Updated: Feb 22
When Abiodun Oshinibosi launched out with his experiential marketing outfit, Abelinis, about ten years ago, he did not envisage fully where his creative instinct and divine providence will land him in just one decade.
Today, this experiential Project Marshal has wowed the industry with excellent managerial capacity and ingenuity. With his battalion of intelligent and tested managers, Abelinis has climbed the heights of experiential marketing to deliver maximum satisfaction to his long list of top-notch clientele.
In this chat that took place at his world-class office with a serene ambience and state-of-the-art facilities, Oshinibosi shared with the ExperientialNG team those lines of thoughts and actions that have continuously inspired and impacted him and his team to great accomplishments.
Oshinibosi, who is also the Vice- President of EXMAN, takes every project as a war that must be conquered. He explained that his goal and that of his squad of fighters has always been to build a brand that their clients and the team will always be proud of. This goal, he said, has always motivated them to deliver on the vision of emerging as the foremost provider of project management solutions in the experiential marketing space. It is a loaded and incisive package. A reference material. Read it. Keep it.
Your organization just celebrated ten exciting years of operations in Nigeria’s experiential marketing space, how has it been?
We started off on a very shaky note, We weren’t sure of the future in the sense that we were not certain of the channels: what kind of clients we are going to have. Of course, we didn’t have so much money to start up. We started off using a friend’s office. So starting off was pretty difficult. What we had was creativity, a couple of concepts and, of course, our greatest assets at all times- dedicated people who were very interested in going all the way with us. Starting off was quite difficult but we were very determined and I think that is one area of strength that has been working for us.
We were so lucky because at the end of the first quarter of that year, 2011, we got our first brief. Not too many agencies have that luxury. That gave us great energy to push for more. Ten years, it’s been good and, sometimes bad but in all, we are very grateful.
Share a little bit of those good times.
Like I said earlier, getting our first brief was huge for us. It was a point of rededication for us that things can actually happen. It was the highpoint and we believed those clients were happy seeing us deliver on the set objectives. It was also the redefining stage for us, that we are on the right path.
Another highpoint was when we got our first referral from a client. It worked so well -in fact, 80% of the client we have come in through that process. Those we worked for were always excited introducing us to other clients. For me, those were key highpoints as well. Another exciting one came during our seventh year when we actually decided we were going to have our own building. When we also see some of our staff moves from being just an executive to a professional manger by way of certification or going for further studies. That brings big joy and excitement to us.
Can you tell us some of those specific projects that you have done that brought you great excitement within the last 10 years?
The truth is that we are a project management outfit, a project intelligence company. So, we treat all projects uniquely and there is an excitement that comes with each is distinct. None is exactly the same. We reach out differently depending on the scope of the project. So, for me, each of them has their fare form of excitement. Let us look at the one with MTN in 2016, we had a challenge with telecommunication companies generally, MTN in particular because of the registration exercise they had to embark on. It came as a tactical initiative. We started with a very clear scope. We started small.. We started one, two, three and, suddenly we were Pan Nigeria in no time. It was a very challenging experience, but it was very exciting as well, seeing us pull it through and clients were very happy with us.
We were not the only agency that handled the brief, but we took the major chunk of that project.
You have shared the high point; can you also share some low points, those key challenges and how you surmounted them?
Yes, we operate in Nigeria. Some of those challenges are not hiding. Starting off, you need funds to run. Though, we run a creative agency, a project management office. Having said that, we also need funds to run those projects. So, getting fund from banks can be difficult. Getting funds and the right people. People are moving in every instance. When a new agency opens, it is offering juicy remuneration and people always feel the grass is always greener over there.
Though, to be fair to our system, our staff turnover rate has been okay because we‘ve had the majority of our staff retained. I think that is a good one for us, both temporary and permanent staff, we have a good churning rate as it were.
For most startups, funding and the people, are the major challenges. For us to be successful, it is not just by name, the quality of people determine the quality of output we churn out.
Your title, Project Marshal, where does it come from? Do you have a military background?
While we were starting off, it was important that we distinguish ourselves. Blue ocean strategy tells us that if you want to compete in any space, you have to be unique. So, it was a point of strength for us to be unique. Asides from that, why are we in this space? It is not to win the battle for our clients?. Who are those that win battles? They are people that enforce and go to war. So, we positioned ourselves as the force in the marketing industry. If we are a force, we should be seen as one. It is just to motivate us that at any point in time, we must win: we are fighting this war and we must win for our client. That is the main idea behind it.
To watch more clips from our interview with Abiodun Osinibosi, click HERE
Tell me a little bit about the structure of the organization.
We have the Project Marshal who is like the General Manager, then the Brigadiers, Colonels, Lieutenants but the entry point is Corporal and we have them across the country basically.
So, it does not mean that the company is run in a military fashion where nobody can question what the hierarchy says.
No, no. The organization is run more like a family. Our ideas can come from anywhere. We believe in diversity. For us, there is no boss even though there is a line of responsibility. We run like a body and we all know that there is no monopoly of knowledge.
Let’s talk about your subsidiary, Hybrid studio. It was projected as an experiential tech solution, how has it been relevant during this Covid 19 period?
You know before now, we never thought we could be operating the way we are doing now even though all of those platforms existed before now. Like the zoom platform we are using now, it existed long before Covid started. So, covid actually exposed us more to all of those. Hybrid came as a way of intervention, tapping into resources that existed before now to meet current relevant needs. We run a production outfit as well.
We thought of how to manage the conferencing processes. Somebody can be in the UK and he is speaking to us or in the comfort zone of your home and still deliver on assignment without physically coming to the office. And Covid established that because we were forced to stay at home and we still have to attend to assignments. The environment actually enforced the use of what we had before, to deliver value to our client.
Let us look at the Pitch rejection fees, how has it been easy enforcing the collection of the fee by your executive?
The truth is that you know why you used the word enforce. Enforce mean we need to persuade, or it is existing, but people are not complying. That is not the case in this scenario. At this initial stage, there is a lot of advocacy going on. EXMAN just got a seat in the APCON council which is what we were driving at, to enforce that process as well. So, we are on the right path. The course is for us to standardize the industry. It is not out of place that we are asking for that status. It is in line with how we want to regulate processes in the industry.
Secondly, we are still at the stage of initiation and so we also believe those concerned, the clients are reputable and very responsible. We have written to them. We have engagement with some of them at the previous executive meeting. The feedback has been very encouraging. The task is now on us as exco or executive/ body to put the act in place. And that will not be done if we are not a member of a larger regulatory body which is APCON. And so we have crossed that step now which is a great plus for us. I strongly believe that going forward, there will be compliance. Of course, we can’t expect that there will be 100% compliance.
That is the truth. Even tax that is regulated by the government, we don’t have 100% compliance. But I am certain that we would boast of over 90% compliance here.
Your admission to APCON took sometimes, what were these things that the current EXMAN executive did that made it possible?
[Laughter.] Honestly, I won’t say there was something done differently. From the first President, we had, to this present one, all of them have been working with the exco to achieve this. You know it is a process. There is what you need to do first and what we need to follow up on to get to the desired spot we are now. I must say that all the president and exco have worked relentlessly to achieve this feat. We developed what we had on the ground to get to this point. There was a point we had to sell our need to the required authority.
And of course, you then will also go back. We are calling for a seat in a structured environment. There are certain approvals that must be in place, certain buying and selling with stakeholders. And so all of those were done. You also remember that APCON didn’t have a chairman and other leadership positions in place until very recently when the registrar was confirmed. Nothing could have been done as well. So, we lost a lot of time in that space. The result we were getting is due to having somebody in place to take major decisions now.
I learnt that the APCON law was at the National Assembly, now that you are an insider, what are those things that you people want to change? Are their specific things?
Okay, I will speak as it relates to the industry to get our space regulated. We have one, two, three keynoters in terms of the agenda we are striving to push. One of them is the rejection fee which I mentioned earlier. Of course, there are other key points that will help us regulate the industry better than we are pushing forward.
You are an executive of EXMAN, the vice president, how has it been for your members in the past year?
Last year was the Covid main period. The truth is that it’s been quite difficult. In our space, we do an event and we gather people. That didn’t happen for obvious reason and it is still not happening now because we are a law-abiding citizen. The government has said social distancing and no gathering and all that, and we must comply as a business. But most of us also work with multinationals that respect and abide by the law of the land. So it’s been very challenging for our members. That is the honest truth.
That means there are members that have not done business in one year.
Let us say about nine-months.
What has the executive body done to assist?
At that point where you cannot actually help the situation, what we did was to revert and unlearn. What do we need to do now? A lot of research went in. We had a lot of engagement, seminars, a different section where we engage ourselves. What can we do now? What are the opportunities we have now if this persists? What are the things we need to do? And one of those things was how to explore the digital platform to also still engage. In EXMAN, we have that engagement among our members and we have that periodically. We also took that time to address our processes with a session on tax, finance basically, operation looking at all the chain of the business.
Is there an annual levy for members?
Have you considered leaving at least one year for members?
The call for that will come now. We have had a series of meetings as regards that. We had cancelled one or two events as well. One was our major event, the experiential marketing summit. Now that we are going digital, The next one will be a hybrid experience. For members, it is coming at almost next to nothing because we know that nothing has happened in the next nine-month for most of us. A lot of consideration in that regard.
Concerning EXMAN, we have noticed that there is always a smooth transfer during elections, no disharmony of any form, What is the secret?
The truth is that in every game, there will always be a winner and losers. In the past two election faces, we have had a keen contest. What has worked for us is that we believe beyond the elections, we still remain as one because we have a cause we are all fighting as one. We are just seeking to have somebody as a figure that will lead. Beside this mindset, the processes of our elections are always fair, and we all believe whosoever becomes a winner will respected.
There will be elections this year. Are you interested in becoming President?
It’s a yes or no answer because personally, I always try to do more, be selfless and to give at every time what I have in stock. So, in that regard, it will be yes. I also want to render service for the association even in a higher capacity. Even if I am not the president, I am still very much available to render services in any other capacity. It is not really about the position, but what matters most is service to our people
The year 2021 is here, when do you think things will normalize and what do you think experiential agencies should do at this period?
For me, I believe that every time in time, there is normalcy. It’s just that a new norm might be in position. That is why we are we are evolving. Every day has its own challenge. The truth is that you are facing this challenge now and we will go through it. You need to know the challenge so that you can proffer a solution. That is the stage we are now. We know all the challenges and we are proffering solution. One such solution is exploring digital space because, in our business, we need to communicate and converge. How do we do it at this time?
I see it as a challenging opportunity. Before now, it will cost us a lot more to bring an international speaker for a conference in Nigeria, but now we can have that international speaker at next to nothing and that does not diminish the value we get from that experience. That is positive.
In term of coverage and exposure, we can host an event now in Nigeria and it will global. This phase comes with its own advantages. We as an organization, and as a sectorial body are seeing this new opportunity and we are prepared to explore it.
But it seems most clients are not excited about this opportunity. It’s like they are not interested in doing much digitally.
The truth is that they are interested but the atmosphere needs to be regulated. Like I said earlier, multinational are responsible organization. They want to work with platforms based on set objective and guidelines. They don’t just want to jump on everything. The space is new and there is a need for guidelines in place. We can host any event but the digital space is not totally regulated. That may be a reason for concern for most clients. For instance, some Guinness brand would not put up any digital initiative when the company knows that the underage may be part of it. So, there have to be adequate regulations in place.
How do you see the coming of COVID 19 vaccines in relation to the stability of your industry?
The honest truth is I want us to look at the whole population. We are all part of the larger society. The vaccine will improve all of us as individuals because all other things follow when you have a chance to live. It will stabilize the clients and when they are good, our business will strive. My position is that it is a welcome development, a remedy in this space to address the pandemic. Businesses will grow and experiential marketing will definitely be part of it.
How do you visualize for the next ten years?
Like every other organization will project, we want to concentrate on internal development, developing our people. For us to exist beyond now, the capacity has to be built internally. I am referring to people that work with us. In ten years, we want to grow our people to stand out. So, career-wise, I want to see that guy in our organization that does not have his master and not growing professionally, I want to see him somewhere in the future.
Another point is when we invest in that space, that person for one reason or the other move to another organization, we are favoured that this guy passed through us. We can churn out a quality personality that multinational can pick from. That is an expansion strategy for me. In ten years time, we want to be everywhere strategically.
Abelinis have introduced a hybrid zoom studio for virtual events
Of course, we want to have strategic growth externally where we can have touch beyond the shore of this country. At least expand to west Africa developing solution for that clime.
What is the hope you have for this industry, the marketing communication in general and the Nigerian economy?
I will start with our own organization. I am 45 going to be 46 years. I feel I am even getting old. I am actually trying to attract younger guys with fresh minds who are ready to try new things and take a lot of risks. So, we also hope to register new agencies with fresh ideas. The truth is that if we use the ten years theory if you are in a particular space for ten years, obviously, after ten years, a new thing will spring up. Before that new thing starts germinating elsewhere, we want to be the ones planting them so that we can also synergise and help sustain growth.
It can also work for the economy as a whole. Let's encourage the younger ones. If you look at the US of now with Biden. Look at the cabinet, though he is over seventy, the people around him are much younger. They are there for a reason. It is because he believes they are fresh and have a unique idea. If we also follow that line in this space, I am sure we will have better results.
Ntia Usukunma & Bureau Staff