When Mrs Adedoja Allen was appointed as the managing director of City 105.1 FM in February 2012, it was a first in many ways. First, the appointment made her the first Chief Executive of an electronic media platform in the cut-throat, competitive and saturated business environment that is independent Nigerian commercial radio. It was also a novelty to have an executive with a financial background and very little previous media experience to head a radio station in Nigeria.
Adedoja Allen was employed mainly to jumpstart a radio station that was struggling to make any money. The station had been operational since June 2010, but was fighting an identity crisis, which prevented it from being reckoned with as a major player in the field. The mandate was to rebrand, restructure and make it financially viable.
Presently, City 105.1 FM is one of the radio stations to reckon with in Lagos. It is the premiere urban radio station on the Lagos mainland and competes with the best of urban media in the state. Its present state and location are a far cry from the modest and financially unstable beginnings.
So what made Adedoja the right candidate for the job? This can be answered from her prior experience and career trajectory. Her sojourn into the corporate world in 2001 with the BBC, in the United Kingdom. Her work in the Accounts department would have seemed at that time, to be preparation for the years in finance that would follow; but it would be relevant almost 11 years later. After spending two years as an accounts officer, she moved to Telecom Express, where she was given her first taste of management responsibility, when she was made head of the Finance team, and was responsible for creating and overseeing the implementation of various controls and processes.
She returned to Nigeria in 2006, where she joined ARM investment managers as a portfolio manager. Her stint as Assistant Head, Client Portfolio Measurement & Reporting Unit saw the creation of new specialised units and decentralisation of the responsibilities and tasks. Adedoja Allen was a successful team leader. Her success at leading these groups saw her promoted to the position of Head, Client Portfolio Measurement & Reporting Unit.
After a brief hiatus to start and manage her young family, she returned to try her hand at consulting. The start-up had to be suspended, as her services were required to come to the aid of a station that was having trouble paying its own bills. Her management skills have led to the station being ranked as the 7th most listened to station in 2013, out of 24 radio stations in Lagos, rising from 24th position.
Happily married to real estate developer Akinsola Allen, Adedoja and is blessed with two lovely boys Akinbowale and Akinwunmi.
She reveals to GuardianWoman how she was able to revive the urban radio station from its near-comatose state, including other challenges in the electronic media.
Kindly introduce City FM to us, the ethos of the station. What it stands for.
City 105.1 FM, is a lifestyle station that echoes the vibrant and diverse lifestyle of the City of Lagos. We are a fun youthful brand, and though we make it our priority to inform, enlighten and educate; we never forget to entertain and infuse the fun factor in everything we do. Simply put, we are a fun brand!
How did you take up the challenge of being the first female MD/CEO of a radio station in Nigeria?
Nothing happens by chance. I had spent all of my professional career in the financial sector, and the financial departments of the non-financial organisations I worked for. And when the board of City FM needed a new managing director, they needed someone to regulate and regularise the financial structure of the organisation; someone with a strong financial professional background, to drive revenue. Prior to my appointment, the station had a number of issues, but the key one was finance. This of course led to a chain reaction of events. When there is no money, salaries don’t get paid, there is high staff turnover and general low morale and staff apathy; there is poor maintenance of equipment; little to no promotion of the station; and when you lump these issues together, you get a very weak brand, that is not attractive to investors.
Needless to say, I was the right person, in the right place, and at the right time.
You turned the station around, raising it from the rock bottom to a top-ten rating. How did you achieve this? What’s the motivation for your success?
Where do I start…? A number of things came into play, but my strategy was hinged on three major pillars: The right people, the right processes and the right working environment. When these three are in place, any strategy can be implemented effectively. The toughest part is getting all three to align. As I am not a broadcaster, the first thing I did, was to get people with the know-how. My selection was a mix of experience, alongside youthful ideas from the next generation of media strategists. My emphasis on youth stemmed from the fact that I needed people, who were in touch with the latest trends and happenings, as well as had an eye on the next big innovations in our industry sector. The next step was to make sure that staff morale was high. Emphasis was placed on payment of arrears, as well as rewards for those who stayed through the troubled times. We then went on a massive promotion campaign, which we kick-started with the re-launch of the station, in July 2012.
We followed this up with station-wide equipment upgrade, as well as introduction of social media and online platforms. We also did a lot of external consultation, working with external agencies. Finally, we constituted a research framework and began to monitor our industry space, and customer habits.
You are not a professional broadcaster, but have been able to turn around a radio station, is this a pointer to the fact that it takes more than a broadcaster to successfully manage a radio or TV station?
I tell you this for free: Gone are the days of socialist, fundamental media. Media has gone beyond NTA, FRCN and state media houses. Now, media houses are commercial enterprises, and it takes more than a broadcaster to run these organizations. So much more than content is required to remain competitive, and a lot of fiscal discipline is required to stay afloat. If you look at the most successful, and most stable media houses around, how many are owned by actual core broadcasters?
What are the challenges of being a woman at the top?
How much time do you have for me to answer this question? (laughs). Most of the challenges I faced are the same as most of the challenges faced by women at the pinnacle of their organizations in any sector. However, I did have a number of unique challenges, which I faced when I took over helm of affairs at City FM, and some of them I still face till today. You will appreciate the fact that when I took over in 2012, I was only the second female CEO of any radio station in Lagos, out of 22, back then, and the only one who wasn’t the owner of the station. Even now, we are only about two. Sadly, Amaka Igwe, the owner of Top Radio, who was my only female companion at the top, passed away, some years ago.
So you can imagine that in the early days, it was almost exclusively, an all boys club: from media houses, to media agencies, to CEOs of brands, they were all almost all men. This meant that I had to go the extra mile to earn their respect. Also, at the time I took over, I was already a mother of two, and I had to juggle my job, which was extremely tasking, and my young family. I am a hands-on mom, so you can imagine my schedule.
With a myriad radio stations ruling our airwaves now, how do you stay ahead of the competition? What are the highs and lows of working in the broadcast industry?
To stay ahead of competition, one has to be aware of competition. One has to appreciate that as you are planning, strategizing and implementing, your competition is doing the same. You have to be strategic and deliberate with respect to all your actions and activities. I say again: radio has gone beyond content, and technology has increased the number of alternatives. In everything you do, remember that the listener is king. With respect to the highs and lows, they have been many, and they have been fast and frequent. But a few key ones come to mind, and I’ll start with the lows: Resignation of key staff and loss of key members to competition, delayed payments from debtors that led to tricky financial situations, events that seemed like they would fail, less than sincere staff members and third parties, overtly intense scrutiny from regulatory bodies, government policies and activities that threatened our every survival, initial poor end-of-year financial positions, to name a few.
With all these lows, there have been some major highs: we initiated and have successfully run our three annual events: City Kids’ Fiesta (Children’s Day), Salute To the Flag (Independence Day) and Praise in the City (Boxing Day) for a few years, consecutively. We have also transformed into a profitable enterprise, recording credible profits every year. You must remember that this was a station that had recurring staggering annual losses up until my arrival, and even a bit after that. We also changed location, from the top floor of a warehouse in Oregun, to our facility at Agidingbi. Recently, we had an equipment overhaul, converting our studios to full multimedia studios, capable of simulcasting and multicasting audio and video content. We also have initiated and run the City Media Academy (our skill acquisition programme) for eight successful, successive editions. Add this to the numerous individual and station awards and accolades we have received, and yes, we have every reason to be happy at the moment.
Veteran broadcasters have always bemoaned the fallen standards and lack of professionalism among the younger generation of broadcasters. Do you agree with them? What can be done to raise the bar?
It is not enough to criticize. Yes, sometimes it feels like an all-comers’ affair; but what structure, with regards to training and mentorship has been put in place? Yes, a lot of young people just want the celebrity status attached to the job; as well as the perks. What has been done to change this mindset? What industry-wide standard has been agreed on? We on our own part have decided to take the bull by the horns. Apart from our robust and expansive internship programme, we have our City Media Academy, which is about creating value, not just presentation.
Any remarkable difference between the old and new generation On-Air Personalities? Have the rules changed?
A lot has changed. The old generation had a different environment they operated in. It was the era of the military, and so a lot of political consciousness. Now, value is the game. You have to make money for your station, so your brand is important. The modern OAP is more financially conscious than the predecessors.
Do you agree that our air space is full or can still accommodate more radio stations?
With digitization, the space will open up even more, with regards to frequency. When this happens, reach becomes wider, as media houses will now play in the online space. This means that the audience spectrum will now expand far beyond the reach of the antennae.
How about the competition from YouTube and the Internet?
If you don’t change, you will either be changed, or swept away by the change. We should not see these platforms as competition, but rather as new means to expand our reach. We should play in that space.
Is there anything you don’t fancy on our airwaves that you would love the regulatory bodies to check?
Actually, I think the regulatory bodies should be more lenient.
Tell us a bit about growing up, family life etc.
I grew up in an extended family. My father had many wives (laughs) and 13 children. He passed on when I was 8 years old and that left me and my two brothers for my wonderful mum to take care of. So I grew up amongst boys and now I have only boys (laughs).
How do you balance career with family life? How do you unwind from your busy schedule?
It’s not been easy, but it’s been a rewarding experience. I am a hands-on mum, and this has given me my fair share of scheduling conflicts. I had to balance school run, managing a home and work. At the end of the day, it made me a better manager, and sharpened my multitasking skills. Also, lessons in patience, understanding and tolerance were learned.
Any role models in the industry?
Oh yes, all the successful women who have risen to the top! Not only in the media.
What’s the secret to your dark and lovely skin? What’s your definition of style?
Wow! All natural. Well I take everything I do seriously.
How have you been helping to lift younger women in the industry up the professional ladder? What’s your advice for them?
I make it a point to mentor young women in my organization. I think women should make sure they protect their reputation. Don’t cut corners, and don’t let the fact that you are a woman discourage you.
Tell us some of your best programmes on radio.
Laughs…all programs on my station are my best.
What’s your life’s mantra?
Everything in business is vanity. Cash is reality.