A prolific writer and communication specialist, Ikem Okuhu has said that Nigeria, all along, has been pretending to brand and rebrand while it has not attained a brand ‘status’. In this interview with 789marketing.ng, Okuhu explained what led him to write Pitch: Debunking Marketing Strongest Myths.
Let’s get to meet you, can you just give us some background details of yourself?
My name is Ikem Okuhu, I see myself as a journalist with bias towards brands and marketing reportage. I have been around and about, having worked in the media and the corporate world. I worked at ExxonMobil, United bank for Africa (UBA) and Ecobank Nigeria where I headed the External Relations Unit. I later resigned my appointment to run my own company, Reliks Media Limited, the platform that birthed Nigeria’s only nationally circulating brands and marketing magazine at the time, BRANDish.
You recently published a book, is it your first publication?
Let me say that we are about to publish a book because the formal public presentation will be held on November 26. The book will be my first, although I have made some contributions in some books and journals in the past.
The Title: Pitch: Debunking Marketing’s Strongest Myths, What informed the choice of title?
Thank you very much. What I tried to do with this effort was examine certain strongly held views and trends in the wider marketing world in the context of their relevance and impact in the realities of everyday effort to facilitate exchange. A number of these views and trends have been with us for years. Some just became the rule as a result of practice and because they have been left unchallenged, certain levels of myths shrouded them, making people to consider them “no-go” areas. But I took a look at them and thought there are no longer the needs to sustain these myths for the overall good of the market. The title was chosen, therefore, in reflection of the central goal we set out to achieve, which was to straighten a few things and perceptions about the business of advertising, public relations and management of the sales process.
What does this book and its contents seek to address?
Let me say that I had always toyed with the idea of writing books. In days as a younger person, I actually tried writing a novel. That was while I was still in secondary school. Somehow I lost the manuscript because those days, we wrote with pen and paper. After my NYSC, I played with the idea of writing movie scripts. I had two written but I didn’t know how to go about talking to producers. I didn’t know any producer. So I embraced journalism and later, marketing journalism. After my stints in the corporate world, I returned to journalism and there were quite a few people who thought we were doing a great job of it. But I always found certain gaps in the industry. There are no indigenous books in the subject. The ones we have are mainly academic books put together by lecturers and sold to students, most of which are not even as original as they should be. In my journey in the industry, I have read a lot of books on brands and marketing and I always found some sort of dissonance in most of the case studies and examples used to drive home points by these authors. These case studies and examples are always about companies and individuals that are not Nigerians. I therefore wondered why we shouldn’t have well-written books that discuss brands and marketing with Nigerian examples and cases? This, in my view, will facilitate uptake because these brands and projects and individuals are people we see every day. I was convinced it wouldn’t be a bad idea if we begin to read the giant strides of companies in Nigeria in books, same way we have been reading about Apple, HP, General Motors, General Electric, Samsung, Virgin Atlantic, IBM and so many others. So this book, apart from addressing some issues long held sacred, also seeks to infuse what I may call the “Nigerian Content” in the body of marketing literature.
How long did it take you to publish this book?
I started working on my mind early last year and actually did the story board same period. But there were so many distractions that limited my efforts to just one chapter. In June, I began to spend more time away from Lagos because of a relationship I developed with the Governor of Enugu State, Rt Hon Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. After the election in March, boredom set in and in order to fight it, I diverted all my energy to the work and although I was shuttling between Lagos and Enugu, I concluded the first manuscript in June, having resumed writing in March. So effectively, I will say it took me three months to finish writing.
Have we really tapped into the potentials of what marketing communications can do for the country when you look at it from image and brand-building benefits?
This is a very important question. I am one of those that believe that Nigeria has not even scratched the surface in terms of deploying professional marketers in managing the country’s image. The closest we came was during the era of the late Prof Dora Akunyili as Minister of Information. Nigeria has been paying lip-service to the country’s image management and that is why most of the time, you find a disconnect between what the country’s leaders are saying with what our overall national interests and needs should be. It was in reaction to this challenge that I
devoted an entire chapter to address the issue of nation branding in the book. The chapter is titles, “Every Nation is not a Brand,” and there I used the examples of India, South Africa and Rwanda to demonstrate how nation-branding works. But we cannot achieve this in a regime where political leaders make deliberate efforts to avoid professionals. Do you know that since this government came into power in 2015, the Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) has not had a proper Council constituted? Do you know that the Information Minister, Lai Mohammed, has not met with APCON for once? I am sure the situation is the same with the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations and the Public Relations Consultants Association of Nigeria. This is not how others who wish to positively impact the world and its citizens with strong country-brand proposition works.
How can we deploy the services of marketing communications experts to help re-brand the country?
The very first thing to be done is to show sincerity of purpose in the quest to, as you said “rebrand” the country. I am however one of those that believe that Nigeria has not even been branded at all. So the question of “rebranding” should not come in now. I also discussed this in the chapter I mentioned earlier. Nigeria has been pretending to be branding and rebranding. But what has been happening are mere national orientation and reorientation programmes, designed mainly to keep the front doors clean. Nation branding is quite intricate and involved a whole lot. In the book, I drew extensively from the 12 Pillars of Competitiveness laid down by the World Economic Forum. Any nation that wants to strengthen its brand proposition but ignores any of these pillars is bound to fail. What this means therefore, is that there are a whole lot we should put in place before bringing these professionals in marketing Communications to harness then into sellable propositions to the world. As challenged as the country is at the moment, even the few positive collaterals we have are being mismanaged because there are no professionals advising and harvesting these on behalf of the government and the people.
Did you face challenges in the run-up to the publication of the book, and you did, what were these challenges?
There were serious challenges. The very first challenge was how to conquer myself and believe that I could do it. There were these voices of doubt. There were these negative energies, telling me I was not good enough. I knew I needed to conquer them before making progress. Let me tell you that as far back as 2004, a friend of mine, Nduneche Ezurike, who now heads the Corporate Communications Division at Polaris Bank, had invited me to co-author a book. Nduneche is a very cerebral person and for him to consider me good enough for a book had told me then that there was something I didn’t know I had but which other people may have been seeing. Even before I embarked on this effort, my bosom friend, Sola Fanawopo, journalist and CEO of eMaginations PR, had also advised me to do a compilation of my articles as a journalist and publish in a book form. This was also a confidence booster and it was because I didn’t want the easy way to become a published author that compelled me to work harder in pulling this off. I also faced rejection by a couple of publishers I approached. While one didn’t even given me a chance, the other told me to send in my manuscripts and remain on the queue until early in 2020 when they would be ready to look at my work and see if it would be worth publishing. But I looked at them and decided to do it myself.
If I own a company that is registered as a media and publishing company, why should I sit back and allow another publishing company like mine dictate how I was going to publish my works? That I have been operating at a different corner of the same industry cannot become a limitation and that is why I am where I am today. And I am happy the way it is turning out.
There seems to be a dearth of technical writers, who are specialists in writing books of this nature, what do you think is responsible for this lack of writers?
Again, let say that part of what inspired this book was the dearth of Nigerian Content in marketing literature. I spent years buying and reading books authored by Al Ries, Jack Trout, Martin Lindstrom and many others Somebody like Al Ries has tonnes of books out there and having read many of them, I discovered that he virtually says the same thing over and over again, in different books and using different languages. When I read Jim Collins’s “Good to Great”, I was inspired, but the frustration of reading about companies and individuals I have never heard of slowed my understanding of the book a lot. The problem in Nigeria is that most professionals; and I do not mean those who teach in our universities; are so consumed by the rat race to care about documenting what they do every day for posterity. Generations of professionals have lived and gone in Nigeria and they left with all the knowledge they gathered. Even the current generation of practitioners are caught in the same trap. Do you know the type of knowledge hidden in PowerPoint slides inside the archives of a company like Insight Communications for instance; knowledge from many years of being Nigeria’s biggest Marketing Communications Group? I mentioned Insight because in the course of writing this book, I needed a copy of an advert this agency did for Bank PHB in those days but not one person I spoke to in the agency was able to recover what in my estimation was one of the best campaigns ever produced in this country. Practitioners need to start writing. This is important, not just because we need to leave or the future generations some clear examples to learn from, but also because foreigners who wish to have anything to do with Nigeria should rely on data and research works done in Nigeria by Nigerians in order to shape their ideas on how best to navigate the market here. We all must find it unacceptable for insights and data on Nigeria to continue to come from some armchair writer abroad. We must retake our narrative and tell our own stories. That is what I believe.
What message do you want readers to take from this book which is about to be launched?
There are a few messages that I wish to pass across but they are all subsumed in one central message, which is that the book is all about the need to put the Nigerian story forward. Besides trying to argue against certain norms in the marketplace, I am also trying to push the strengths and values of the Nigerian story and wit this book, I am working to send a message that books capable of making global headlines could come from this part of the world. While could not cover every ground, I was able to document some classical marketing projects and milestones of a number of our achievers to ensure that for the Nigerian reader, they enjoy the proximity to these examples, and for the foreigner, they have the benefit of appreciating the way the “Nigerian mind” works. This is important, especially for those with erroneous globalised view of marketing. There is nothing like Globalisation, at least in the context sold to us by the west.