‘There are vast opportunities across all spectrums of media for female creatives’
Ibironke Shileola is the Managing Director/CEO of Micromedia Marketing Limited, Nigeria’s foremost content development and distribution company. She is also the Executive Producer of the First Independent Telenovela Drama Series in West Africa, “Taste Of Love”. Born in Lagos, she received her first degree in Economics from the University of Abuja before getting a Strategic Marketing Management Course and Senior Management Programme from the prestigious Lagos Business School (LBS). She also bagged postgraduate degree from the prestigious Harvard Business School and London School of Business and Finance. In 2010, she founded her company and has gone on to produce “Taste Of Love”, “Casino” And “Oghenekome” amongst other thrilling TV programmes. In 2015, she launched the International Distribution of her African drama series and movies under the auspices of Mediasales Africa Limited. Currently with footprints in 40 African countries, Shileola has continued to be a pioneer, veering out of the TV Landscape to champion boutique-style cinema exhibiting halls. Launching her very first cinema, Heritage Cinemas in the Alimosho Local Government area, she has been dubbed the Wildrose on Television due to her prowess in delivering high-octane drama series on television. In a bid to pass on her knowledge and empower others, Shileola has held masterclasses and entrepreneurship trainings both locally and internationally. In July, she was awarded a Certificate of Digital Innovation by the prestigious London Business School in recognition of her pioneering, indomitable spirit. In this interview with Guardian Woman, she talks about leaving paid employment for entrepreneurship, her journey towards opening her very first cinema and how she never allows closed doors stop her ambitions amongst other issues.
You studied marketing, why and when did you decide on lifestyle entertainment?
My first field of study is Economics, before I went on to commence my certification in Marketing from the National Institute of Marketing, Nigeria (NIMN) and then proceeded to advance courses at the Lagos and Harvard Business Schools. I chose to study and build a career in marketing because I was working on TV Content Sales and as a Brand Manager; it was required of me to understand the micro-dynamics and brand architecture of products and services of my clients. This stems from understanding the classification of domestic population, GDP, socio-economic group, purchasing power, economies of scale and finally product marketing. The brand management of lifestyle entertainment is the same as managing a consumable product, the drama series, movies, experiential shows or any other lifestyle entertainment is created from marketing research.
Give us a brief history of your career, how did you transition from paid employment to entrepreneurship?
I was the first Brand Manager for Soundcity Music Channel and I progressed to leaving my paid employment as the Head of Marketing. I was a highly result-oriented and a goal getter at my workplace but when I was pregnant with my first child, I took a leave of absence to travel abroad to have my baby. During that period, I figured I couldn’t offer so much to my organisation as I now had more than three roles to fill daily, as a wife, mother and myself. Hence, I began to seek the face of Lord on the next step to take regarding my career and the Lord through the Holy Spirit, revealed this vision to me. Initially, leaving my paid employment was meant to enable me run a small-scale content agency but I found myself creating more and more lifestyle entertainment brands, opening up new business units and now expanding the business into new frontiers. The journey has been really supported and upheld by my husband, Oluyemi. He has remained steadfast in ensuring that all my thought-pacing ideas at nights become a tangible reality. I am truly blessed by his partnership and support.
Would you say your marketing experience prepared you for content acquisition and distribution, which you do now?
I would say that my degree in Economics and Finance is the proponent to the success of all the products created by Micromedia Marketing Limited. Quantifying the bottom line profit of a product determines its success or failure. My specialty in content distribution as a product offering emanated from being a content sales executive.
How did you get the needed funds to start out?
There were no funds to start the business in 2010 when I started, my marketing network got me sponsorship bookings which I used as a collateral with the TV network that broadcasted our drama series. TV slot payment was scheduled alongside remittances from the sponsors. It was tough but there was a business model template that we followed and progressively, we moved the business from zero to where we are today.
You launched your very first cinema yesterday, how was the experience like?
My experience is akin to the song, When You Believe by Whitney Houston featuring Mariah Carey. Many nights I prayed, during the day I was faced with skepticism in achieving this goal. It surely looked far-fetched but today, we are a testament that miracles do happen; if you believe it, then you can achieve it. The cinema hall is a platform for showcasing content; it’s an expansive progression of our current business model in Micromedia. There weren’t issues we couldn’t tackle or correct to achieve our goal. I want to say a big thank you to the Cinema Exhibitors Association of Nigeria (CEAN) and the Federal Distributors Association of Nigeria (FDAN) for collectively accepting and integrating us into the cycle of operations. The reception was warm and cordial and we look forward to a mutually beneficial relationship as we collectively expand cinema exhibition halls in Nigeria.
A lot of people believe big players dominate the media entertainment industry and it is difficult to break into, how did you get in and stay in?
I currently have 20 years experience in this industry; I started out from modeling whilst in the university to acting to brand management to film production. Hence, I know the doors to knock and when to jump into the cycle of operations of the different sectors in the Entertainment Industry.
What major impact would you say this would have on the Nollywood industry?
Distribution is the key success of any product/services. Cinema exhibition halls are distribution showcase centers; our Cinema located in Abule-Egba is a tremendous advantage to the distribution channels of all Nollywood movies.
In your opinion, how would you rate our local film and TV industry, looking at international standards?
We are currently producing film and TV series using the same technical standards as obtained internationally; hence I would say the growth trajectory is positive. Some of our Nollywood movies have grossed more than international movies within the same release period, the domestic demand for Nollywood content whether film or TV drama is extraordinary.
What would you do differently if you had the chance to change things in the industry?
I wouldn’t do anything differently, the success of film production, which we call Nollywood today was built with huge limitations, lack of resources and low income for the artistes amongst other factors. They persevered and continued to churn out compelling stories and today, we have grown to generating over N100 million in box office records, this is highly impressive.
You made history a couple of years ago by producing the first local telenovella series, what has been your growth process since then?
Since then, it has been continuous production of drama series and opening up various distribution channels. Currently, our TV Drama Series are broadcast in 40 African Countries, we have French language versions; English versions and recently we just launched the Portuguese-speaking version. We are currently on Pay TV, free to air, video-on-demand and OTT platforms. We are also moving into aviation on-board entertainment platforms amongst other offerings from our company.
What has been your career highlight(s) so far?
One of my career highlights was launching Taste of Love; another key highlight was distributing our drama series in the East African market. My team and I had embarked on series of e-mails, letter marketing to all the broadcast networks in Kenya with no positive response. East Africa was a key market integration platform for me, and the novelty of our drama content would be reduced if we waited beyond 2016. Without knowing anyone in Kenya, we enrolled for a conference and set out to cover all the TV Networks in Nairobi, doors were shut at us but we persevered and prayed. Finally, we got an offer from KTN, the largest TV Network. As we were packing our bags to leave Nairobi, I looked at my colleague who travelled with me and told her we should take the advantage of being in East Africa to cover all the key countries, we ended up going to Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. The reception and continuous patronage of the TV Networks in these countries give credence to the quality of love for Nollywood dramas by other African countries.
Tell us some of the strategies you employ that have ensured you remain at the top for over a decade?
I am a Christian and the Holy Spirit has taught me to use the impact of the waves and tides in an ocean as a tangible business model. Gen 5:14-16, the Lord specifically instructed Noah how to build an ark, a role which he wasn’t skilled nor trained for. The Lord through the Holy Spirit, illuminates our mental or physical ability to achieve anything according to his will.
Running a business such as this cannot be without its challenges, tell us some of them and how you overcome?
There are numerous, daily, hourly, quarterly and yearly obstacles that my team and I work assiduously to overcome. My main mantra is “Almost Doesn’t Count.” There are only two sections of people in a competition, the winner and others and we can never be seen as “the others”; we ensure that we win and excel in all our endeavours with the aid of Almighty God.
What opportunities are there for female creatives that want to get into this space? What would you advise?
There are vast opportunities across all spectrums of media for female creatives. Right now, female creatives are the technical directors of the highest grossing Nollywood movies, I would advise that any woman coming to the industry understands that someone is currently occupying the spotlight and you have to work harder than them to become successful.
How can we make the Nigerian entertainment industry more profitable for entrepreneurs?
Understanding ownership and in-depth knowledge of the legal and structural framework of the distribution channels of your product in the entertainment industry will yield more profitability.
If you get the opportunity to influence change for Nigerian women, what would you tackle first?
(Laughing) The first choice of any recruitment must be a woman. I know this is unimaginable but women are stereotyped and can be relatively skewed in a disadvantageous imbalance, which may limit our ability to harness all the potentials in the entertainment industry.
What does your typical day look like?
Once I wake up in the morning, I pray with my family and then set targets are scheduled in an orderly model of importance. I usually send all tasks and targets to my team members overnight, so it’s easier for them to deploy and achieve all set goals promptly. Communication is very key amongst my team members; we call it a 360-degree wave of operation. During school season, I’m very hands-on with my kids and their schooling demands. I personally coach my children without home teachers; I have created a Study-Play-Teach-Reward flow plan amongst us, which helps to get their academics and co-curricular activities in sync. I must say that I have a fastidious and painstaking personality when it comes to delivering any set targets. The standards are raised very high and I coach, direct, encourage my team members including my children to achieve their goals. A win for them is a win for me.
What are the things you enjoy doing to help you de-stress and relax?
In Nigeria, I love to watch movies at IMAX cinemas and I frequently visit a health spa, it’s a detoxing and relaxing environment for me. It also has members of my club who are friendly and we all laugh and gist through the day. Outside the country, I love visiting destination spots, I’m very adventurous and inquisitive about the socio-cultural lifestyle of any country I visit. I truly love European countries where I can wake up in Geneva and catch a train to Milan or Paris to watch the Opera or Moulin Rouge and finally spend the night with my family in London.
What would you say your personal style consists of?
I am a very glamorous person; I wouldn’t step outside my house without the essentials to sway my slayness. I am also keen on exclusive designer products- Chanel, Hermes, Fendi and Gucci are my favourites. A new addition from any of these brands elevates my stress cells. I love Oud perfumes especially Amouage Opus 10, it’s specially endorsed by the Sheik of Dubai, I also love Killian brand of perfumes and body oils from the Qatari Emirate.
What would you say are your guiding philosophies that have helped you on this journey of life?
My key philosophy in life is “time is money;” you can only harness the vast opportunities in life when you design your time as a resource tool.
What last words do you want to leave with women that have been inspired by you?
It is a bible verse, Deuteronomy 28:12 NKJV: The Lord will open to you his good treasures, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of thy hand and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow.