Dr. Tunji Olugbodi is the Recipient of The Year 2015 BRANDAGE Magazine BRAND ICON Award. This creative Genius and Advocate of possibilities has a robust pedigree in journalism, advertising and entreprise management spanning thirty unbroken years, tells his story and inspiring down-to-heart revelation of his world of possibilities.
Could you kindly go down memory lane, let’s know your story, how it all started, your growing up, parentage, schools attended and what informed your career choice?
I must thank you for the honour, and I feel really humbled and privileged to have been nominated for this particular award. Growing up for me was a very interesting experience, I think I was one of those people that grew up at a time when Nigeria’s evolution was in the very formative stages.
What I mean by this is that I was born in the mid sixties, early part of the sixties just before we saw what evolved to be the re-characterisation of the Nigeria political dispensation. It was interesting to the extent that a few years after I was born, I had very clear memory of getting into a lorry and practically had to run out of the East with my mum on the heels of the civil war. At that time my dad was then working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in Port Harcourt. All these breath taking great memories staged with me all through my journey in life. Now going to my parentage, my mother is from Abeokuta, while my father is from Ara in osun state.
My father was a banker before he retired in the early eighties and my mum was in business before she also retired and both of them are well advanced in age. I was brought up in what can be regarded as a regular middle class family, to the extent that parents felt obliged and responsible for their children’s welfare and upbringing. The cardinal thing then was the best you can do for your children is to get them educated and so it is not unusual that you find out that in most families including mine was that the eight or nine of us were educated. We went through the four walls of the university.
And for me that was one of the greatest achievement that I can ascribe to my parents. Incidentally at the time most of us were in the university my father had retired, you can then imagine what it meant training all of us to the level of having university education. Again for me this helps me to stay focussed and lived up to expectation which also helped us the children to be what we are today. As I said earlier, I was brought up in a regular middle class family and there was nothing to suggest that I was born with a silver spoon. I attended a regular public primary school and also went to a regular public secondary school. I went to salvation Army Pry School Surulere behind National stadium and Ejigbo Baptist High School and for HSC, I attended Ede Baptist High School Osun State.
Why Osun State for your secondary school education?
Frankly I really don’t know why. I just woke up one day and my parent said I was going to have my secondary school education at Ejigbo. I never asked them why and up till today I have never asked them. But to be honest with you, my parents’ decision is something that I am really grateful for, grateful to the extent that for me it was an extreme culture change. I was just nine years old when I left primary school in primary 5 and I have lived in Lagos all my life. Obviously at that time I was that fragile looking boy that had this very strong Lagos accent and to have plucked me out of that comfortable zone and now to place where I have never been to. Remember at that time secondary school students were much more older and matured in that part of the world hence, I was greatly intimidated by their proverbs.
Despite the culture changes in school, I found It to be an interest adventure. For me that was what bonded me with our people, the traditional and cultural ways by living the ways Yorubas lived. It made understand the culture in what I call the very simple rustic life style, those experiences had a great impact on me and even the whole things about public education in public schools is the dedication of the teachers and staff in secondary school. My HSC was very brief and for university I was privileged to have attended Ogun state university the second set, which was modelled after Ife and Ibadan. The buck of our lecturers and facilitators are from these universities and a few others who came in from abroad. In those days at the university, one was taught with pride to be focussed and were greatly influenced by our lecturers and teachers. We didn’t just go to school, we were influenced to take fundamental position on things not just only in education but also in human emancipation and enlightenment.
It was then not unusual that at that time I had imbibed interest in the Arts; the creative arts. I was very active in performing, I was very active as a writer and as a journalist. By my second year at the university, I was a correspondent for the Guardian Newspaper. I was writing stories that covered Ogun state and so naturally when I graduated the Guardian newspaper was my choice of place to work. I would have gone back to the university as a lecturer but that was not to be. I studied English and again this was instructive because my father all along wanted me to study law, after graduation. I started work at the Guardian newspaper and all of sudden I got tired of journalism.
I just felt I did not have a great future in journalism as a carer and one of the few options I had was advertising which had on me a great allure. Advertising people are gregarious, well dressed and sharp.
When did you get into adverting?
Getting into advertising those days was not a tea party. It was a kingly contested profession to get in. At that time, there were very few advertising agencies that worth its salt. I was fortunate enough to get into Promoserve at that time you can count on your finger tips a few of these agencies. Promoserve at that time later became the grey agency in Nigeria. The held a lot of promises and was owned by a Maverick in the industry at that time Late uncle Kehinde Adeosun who was one of Nigeria’s best creative genius especially when it comes to using God’s given talent, his voice was uncommon in the industry, my sojourn at Promoserve was a great eye opener for me. I was exposed to client spending millions of naira and dollars their advertising budget. And so the whole culture, knowledge on how to manage the client from the corporate perspective was imbibed there.
Can you recall your first major account?
Oh yes! I think the very first major account I worked on at that time was Access Bank, Access Bank was one of the very astute bank at that time. they were shopping for a new agency and we got the brief. I was one of those assigned to work on the pitch and also part of the presentation team to client. It was a big deal for me because I had just joined the agency and immediately had an opportunity to be part of the presentation team because there were others, well experienced, knowledgeable that could have been chosen.
Who nominated you for the presentation?
I really cannot say but at that time we were under the leadership of a gentleman Mr Allan Olabode. My line head was Lolu Akinwunmi who was also the client service director. I learnt a great deal from them and we went on to win the account. I was one of the account executives that worked on the account. There were other multinationals accounts we were working on then, Unilever, Chrislib, Pfizer, which were leading brands at that time. And also working for Promoserve at that time was an eye opener for me where I learnt the whole culture, system of managing client account for growth and profitability. Again at promoserve I discovered that I had a strong passion for advertising. I was ready to work the extra hours and very passionate about what I was doing in the agency. I was opportuned to had work on such account like Pfizer, that had the likes of Mr Lere Baale, Nmaazi Sam Ohangbua and Emma Ekunnor. These are great minds that I was opportuned to have interacted with from the side of the client.
Can you recall the naughty account?
I use to say to people there are no easy account, just like I also say there is no small event or account or promotion. My position is that if one is set to work on an account whether the budget is one thousand naira or one hundred million naira, there should be total commitment on the part of agency executives. Once this is in place, it’s a smooth sale.
There should be no assumption or taking things for granted. These helped me a great deal to be on top of my game and always ahead of clients. I do my contact report on time, I sent out clients briefs to my colleagues in other departments of the agency and coordinate their execution. Having said all these,”this is not also to say that there would not be difficult client the way to manage them is not to be found wanting on the deliverables and even surpass expectation and so reason will set in.
Can you recall some of your colleagues?
There are quite a number of them which include Miss. Sola Salako, she got into advertising before me and was quite helpful in showing me around. Mr Kayode Kazeem, in Promoserve then was my immediate boss. There was also Miss Wunmi Ali now Mrs Wunmi Owodunni who at that time administered my interview. Miss Bukky King now Mrs. Bukky Ogunnusi. We resumed on the same day at Promoserve. They are all doing well in the integrated marketing communication industry. In Promoserve, I started as a copywriter then moved into business development, client service and strategy. Prior to Promoserve, I had a brief stint at SAAL Advertising owned by Mr. Steve Alaniran, a great graphic designer. I believe is still very much around. Another person that greatly influence my career in advertising is Lolu Akinwunmi.
Why did you join Prima Garnet?
I was actually going into banking before I learnt that Lolu Akinwunmi was setting up Prima Garnet. He invited me and asked whether will be interested in working with him in Prima Garnet and I taught to myself why not seized the opportunity though I was to resume work at oceanic bank as head of corporate affairs department and so Prima Garnet happened under the very strong and able leadership of Lolu.
And you know the rest is history in terms how Prima Garnet became an overnight sensation in the early 90s and how I was privileged to have worked on several influential accounts. We became (PG) the Ogilvy affiliate in Nigeria and expanded into 141worldwide, Mindshare, Cutlar Ogilvy, Lampost and so on. My stay in Prima Garnet was memorable and enjoyable. It was an interesting time for me.
What prompted your exist?
I think it just got to the time for me to move on. I wanted to do more and it dawned on me that I could really be doing a lot much more than I was doing at that time. I wanted to do more which was a new impetus for me. I had to get rid of the fears and butterflies in me. It was not a convenient point of departure. However, the drive of getting to do things differently and also roll out ideas of what I call a twenty first century entrepreneur. That was it and it was so very strong.
How did the management of PG react to your exist?
I think it was quite natural that the management didn’t like my decision because at that time I was a strong part of top management and also had responsibilities that entailed running the agency. However, I had made my decision to move on and start something new nlike what is usually the trend. I made a conscious decision not to take any of the account or any member of staff of the company which was premised on both moral and ethical ground which meant starting off on ground zero and also for me a test of faith and values and getting things done when properly guided by the spirit of God.
How has the Verdant Zeal adventure been like?
It’s been interesting, worthy and rewarding, not in financial or material terms but in terms of possibilities. Are you saying you are not making profit? If you are not making profit then you cannot be a growing concern. If you are not making profit then you cannot be setting up new business and acquiring companies. If you are not making profit you cannot be expanding the frontiers of your own business beyond Nigeria.
Beyond this, one of the key point that I have learnt in life is that you should never make money your focal point because you cannot outgrown money and so is not really about profit. There is really more to life than just making money and making profit. I am a strong proponent that what will make of life is by what you earn and what makes a life is what you give from the world go we have been involved in community support for organisations, institutions, individuals and people who are indigent.
In one way or another which makes it interesting. In our journey, we met great and interesting people, we have worked on accounts that are local and global that provided very interesting impact; an opportunity that ordinarily one would have thought was never possible which are more rewarding and have demonstrated that they are real and possible. Just yesterday, Nigeria was signed off as being free from the polio pandemic. Interestingly, through our involvement with UNICEF we were involved in the last major national campaign that finally kicked polio out of Nigeria. For a substantial part of last year, we worked with UNICEF in at least six northern states of the country; these are the kind of collaborations I am taking about because the end result of such coalition inspires satisfaction in the eradication of polio in Nigeria. One is humbled that in our own little way we were part of history and this could not have happened if we were not part of the project.
Can you please recall your very first account?
Our very first account was actually Micom Golf Hotel. It was our very first major account. The beauty of the account was that it was a retainership account. Micom Golf Hotel is located in Ada, Osun State which many people were not aware of. Our task at that time was to turn the hotel into a living brand which we were able to actualise.
How do you win your account?
Through referrals, the quality of what we do, pitches and our reputation.
Nine years ago, you started as an advertising agency, today you are a group, what informed this expansion?
Three things informed our expansion. The infinite organic growth what that sets one apart as a marketer of note in the market place. What this means is that in every facet of endeavour of marketing communication there is a need for specialisation but that specialisation will be meaningless unless it’s tied to insight that are coming strongly from the market from itself. When you talk of organic growth it is what set you apart as a strong local agency to an international agency that is just hovering everywhere to get accounts and that is what I say to people that no matter how big a global agency is your own impact or relevance as a local player must be felt in the local market place.
The global agency must not and should not understand the dynamics of the market more than you do. These are the advantage and strength that you have. Secondly, the need for growth and expansion become imperative due to new opportunities again I am always advocated the principle of what I call multilateral method of business. What it does is that it provides additional opportunities for the organisation across board. The third reason is basically that we were in search of new market where opportunities existed for us. The new markets are the ones that provide the platform for the new opportunities to do things in different way. These reasons informed our expansion drive and the fact that specialisation is key for growth working on different kinds account and different shops simultaneously without clashing. For instance, in Lagos we operate different offices; we are opening another one in Delta. We are in Akra Ghana and Banjul Gambia.
If you are to evaluate the performance of Vandant Zeal, what is your verdict?
If I am to use the hundred percent measurement I will score us about sixty five percent and there are opportunities for improvement in the years ahead.