BAO talks to Idiare Atimomo, COO of UP IN THE SKY Limited, on How he found his way into branding and advertising sphere, Nigeria’s business environment, and a sneak preview of His past experiences with challenges.
Tell us about your career in branding and advertising. How did you break into the industry, and how did you advance to where you are today?
It’s really a bit of a long story. I studied psychology in University of Ibadan and for some strange reasons, I decided I wanted to be a ‘consultant’ when I graduated. I researched all the big-name firms and their entry requirement was a Second-Class Upper degree. I was on track to have that so I was feeling very confident.
Sadly, upon graduation it turned out I had missed this grade by 0.5 points. I thought my dreams were over. I was however, lucky enough to land a dream job at VIP Consulting Ltd in February 204, led by Fela Durotoye. It was a boutique consulting firm specialising in customer service excellence training and acculturation projects. I am forever indebted to the exposure I got there, learning to think like a consultant, design and implement consulting projects and how to bill for projects. Within 10 months though I knew this wasn’t the type of consulting I wanted.
I resigned, hoping I would get a job in the communications/advertising industry very quickly. I was job hunting for 6 months until I got my break when DDB Lagos was recruiting a PR Executive. I sat for the test and did an interview. I believe my test scores were bad but my interview was awesome. The hiring manager, Akonte Ekine took a bet on me and insisted I was his choice. That was my big break into the branding and advertising industry. I resumed at DDB Lagos in September 2005
In that role, I worked on the LG Electronics, MoneyGram and Diamond Bank accounts. Akonte was training me in rapid-fire bursts and giving me work other managers wouldn’t give to an entry level staff. I had to grow fast and I pushed myself not to let him down. Not too long after I joined the agency, we were invited to pitch for the MTN advertising account.
Enyi Odigbo, our MD saw this as the chance of a lifetime and deployed the best and brightest team he had on the pitch. I was drafted to support the research and insights manager, Bayo Adekanmbi, on the pitch. To cut the long story short, we won the pitch and the agency entered the big leagues. I was soon offered a role in the Account Planning/Strategy team to work with Bayo on the MTN account exclusively. I agreed to the switch and my career literally took off in the industry.
One year working on a telecoms brand is like having 5 years work experience condensed into 1 year. It’s such a dynamic industry that you tend to launch products and services at least 4 times a month all year round. This was the crucible in which I honed my skills in the advertising industry. I had also begun studying for a Professional Diploma with the Chartered Institute of Marketing UK at this time. This broadened my knowledge base quite a bit beyond advertising.
We launched the first set of telecom products based on proper marketing segmentation (lifestyle/psychographic) for MTN, key of which was MTN Xtra Cool for the youth segment. Within 3 years at DDB, I had become a brand manager and eventually had a Group Head responsibility for all the consumer brands of MTN at the agency.
It was around this time when I was becoming restless for a new challenge that I was headhunted to apply for the Manager Youth Segment role at Etisalat Nigeria, then the latest entrant into the telecoms industry. I got the job and worked with a fantastic manager (Elvis Ogiemwanye) to launch the youth segment flagship product Easy Cliq. For 7 years, we built the youth segment of Etisalat to an enviable revenue beast and brand standard for Etisalat.
I only just resigned from Etisalat in December 2015 to co-found Up In The Sky Ltd with my friend and former agency contact, Oje Ojeaga. On the whole, my career has been one of lucky breaks with great managers/teams, lots of study and applying myself as much as I could to the task at hand and always aiming to create value for my stakeholders
What is the most challenging aspect of your job? What causes you the most anxiety?
In my current job as Chief Operating Officer of Up In The Sky LTD, I would say the source of anxiety is managing cash flow. We started in 2016, the year Nigeria slipped into a recession. Cash wasn’t flowing from clients yet we had to stay alive and keep fighting to define our ethos, mission and do great work. Whatever came in by way of funds needed to be properly managed to ensure all our obligations were met – to staff, clients and suppliers – all while we stay focused on our grand objective of demystifying advertising practice in Nigeria.
Though it has been a source of anxiety, conquering this challenge on a day to day is incredibly empowering.
What do you enjoy most about your job? Your current position as Co-Founder/COO Up In The Sky Ltd?
Bringing a smile to my clients face, when we deliver work that moves their bottom line. This is very important to me. Business development and pitching also rank quite high in what I enjoy doing on my job. I can almost say I don’t feel I go to work, I enjoy what I do so thoroughly it feels as if I’m not working.
Why is branding so important?
A strong brand is a company’s greatest defence in challenging times. It is what makes people pay a premium for your product or service, ignore alternatives till they can get yours. However, I tend to be an advocate of helping people understand that branding is not as important as marketing. I use the analogy of the Iceberg. What you see on top of the water is small compared to what is under the water. What is under the water is marketing, what is at the top is branding.
In the story of the Titanic, the captain of that ‘unsinkable’ ship underestimated the iceberg ahead of him and ran his ship into an iceberg he couldn’t assess the size of its underparts. What does this story tell us? Focusing too much on just branding without a proper understanding of marketing (which is the foundation of branding) is leaving your business open to shipwreck. If you get the marketing building blocks right, you will most likely get branding right as well.
What is the impact of digital revolution on brands and brand management?
Digital has made the playing field flat for brand managers and creators. The platforms are easy to manage, not too expensive (low barriers to entry) and constantly evolving to reduce friction. Today as a small company you can record a high-quality video at 4K quality on your iPhone, edit it with the iMovie app and broadcast it to all Nigerians on Facebook, a platform now having 20 million plus active Nigerians.
So all the tools are available to a larger number of people. This however, doesn’t say expertise has no more relevance. Knowing what will be interesting for an audience and how best to present a product or service is still very important. It is left for communications professionals to show their expertise in the digital space as now, even a 15-year-old kid armed with a mobile phone, a debit card and thousands of followers can be the barbarian at the gates of your revenue.
Idiare Atimomo is a chartered marketer of the chartered institute of marketing, United Kingdom.
He is currently COO of up in the sky Ltd, a creative services agency with clients in online retail, pension fund administration and
manufacturing. His agency has won blue chip accounts and local and international marketing/creative awards in just one year of operations.
He has received training on developing marketing strategies and building profitable market segments in telecoms at the prestigious Informa Telecoms Academy, in the United Arab Emirates and has also attended the Columbia business school executive education program “digital marketing strategy”.
He is a writer, frequent speaker at conferences and management retreats on branding and marketing excellence. _he lives in Lagos, Nigeria with his wife and two sons.