Suave, best describes Kehinde Salami, the brain behind the exceptional Ideas House Marketing Communication Limited. In this exclusive interview with MarketingWorld, Kehinde shares on the growth of EXMAN as an association, relationship with other sectorial bodies, experiential spend and many more. Excerpts…

Have you ever dreamt that you will be the EXMAN president at any point in time?

No, I have never dreamt of being the president of EXMAN. I’m just a professional who focuses on what needs to be done and when the opportunity came to vie for the position, I decided to go for it. Don’t forget that EXMAN is four years old, and within those 4 years, I was the Financial Secretary for 2 years, and then more recently the General Secretary for the past two years. So, I’ve been an EXCO member from inception.

Could you just give a brief history on how EXMAN came about and its growth in the past 4years?

Let me first of all mention that marketing communication as we know it has really evolved. It’s evolved from a position of exposure, to engagement, and more recently to what we call experience. Exposure; the advertising industry had a lot to contribute. However today, brands are becoming a lot more conscious about engagement and experience.

 

Experiential is the only area of marketing communications that allows you the opportunity to interact one on one, on the ground. It’s the only area of marketing communications that allows you to see, hear, smell, taste and feel. So, it’s very important and brands are becoming a lot more receptive towards it. With a 50% literacy rate, experiential allows brands the real opportunity to connect with everyone at all levels breaking down communication barriers and offering sampling / product demonstration that Nigerians can relate with across geographies

Don’t forget that experiential marketing has been around for at least the last 15-20years, though never clearly defined. But five years ago, we started putting together the idea of setting up an industry association. One that can help us to regulate what we do guided by a constitution and one that can help us to organize ourselves with a proper code of conduct under a common unifying umbrella.

So, EXMAN came to be in 2013 and today, EXMAN has 40 registered members, which have been certified as leading practitioners in the industry.

We just came back from our first EXCO retreat and how exciting it was. We deliberated extensively on the way forward. Just to put things in context, amongst the top 10 MUST DO’s within the next two years are strengthening our advocacy mandate by including standards, ethics and disciplinary measures, opening up a befitting office, deepening our Training & Capacity Building mandate, deeper representation and engagement with Multinationals and government at all levels and finally retooling our EXMAN Certified Brand Ambassadors Program from its current standing to a revamped proposition to mention but a few.

What are the criteria for being a member of EXMAN?

First of all, you must have been a practitioner in the marketing communications industry for a minimum period of 10 years. So, the leading person of that agency, that is the head of the agency, must have been a practitioner in the experiential marketing space or marketing communication space for a minimum period of 10years. You must have at least 3-4 key functions within your agency. There must be a financial function with audited results and account. There must be a client service function, an operations unit as well as strategy/creative. You must have a registered office, be tax paying and of course we will come visiting. The membership committee will come to do a proper assessment of your agency before it can be considered for registration as an EXMAN bonafide agency. If you scale through all these hurdles, the agency is then invited into what we readily term ‘observer’ status until the AGM when final swearing-in will take place

How long does that process take?

The process doesn’t take too long as far as your documentations are intact. The initial process can take anything between one to two months; from picking up the application form, submitting, membership committee visit and final recommendation by the exco. The membership committee will now get back to you, if you have been successful and it is at that point that we will then inform you formally that you are in what we call observer status mode.

At the AGM, you will be invited and the CEO will be sworn in and you will collect your certificate at the AGM. The AGM happens once a year, so registration and certification is once a year.

Tell me about your relationship with other sectorial bodies?

In terms of other sectorial bodies, the advocacy committee that we’ve had for the last 4 years have done a great job in trying to ensure that we build the right kind of relationship with other sectorial bodies. I am extremely aware of our positive relationship with ADVAN as well as AAAN. We have attended several events; we have collaborated on a wide range of issues and discussions.

For APCON too, we have started the process of full integration. However, because the council has still not been formed over 2 years now, it has affected our ability to conclude that arrangement. But all these things are in place and we are hoping to entrench those relationships in the coming weeks and months with this new exco.

We are a new baby of APCON so to speak and we don’t have the force of law which is the truth. But we will, once we are able to finally integrate with APCON and under the codes and conduct we can start the process of initiating certain things that we will like to do.

We are more or less a stand-alone association that is looking to integrate and formally commercialize itself with the affairs of our country.

What are your unique offerings here at Ideas House?

Ideas House unique offering are People, Processes and Ideation guided by the simple philosophy of ‘’We fight for our clients and we fight to win’’

So what makes us different – when we started up the business close to 9 years now, the business was more or less set-up as a strategy consulting firm as supposed to a typical BTL agency. When you are operating at that level, you are operating at a higher morale ground. Whilst an agency is a supplier of service, a true strategic partner operates at a higher level and that’s what we chose to do, that’s how we positioned ourselves.

Our core value proposition is woven around ideation. This agency breathes, dreams, and executes ideas. So, it’s no gain saying that we call ourselves Ideas House because this is the home of Ideation. In fact, our vision is to be the number one Ideas factory of reference. So, if you are looking for credible Ideas, just knock on our door, that’s the first thing.

The second thing is the methodologies. There are several methodologies that we try to use here to unlock insights. Some are International methodologies, whilst others we created ourselves.

The other thing is people. When a business spends 64% of its earnings on salaries, what does that tell you? It tells you it’s a people business. Being a people business, means you have got to invest in training and capacity building, employee motivation and retention programs.

I’m happy to confirm that not only do we have high retention rate, we also have highly motivated staff. In a nutshell, we identify talent, we nurture talent, we grow talent and then finally, we retain talent.

The third one is really around processes. This agency is well structured with highly defined processes that allows it to activate the numerous ideas it comes up with. Our operations mantra is best defined by the triple ‘S’. It’s about Standard, Speed and Scale. Therefore, we try and maintain standards across geographies. In other words, what we are doing in Asaba is exactly the same thing that is happening in Kebbi and Ogbomosho.

Next is speed. Within a limited period of time, we can act across geographies. And finally, scale. We can be in literally every city at the touch of a button. It’s part of the culture here. For example, right now, I think we have almost 15 projects we’re working on across the country as I am sitting here in Lagos talking to you.

Where do you have your tentacles, any plans for expansion?

We are proud to be a Nigerian company. We do have ambitions to go beyond Nigeria possibly to set up a Ghana office and some other African countries. We have had a request for us to be in Kenya and some other part of East Africa. But these things are mainly clients led so that you don’t go in there fishing in the dark. You already should have something that will take you there. So, we are well on course for that. We’re also considering setting up even in London U.K at some stage which will be responsible for some of the initiatives we intend to activate OurTtaking Africa to the world program. However, for now, we are in Nigeria, and in Nigeria we have three operational offices.

What has happened to the experiential spend in Nigeria for the past 2 years?

Permit me to begin with marketing communications as a whole. Marketing communication spend has significantly reduced especially in the area of outdoor advertising and I think to a lower extent core advertising. Experiential on the other hand, has either maintained or outgrown spend within the same period. What we have seen is clients are increasingly looking for value and the value is increasingly been channeled to route to market type initiatives, anything that can help them to sell.

For example, you would notice that there is an increasing spend appetite on tricycles, warehouse, logistics and merchandising materials for on-trade visibility. This is where a large proportion of marketing communications budget is being allocated to as multinationals strive to drive sales capabilities and conversion agenda. Having said that, the agency of tomorrow needs to do one or two things. They need to understand this dynamic and must be able to plug into the value chain at the appropriate level. They also must be able to understand that marketing even in experiential is increasingly going digital. Therefore, the experiential is both physical and digital. If you can offer both capabilities, you are in a better position to exploit tomorrow’s opportunities. Like I keep telling people, there is offline experience and there is online experience. What we traditionally do in experiential marketing is offline experience, you are in a mall or you are in market place or on the road. Pause for a second and you wi
ll soon realize that the experience is increasingly being taken online.

What is your leadership style like?

Firstly, I mentor talent as a leader. I’m happy to see that I’m actually delivering on what my purpose in life really is; being a leader, I must be conscious that my role is to ensure I achieve results through other people, seeing them grow. My staffs are all living proof of that. For me that’s fulfillment and I’m fulfilled.

Where do you see Ideas House in the next five years?

Within the next two years, I will like to step down as the CEO of this business because I gave myself 10 years when I set this business up. I’m not one of those that wants to sit there forever. I have other things I would like to achieve in life. So hopefully within the next two years God willing, I will be able to do that. We are currently busy putting in place the management structure that will drive the future of the business even though I will still operate at the very top in a more holding structure capacity. I have passion for agriculture, food processing, publishing and gaming.

When you are not inside the office, what do you do?

I am a football fan; I am a Manchester United Fan, an unrepentant one for that matter. So, I love to watch Man Utd, I love to watch Rugby. Rugby is my favorite sport. I used to play it but since I came back to Nigeria, I have not had the opportunity. I jog every day too. I love my family so I spend quality time with my family as much as I possibly can. I watch CNN, I am writing my first book which should be out by December or January. It’s a book on, you guessed it, Ideation.

Could you describe yourself in 3 words?

Professional, Vision Oriented, Passion to Succeed