our new Renaissance project” – TROYKA Group COO, Dr Ken Onyeali Ikpe

by Tolu’lope Omoyeni

It is easy to take for granted the transformation that has happened with advertising in the country in the past two years. It is easy to take the role Troyka and Insight have played in that revolution for granted these days. But then, there was a time when none of this was obvious and it took a band of rebels to create a global institution that would remake communication as a business and an industry in Nigeria. Ken Onyeali Ikpe (PhD) was one of those rebels and as Group Chief Operating Officer of INSIGHT REDEFINI, Dr Ken reflects on the past and the new vista ahead” – Chude Jideonwo.

On his career thus far.

It’s been a long journey. I’ve done 21 years going into 22 in the Integrated Marketing Communication space so it’s not just media. These days I pinch myself and ask myself if I can do a self-evaluation. I ask myself what I’ve brought into the industry in the last 20 years, what strategy did I take and at what point did I impact if at all. I’m here now 20 years after and already considering retiring.
On starting in this field 22 years ago when IMC was not really understood in this clime.

20 years ago, any professional outside advertising or IMC would have asked if advertising was a science, an art or an economic activity. They would have asked why anyone would go into advertising with a PhD in Economics, what impact does one intend to make and how will one contribute to the value chain in terms of economic productivity; but I saw it differently because I’ve always known that the Industrial Revolution induced mass production and the consequence of mass production is a full warehouse. To evacuate the warehouse, you need mass communication which in itself requires a knowledge of consumer engagement and brand/product loyalty that induces consistent purchase and consumption that will help clear out the warehouse so that mass production can start again. It’s a cycle. For me, it was clear from my economic point of view that this is a serious economic activity so I asked myself: Where do I key in in the whole of this chain? And advertising looked like it for me.
On convincing people that advertising held promise 22 years ago.

I didn’t need to convince anyone but myself. I knew that if I convinced myself and become an expert, then people would be convinced by what they see me do. I had the competence and qualification required, all that was left was experience and exposure. I could have gone into analysis or consultancy, but I thought in line with an Igbo proverb that says, it is better to be the head of a lion than the tail of an elephant, so I went into an industry where I knew I could impact and deal with perception and the heart of man, conviction and engagement. For me, I see a dovetail of passion, of interest and of career and it’s worked for me seamlessly like hand in glove.
Building a career.

The first six to seven months came with doubts, I began to consider the make-up of the whole field. Once I understood the strategic planning aspect of advertising which has to do with the target audience – understanding consumer preferences, economic and financial situations, demographics etc., I saw myself doing well there because it made sense that someone with a background in Economics would do better in piecing down the consumer in such a granular fashion. I had this background, then went back to learn Marketing – appreciating what brands are, the brand-building process and building a personality around those brands. For me it’s been a fantastic journey of intense knowledge acquisition. I consider myself a rolling stone that gathers moss.
On consumer evolution over the last 20 years.

It’s been amazing because the consumer today is very sophisticated unlike those of the past who were restricted to TV and radio, thanks to the introduction of digital technology. We’ve gone from being primordial to being developed, now we’re talking about sophistication. It’s been a great journey for the consumer and things are different from how we knew them to be even five years ago.
On the recession in Nigeria and how it has influenced consumers’ reception to products.

I think this recession has been exaggerated. A recession is not a death sentence, it just means the economy did not grow in the positive cycle in two quarters back to back. Every country in the world has seen a recession so it’s not new. We need to channel the available resources to meeting the basic needs of man: food, shelter, security; until the economic situation improves, then we can talk about luxury.

On the challenges facing the advertising industry in Nigeria.

I have answered this question numerous times and I have repeatedly said that the biggest challenge is talent. You don’t find a great pool of talents around because people who come into the industry don’t have the patience to be groomed. You see too many generic practitioners who themselves are not very good managers. I think people should go back to the basics and learn the trade like an artisan would do. The few available talents are being recycled over and over and are poached by multinationals.

Nigerian youths must pursue skill acquisition. We have a pool of educated people who have certificates but do they have the talent and skillset to be able to earn a living and price it appropriately? The answer is NO. Our education system in Nigeria is not as bad as they say, the only problem is it is too generic. Our young people must realize that what sells is skillset, not certifications.

I teach. I use every opportunity of contact with young people to alert them that a certificate does not entitle anyone to a means of livelihood. The basic example I give is this: if it takes a crass illiterate two years to learn how to manage and repair a cooling system, imagine how well a certified engineer would do if he took time to learn the in depth techniques of repairing a cooling system from an artisan.
On being named the Group Chief Operating Officer of Insight Redefini Group in 2016.

The system drew up a need for it and probably the Board members of the Group looked around and thought who best to integrate the vision of Insight Redefini. It fell on my laps and I was happy to take it. The challenges are great but someone has to do it. Insight Redefini houses seven major companies: All Seasons Media, Insight Communications, The Quadrant Company, Media Perspectives, Leo Burnett, Hotsauce and The Creative Council. I am the Group Managing Director of these seven big companies under Insight Redefini, so it’s a challenge that requires me putting a structure in place. I want to assure that in 18 months, we would have achieved the objective of our collective vision which is to create a Renaissance out of marketing communication in Nigeria. We have observed that we are leaders in the industry and we’ve gotten to the stage where we think we need another vista for marketing communications and this is my task. It is an audacious project and I am happy to carry it through.
On the future of advertising in Nigeria and how it is intertwined with that of Insight Redefini.

The future for us is the Renaissance I mentioned. We are not going to do advertising and/or communication anymore. What we are set to provide for clients is solution. We will use the Power of One gleaning from the competencies of the seven companies under the Insight Redefini, to achieve a convergence and bring solution to our clients. That will change the industry in the next 18 months.
On Tryoka’s success in cascading its vision across all cadre of staff in the last two decades.

Our Group is known for its structured nature. In terms of structure and processes, we don’t benchmark Nigerian businesses. A multinational business like TROYKA, responsible for over 18,000 employees, has built systems and processes with global relevance and our business leaders are also known for their effective leadership skills to ensure that we cascade our vision down to every cadre and fibre of our business as needed per time.

Advice do you have for young people looking up.

My advice is to seek to be better than me. Have character and staying power, define what you want to do and pursue it with consistency and discipline. Know that money is good but it is not everything. It only satisfies your physical needs, not your emotional or spiritual needs. Your cup must be half-full so you need content, you need to be sophisticated and multifaceted.

On juggling being a life and business coach and a media mogul with life as a family man.

It’s called wheel balancing. If you don’t have a luscious family life, your work will be affected. I made a deliberate choice of a life partner and we have built a family brand we are happy with. I know when to play, work optimally and when to soak up. So I’m hugely compartmentalized and I have great work-life balance.
As for coaching, the greatest joy for me is when I produce mini-Dr Kens, people who are better than me and have a larger canvas called the world. Coaching people gives me pleasure and emotional benefits and I do it with ease.

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