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The Queen of bounce backs, Temitope Jemerigbe is ready to leap ahead

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Temitope

Yesterday, Temitope Jemerigbe, CEO of ad agency DKK, said she was reading an important piece of writing. The title of the piece? Characteristics of a Dying Business. At such a time that most companies are occupied with deep concerns about ‘The New Normal’, such an article would be instructive, wouldn’t it?

Of course, it would. The only prominent female leader of an ad business in the country, Ms Jemerigbe is the current publicity secretary of AAAN (pronounced triple A-N), the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria. She also recently was a member of the jury for The Diana Award (in honour of Princess Diana of the UK). So, perhaps she’s noticed the economic upheavals in her circles home and abroad?

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Beyond this, though, Ms Jemerigbe, who turns 49 this September, has been in close proximity of a dying business before.

When she took over at DKK in 2012, the 15-year-old advertising business was all but gone. It owed more than N61 million in back salaries to its ex-staff, only one client was left and was barely hanging on for old times’ sake. The staff being owed? All but one had resigned.

So, what did she do? She settled in and made DKK her life’s work. In a matter of months, the firm gradually returned to serviceable form, being pushed on by Jemerigbe’s signature fuel that was equal parts stubbornness and optimism. By the end of 2014, DKK’s full-time employees numbered more than 25, and serviced clients in consumer tech, hospitality, telecom, healthcare, and banking.

Apart from banking on her personal impetus, Jemerigbe said she developed a trident strategy whose three points were respectively a body of staff, openness, and flexibility with clients.

If you look at it now, it does make a ton of sense. Apart from their comparatively low cash demands, young talents will most likely go an extra mile to prove themselves on the job.

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As for openness, even in 2012, the legacy advertising models were already being seriously flanked by smaller, more nimble solo practitioners, freelancers, and social media. It was a perfect time for a struggling agency to consider, and possibly embrace, what other opportunities might be out there.

“We called ourselves The Mistress,” Jemerigbe said, referring to the flexibility part of her strategy. “We didn’t seek to be the only agency working for you. We would however bend over backwards to meet our clients’ demands on quality, budgets, and deadlines.”

Evidently, her system worked — so much so that in 2016, DKK became the first non-traditional PR firm to win the highly contested MTN Nigeria public relations business. For three years, until a major realignment compelled a parting of ways between agency and client, DKK worked with the nation’s number one telecom company. Unverified sources say the yearly retainer was N60 million — about $305,000 in that year’s rates.

But here we are again. Almost post COVID-19. The ad business has now definitely been through the wringer— media buying budgets plummeted, advertisement production briefs evaporated, brand activation projects disappeared. By the end of 2020, some CEOs estimate that media advertising had dropped by more than 30 percent.

On the other hand, it became common for advertisers to try to give more leg to their spending by requesting that media buying agencies include creatives as value added. It’s also not uncommon for brands to grab a handful of social media influencers as a Swiss Army knife of creator, media channel, and spokespeople. It’s a cheap device by the money spenders.

Jemerigbe said, “You cannot blame the companies for choosing that route. The audiences are there online, the conversations are there; it would be tempting to anyone to embrace the advantages offered by Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and the excellent creators there.”

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That said, she chipped in, “These companies would benefit extremely from the order and professionalism that an experienced agency would bring into the mix. And agencies on their part might want to adapt themselves to this new way because it is here to stay.”

2020 also coincided with Nigeria’s second recession in five years and an attendant, and horrific, decline in the value of the naira. Expectedly, many marketing firms shrank, fired several of their employees or completely closed shop.

So, what’s it going to be this time, Ms Jemerigbe? “Another rebirth,” she said. “For a creative business, continual reinvention should be a part of the lexicon. This is how you survive.”

Nine years on, Temitope Jemerigbe’s earned industry respect has come from her unusual thinking and wild fortitude. In a sector in which a woman-led business still feels like snow in Africa, she’s also had to contend with a fickle local economy and a global catastrophe.

Hopefully, she’ll win again. And, with what she’s currently reading, I do think she will.

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