Meka Olowola who is the Managing Partner, Zenera Consulting Limited is one of the leading communication specialists in Africa. The firm provides expert counsel on a wide range of investor relations and reputation management services. He is also the Executive Chairman of BuzzDigital, a social media and digital marketing company offering specialised digital brand management with local know-how to clients across the spectrum. He advocates that an expanded culture of social responsibility and ethical action by government, individuals and corporate bodies is at the heart of the panacea to current economic challenges and negative realities in Africa. In this chat, Meka who is on the board of the Nigerian–Zimbabwe Chambers of Commerce., reveals some of the strategies to serve the clients better. Excerpts:
Your company recently launched Ethica 360. What is the new firm all about?
Ethica360 is a collaborative service line Zenera Consulting is driving with our sister company, foremost sustainability consulting and training outfit CSR-in-Action. The product is in response to the fact that most Nigerian brands do not outlast their founders because they lack a strategic long-term vision that will take them to the next level. Off the top of my head I can reel out a laundry list of seemingly strong brands that existed, say, 10 or so years ago that have since gone into oblivion. But this does not have to be the case if we can help it. So Ethica360 is tailor-made for high-value brands seeking alignment with ethical business and corporate governance practices that will boost mileage with their target audiences on a sustainable basis. In a word, it is a specific set of strategies we have crafted from our service mix to help build sustainable brands.
What area of communication does Zenera major in?
Zenera Consulting is a full-service integrated marking communications (IMC) outfit whose services include brand management, corporate communications and digital communications.
How do you compete in the almost saturated communication industry in Nigeria?
I wouldn’t necessarily say we compete with other local agencies in the business. There is, after all, a level-playing field for everyone who makes optimal services and client satisfaction their watchword. However, we try to have a thorough understanding of our client’s business which makes our advisory services very proactive and cost-effective. Collectively, our dedicated team of sector-focused professionals have over 45 years’ experience in providing an array of strategic communications services that help our clients establish and maintain close relations with their key stakeholders.
Zenera Group is a one-stop shop as well, and I’m sure this serves our clients’ needs. Our subsidiary CSR-in-Action (CiA) is one of the foremost Corporate Social Responsibility consultancy firms in Nigeria, offering services such as CSR strategy, Sustainability reporting and CSR/Sustainability training. Our digital marketing arm BuzzDigital provides high-quality social media content and digital marketing solutions; while Redbee delivers creative event solutions, strategic planning and flawless production for the Group’s clients. Collectively, these specialised services give us an edge in the industry despite the saturation you mentioned.
Zenera recently expanded its operations. What do you want to achieve with the cross-border expansion?
Our recent expansion is in line with the 10-year strategic growth programme signed by our Board in 2014, which includes upscaling our operations and delivering increased value to our esteemed clients. It’s a direct response to our clients’ yearnings for very focused communications solutions tailored to their growth aspirations and adaptable to changing markets. We shall remain consistent with this exercise until our strategic objectives are met and even exceeded.
While some Nigerian PR agencies are seeking affiliation, Zenera is expanding into the UK and other countries, what is the catch?
I’m sure every potential partner is looking for value creation which determines the success of any affiliation effort. Our expansion programme is value-driven and not necessarily focused on shopping for international affiliations that may not stand the test of time. We are just about halfway through our 10-year growth strategy, and I can assure you that partnerships and affiliations feature very prominently in our plan which we will communicate in due course.
How do you help your clients in terms of branding, investor relations and sustainability?
Put simply, with branding we develop innovative ways to reflect the core essence of our clients through strategic visual and verbal brand identities that consistently communicate their distinction from competing brands across all touch points. We try to plug sustainability strategies into our client services to enable them promote transparency and accountability with stakeholders, compliance with regulators and ensure employee buy-in for overall performance efficiency and expertise. Our investor relations strategies revolve around coordinating our clients’ engagement with their investor communities, assisting them with market analysis and formulating strategies that will effectively communicate their financials to investors and other stakeholders.
Zenera is now four years, what can be done to improve Nigeria’s communication/PR industry?
The practice of public relations is still evolving in Nigeria, but I think there is a need for more professionalism among practitioners. Nowadays we have a lot of briefcase agencies whose primary function is media relations and not necessarily strategy. But the truth is that most clients want agencies that can serve as extensions of their marketing departments and provide strategic advisory services on the fly. Obviously, agencies that do not fit this bill will have a hard time keeping clients and consequently struggle to stay afloat.
I’ve also observed the need for PR agencies to keep pace with the dynamism that has defined the industry globally since the turn of the century. With the widespread use of the Internet and consequent proliferation of citizen journalism, reputation management has more or less become a 24-hour job. The reputation of clients is more subject to damage than ever before because of the viral feature of the digital medium. PR agencies need to align with this development and boost their in-house digital capacities or risk fizzling out of relevance.
How do you give back?
Corporate Social Responsibility is a key part of our brand DNA at Zenera Consulting. Our overarching focus is to positively impact lives through the work that we do. In the six editions of the Sustainability in the Extractive Industries (SITEI) conference so far, we have thrown our weight behind our sister company CSR-in-Action to demand accountability and good governance within the extractive industries.
Last year, we invested in the younger generation through the Olusegun Oladiran Adebutu Foundation. The platform seeks to eradicate poverty and nurture the lives of young internally displaced children by providing them food, clothing, shelter and most importantly, education. We adopted two children and have taken responsibility for their care and development.
Also, Zenera Consulting responded to the call for immediate action against the increasing menace of drug abuse in university campuses at an event organised by the Student Affairs Division of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the KB Klub. I personally sensitised participants on the adverse effects of drug abuse and provided healthy alternatives of coping with the challenges of everyday life.
What is your projection for the next 5 years?
In the next 5 years, I see Zenera making more social investments that will touch lives. Like I mentioned earlier, last year we were actively involved in several youth empowerment-oriented initiatives. I see us deepening these efforts in the next few years and further upscaling our operations such that we will represent clients across all the major continents as one of the foremost reputation management, corporate communications and sustainability advisories in Nigeria and beyond.
Could you tell us a bit about your professional pedigree?
I have over 20 years of cross-functional experience in communications. My multifaceted work experience straddles Public Relations, Banking, and Oil and Gas. As a certified Crisis Communications and Change Management expert (Colorado State University), I am a much sought-after Trainer and Management Consultant and have facilitated several workshops on branding, media, crisis and stakeholder communications.
I am a member of the Board of CSR-in-Action, a non-profit, one-stop platform for the promotion and unification of Corporate and Collective Social Responsibility in West Africa; Talent Afrique Network, a youth talent development initiative; ValueConcepts Kenya, a training firm that provides manpower development services to the East African region; and Nigeria-Zimbabwe Chamber of Commerce.
In 2012, I was appointed by the Honorable Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy to the Federal Republic of Nigeria as a member of the special subcommittee on Nigeria’s hosting of the World Economic Forum on Africa in 2014. I have attended several local and international professional trainings and developmental programmes, affording me professional memberships such as: Associate of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations; Associate Member, Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria; Member, Nigerian Institute of Management; Associate Member, Certified Marketing Communications Institute of Nigeria; Member, National Institute of Marketing, Nigeria and Member, Chartered Institute of Public Relations, UK.
I have had significant career successes and achievements, crisscrossing some high-profile organisations, particularly at Oando Plc where I creditably discharged my core responsibility of supporting revenue generation through results-oriented strategic brand communication and trade management interventions for 10 years. I worked closely with business development leads across the group to deliver on annual business objectives, and was responsible for image and reputation management, external/internal relationship management, media relations, investor/financial communications, and crisis management for the group and its subsidiaries.
Prior to joining Oando Plc in 2003, I had worked as Corporate Affairs Officer at Societe Bancaire Nigeria Limited (now Unity Bank) from 2000 to 2003. Earlier in my career, I had worked as Operations Manager with an integrated advertising agency, PREX Limited from 1998 to 2000.