X3M is advertising creative powerhouse. Its CEO, Steve Babaeko who just resigned from 9mobile account has been engaged by Glo. Steve was the chairman of 2017 Lagos Ideas Festival, LAIF awards. In this interview, he spoke to BusinessDay about the successes, challenges, future of the growing LAIF awards and its importance to the industry. He promised that the industry will be extending LAIF awards to W/African region Excerpts.
How will you describe business in 2017?
It’s been a painful journey throughout 2017. The advertising industry is not immune to the economic reversals going on in the country. Thankfully, the oil price is going up now. The dwindling oil revenue occasioned by the price slash and producing below capacity starting from 2016 still affects the economy.
When do you expect things to pick up?
Well, if we get the budget passed on time by the House of Representatives and the Senate and the executive assents to it, we would begin to see some positive changes in the economy. For now, between the lawmakers and executive arm, there is buck passing and foot-dragging over the budget, but honestly, we need the budget done and treated on time.
What of the impact of electioneering campaign and the World Cup?
Definitely, that’s going to help because the World Cup is a very major event. Some of our clients will participate, which is good for the industry as spending is expected to pick up. Same with politics, the race for 2019 basically starts this new year. You will see more smart politicians engage the services of professional agencies. They won’t give their political communication or advertising campaigns to their sisters in-law to do. If they really want to get good outcome, they need to invest in quality campaign. In that wise, we should expect a boost in the industry.
You were the chairman of the LAIF 2017 awards; tell us more about it and how did it go?
I really wish more people would give me feedback. I am very well opened to feedbacks because I’m looking for what we can improve upon. I can’t tell you it went like this or that; I can’t be the judge and jury in my case. However, the feelers suggest we had a great event.
What are the new things added to the event?
A couple of new things were added and one of them is venue. We wanted to take it to a befitting venue and we thought Landmark is a world-class venue. If the pictures were to go out to the world on the internet, the optics will be more befitting in view of the ambience and LAIF is one of the biggest advertising awards in West Africa. Secondly, the jury and its constitution. To have no less a person than Julia Oku-Jack, who is a veteran creative director and veteran agency entrepreneur. The jury did a fantastic job in making sure that there will be less argument at the end of the day. Let me also mention the content; we tried to improve on the contents as well. Bringing no less a person than Sir Shina Peters to perform at an award is a big plus. We don’t usually go that far, so we raised the bar.
Could you tell us about the entries?
In terms of entries, unfortunately, Insight Communications did not participate. But I can’t speak for Insight on why it did not participate. Apart from that, I saw more entries from new and younger agencies and a couple of them actually did very well at the awards.
Are you saying there are grouses in the industry?
I’m not sure it’s a matter of grouse, especially with regards to Insight. The parent company, Publicis Groupe, pulled out of Cannes Advertising Festival for next year. May be, that influenced their decision. Like I said, I can’t hold brief for them.
Up to last event, we have not had an overall winner. Was it introduced this year?
No, usually we have. It is only when the jury feels there is no work good enough for a Grand Prix to emerge that an overall winner is not picked. But we still do the Olympic system in which the agency with the highest number of gold automatically becomes the overall winner. This year, we have a Grand Prix winner, Noah’s Ark.
When you were called upon to take the role of Chairman, LAIF Management Committee, how did you feel considering the fact that some agencies had some misgivings about the 2016 edition?
I was apprehensive for a couple of reasons. This year is bad in terms of the economy, so we did not get the kind of support we usually get from clients. That Insight did not participate, also led to loss of revenue automatically from the entries point of view. There were many challenges. However, I worked with a very solid team. For the first time, we included people from OAAN, MIPAN, EXMAN, who joined us in the team, so we didn’t do it alone. Other stakeholders were involved and that really helped us considerably to be able to surmount the challenges. Personally, my habit is to give my all to surmount challenges. I took it as a big challenge and tried to succeed by all means. The people I worked with were outstanding. The secretariat team was excellent this year. All the team needed were leadership and motivation. Some of the challenges we were able to fix because we had a check list and we adhered to timelines. The brochure was ready two days before the event and the plaques arrived well labelled in good time. That’s why you saw less of the errors you normally find in previous editions.
By now LAIF should be ready to extend beyond Nigeria. Any plan in this regards?
I promised you if it’s the last thing I can do, it is going to happen next year. We are starting from West Africa. Even if only two countries from the sub-region join us for the awards next year, it’s going to happen. We are going to start driving it early. From now on, we are building the website and we are going digital. The entries will be digital; you submit online, we collate online. We can do pre-judging even before we have the jury sitting. It is going to be innovation led.
In view of the success of the event, are you confident the elusive Cannes Lions award will soon be delivered by Nigerian agencies?
It sure will. If you do sloppy judging, you will get sloppy results and people will start saying you won, meanwhile what you won cannot really stand the heat at other awards. Like I said at the event, three international major awards were won by Nigerian agencies this year. The Epica Gold was won by Noah’s Ark this year, X3M Ideas won the Cristal Gold and 7even Interactive won Loeries. It has never happened before. This means that we are getting better at it by the day. This year, many Nigerians were appointed judges even at international awards. Bolaji Alausa of Noah’s Ark and myself were at Loeries, I’m going back to New York Advertising Festival as a member of the jury together with a couple of young Nigerians from Noah’s Ark and 7even Interactive, who are also on the jury. I think we are moving in the right direction; it’s just to keep driving the passion, keep doing quality works and certainly it’ll happen.