First Katalyst: Exceptional Marketing Power House
..Celebrating Five Years of First Katalyst Marketing In BTL Solutions
In chemistry, a catalyst is referred to as a substance that causes or accelerates a chemical reaction without itself being affected. A catalyst is also said to be person or thing that precipitates an event or change. Thus, for an agency with a vision to be a catalyst in marketing communication on the African continent by becoming a first class ideas powerhouse in West Africa and one of the top 10 agencies within the sub-region within a short time, the name First Katalyst is but an apt name and description.
How it began
Five years ago, the duo of Soji Odedina and Sunday Awoyomi decided it was time for a catalyst in the below the line (BTL) advertising industry in West Africa. They believed the industry was ripe for a revolutionary approach to proffering solutions to the marketing problems of clients. Besides, they were confident that they possessed the required pedigree to make a difference in the industry. Both men took the decisive step of resigning from their respective places of employment and established First Katalyst Marketing (FKM) in 2012 to fulfill a long-held desire to be a catalyst in the industry.
Considering their rich backgrounds in the corporate world, it was obvious that both men were well equipped to achieve the set objective of making First Katalyst a first-class ideas powerhouse in West Africa’s marketing communication landscape.
Before the advent of First Katalyst, Odedina had established a reputation as a frontline marketing communication professional with over 20 years’ experience in advertising, BTL, journalism and grass root mobilization, while Awoyomi, also a marketing professional, had over 20 years extensive working experience in blue-chip companies across all areas of marketing – brands, trade and marketing research.
The combination of Odedina, a professional from the agency side, and Awoyomi, a professional from the client side, makes First Katalyst a premium choice for clients. Odedina’s stint with Contact Marketing and 141Worldwide with hands-on experience working on British America Tobacco (BAT), Guinness/Diageo, PZ Group, Elf Petroleum, Philip Morris International, P&G, Etisalat, First Bank, United Bank For Africa (UBA), Pharma Deko, InterContinental Distillers and Cadbury, among others, and Awoyomi’s management of brands on the stable of BAT, among other experiences, enhanced the chances of FKM’s success.
However, if everything had gone as planned, the agency would not be known by its current name. Rather, it would have been known as Promo Africa Marketing.
Odedina explains: “We didn’t set out to bear First Katalyst. Before we started, I had a registered business name known as Promo Africa Media Limited. I wanted to change it to Promo Africa Marketing and increase the share capital. So, we sent the certificate back to CAC. They took forever to get back to us while we were losing businesses. CAC was yet to approve of our change of name and change of capital because we wanted to move from one million to five million so that we could do bigger things.
“In the course of waiting for a response from CAC, we decided to do something else. I called the team together and then we started brainstorming on a new name. I left them, came to my office and started ruminating and the Katalyst name hit me. Katalyst (Catalyst) is a scientific word. We settled for the word because we knew that we were coming out to cause a reaction or disruption to the usual way of doing business. I knew very well that by combining our strengths from agency and client sides, we would do wonders with brands. We added the ‘First’ to indicate that we will always be the first to do all of these in the market.
“It is important to state here that my principal partner never worked with an agency before. So, it is clear that agency and client expertise are under one roof. That was the beginning of First Katalyst.”
The vision for the frontline BTL agency is to become a first-class ideas powerhouse in West Africa and to be one of the top 10 agencies within the sub-region by 2017. To do that, the agency aims to provide cost effective value-adding and result-oriented marketing solutions for its clients through the power of ideas thereby acting as a catalyst, building long term relationship between them and their consumers and sustainable profitability for both agency and clients.
According to Odedina, “When we started crafting the vision for the agency, I brought my previous role in an advertising agency to bear. I had covered 23 markets in West Africa. So, I decided that that experience should count for something. I decided that we will not be limited by geographical space to Nigeria alone. We wanted to go beyond Nigeria and become one of the top 10 agencies by the strength of ideas in West Africa.”
Awoyomi says that First Katalyst Marketing is quite focused on the vision of being one of the leading agencies in West Africa. “We have made giant strides in that direction and we are almost getting there.”
Odedina adds the journey towards achieving the vision has not been an easy one. After several attempts, the company succeeded in registering a subsidiary in the Benin Republic, entering a partnership in Ghana and is on the cusp of getting registered in Cote D’ Ivoire, all within the last one year. “We have extended our footprint into West Africa as we said we would do. Now, there are businesses that are also going with us along that route. It’s been a very fantastic journey.”
FIrst Katalyst Marketing places integrity at the very core of its operational philosophy. The agency thinks and acts like a business partner to clients. It shares its clients’ aspirations, work to understand their reality, and align its incentives with clients’ objectives.
“The first value we hold dear is our integrity. A lot of hanky-panky happens in the marketplace. When an Agency shortchanges the client, you eventually end up shortchanging the brand and future business is affected. That is one of the things we don’t do. We are committed to building brands and integrity is one of the things we push forward,” says Odedina.
The agency boasts of a passionate, young and upwardly mobile team dedicated to delivering on the agency promise of excellence and world-class quality to assigned brands in the market place.
Although middle-aged, Odedina wears dreadlocks and he is proud of his looks. He explains that the dreadlocks help him to connect with the core of Nigerian consumers, 70 percent of whom the last census places below the age of 30. “CNN put a spotlight on Nigeria a couple of weeks ago where it said Nigeria is making progress in spite of its government, and the reason they adduced for that is the vibrant young population – young people who are pushing the boundaries and frontiers of development and possibilities. We have very young and intelligent people here and that is one reason why every brand wants to come here.”
Awoyomi attests to the agency’s youthfulness. He says, “If you look at the population of Nigeria based on statistics, we are told that about 70 percent of the Nigerian population is below 30. And we believe strongly that that’s where the future and strength of the country lies. And so we believe in youthfulness and that reflects in the core of the staff that we gather together. We also believe in openness and integrity. Those are the core values that drive us as a business.”
There are very few agencies in Nigeria, especially in the BTL industry that can boast of having a rich combination of agency and brand experience in the makeup of its team. Awoyomi boldly asserts that FK Marketing is probably the only agency on the BTL side of the advertising industry that can boast of members of staff who have worked both on the client and agency sides virtually all their life and now under one roof.
The advantage of parading such talents is that whenever the team proceeds to brainstorm on a project or business at hand, there will be people in the room who can put on the client’s cap and others who will equally put on the agency’s cap. It is very rare to get this happening in other agencies, he says.
“So, we pride ourselves on the quality of marketing personnel we have and on the quality of the knowledge and expertise we bring to bear. And that has given us an edge. You discover that when you give a brief to most agencies, they seem to wait for the client to tell them what to do and before they do it. But here at First Katalyst, we are the think-tank for the client. When a client gives us a brief, we look at the entire situation, do marketing research and come up with insights to help their businesses.
“Most times, we go back to the client and say look it is not about the money that we will get from you for our services that will work. This is not what your business needs at this time. So we think for our clients. We are problem solvers. We create solutions rather than waiting for the client to give us direction. Once we get your brief, we go ahead to do marketing research and come up with insights to help your business.”
Core Competence And Offerings
Since it commenced business in 2012, the agency has demonstrated its capability as a go-to agency for top-notch solutions to marketing problems, driving growth for many businesses across Nigeria. This, it has done through its rich bouquet of services that cuts across the whole gamut of marketing communication with core competences in BTL.
Odedina speaks on this competence. “Our competence cuts across the entire spectrum of marketing communication having practiced advertising at the highest level. So, we understand advertising very deeply. When we receive a brief from a client, we dissect it with the knowledge of a client and an agency.”
Awoyomi agrees to this. He holds that the agency is a 360-degree agency. “We are a 360-degree agency but you know that clients have a way of defining you and your business. We set out to do both ATL and BTL. We have the capacity for the two. In fact, we have had a couple of major businesses across both platforms but most of our clients perceive us as very strong in BTL and seem very comfortable doing business with us on that basis. As a result, most of our projects have come from that end. Fortunately in the last 2 years or so, marketing spend have been re routed in our direction, meaning brands are spending more on one to one engagement unlike how it was hitherto.”
Elaborating more on the agency’s core competence that includes advertising, trade marketing, consumer activations, digital marketing support services, among others, Odedina, the agency’s Chief Executive Officer breaks it down.
“In advertising, we create a wholesome experience for client’s brand identity using a holistic approach so that the brand is in touch with and visible to the customers at all the times. We help our clients create a distinctive brand philosophy and identity which is centered on consumers.
“We also help our clients to create trade marketing strategies that can sustain the needs at the consumer end thereby increasing the demand at the distributor, wholesale or retail trade levels. We assist in marketing products through the value chain and at the point of sale by creating a demand for products across the channel and before it reaches the consumer. This is very important as 70 percent of shopping decisions are now made at the point-of-purchase hence the need for the greater importance of merchandising and shopper promotions.
“We specialize in creating attention-grabbing activities that disrupt and surprise consumers and effectively build lasting brand relationships. Through various activities in and around the point of sale, we directly influence the buying behaviour of consumers by turning shopping opportunities into unforgettable brand experiences. Our specialty is using innovative concepts that highlight products and make sales fun for the consumer.
“We provide digital marketing services to businesses and marketing managers to improve their online presence and start generating new business. Depending on the business and the resources available, we provide a range of digital marketing services to ensure our clients’ brands are engaging the audience and generating leads.”
The agency’s digital marketing support service is quite large, offering essential deliverables of a total service experience. These services are Website Business Goals, Corresponding Conversion Metrics, Website Features Plan, Keyword Analysis, Keyword Competition Analysis, Navigation Plan, Meta Tags Plan, Website Optimization, Website Content Plan, Website Content Writing, PPC Ad Plan, PPC Ad Campaign Management, SEO Campaign Plan, SEO Campaign Management, Email Campaign Management, Social Media Campaign Management, Monthly Progress Reports, Online Reputation Management and Mobile Application Development.
First Katalyst has created a reputation for itself as an agency that rarely loses a pitch for business. It has also recorded a very low turnover rate of clients. The agency has been with most of its clients since it started working on their brands and that is not unrelated to the kind of results the clients are getting in the market place. Among its innovative initiatives over the years, Odedina shares a few.
“We once worked on a certain brief for a major telecoms brand. The brand wanted a document for its workforce especially the ones on the field. They call it the merchandising manual. The purpose of the manual is to create discipline among field operatives in such a way that there would be consistency in all of the company’s outlets. The first thing we did was to classify all their outlets before moving forward to creating a compendium for the field force.
“Initially this client had briefed its agency of record. Of course, it wasn’t their areas of competence, so they could not deliver. They tried a couple of other agencies and got the same result until someone suggested First Katalyst to them.
“We set out to work, and the day we presented the merchandising manual to the management, I led the team myself. The client was so impressed that they asked our team to personally present to top management. That was a landmark achievement for us and the client.”
First Katalyst also had a similar experience with a Tobacco firm. The agency was invited to pitch for its account after the tobacco company conducted a research and discovered that competition was hitting its market share from the rural. First Katalyst designed a programme to address the problem. The result was magnificent. Within one year, the brand had recovered lost grounds in the rural and was able to grow its distribution network in the targeted rural areas by 27 percent.
Odedina avers that all the clients that First Katalyst has worked with always have a good story to tell. According to him, the agency was contacted by another multinational company in the FMCG category after it sent feelers out to five other multinationals to recommend their best BTL agencies and most of them recommended First Katalyst.
Obviously delighted by the successes recorded over the years, Odedina recounts how another major Client in the drinks category wrote a letter of commendation to the agency after it made a lasting impression on them. “ The client had an event to open an eye clinic in Onitsha. They gave us a brief. It was a small project. Their managing director was going to attend. Two days before the unveiling, the hospital management complained that the painting that was done was not properly done. That was totally out of our brief. We bought paint and got painters to repaint while we supervised. Initially, we did not know that the governor of the state was going to attend. Less than 24 hours to the unveiling, we were informed that the governor would be attending. The event became bigger than we envisaged. We pulled through that event very remarkably.
“As we ended the event and the governor left, the corporate affairs manager for our Client was having a chat with the hospital management who said we are the best set of people they have ever worked with on a project. Of course we got a letter of commendation from our client describing us as a class act.”
Awoyomi also shares this: “One of our clients who own a multinational business based in Europe and who equally has his business running here in Nigeria called us and so many other big and high standard agencies to address a particular situation and to help them revamp their business. We won the account based on the superiority of the concept that we proposed.
“We ran it for the first year after which their global office attested to the fact that there was a drastic reversal of the downward trend. Consequently, they gave us another two years to run that project. And as we speak to you, we are permanently on that project. We’ve been running it year-on-year for the last two years and it is still ongoing because they have seen the impact and value. After the first year, they asked us to expand beyond the southern region.
“Another case is also of a multinational. They had a problem in distributing one of their products and we came up with a concept that gave them an alternative means of distribution. After we worked on the distribution, the client team got a global award for the initiative. Also, the company decided to integrate it as part of their route to market. They expanded and funded it and up till now, we are still running that project.
“We have actually pioneered most of these impactful projects. When we do, the businesses expand.”
Human capital development
The quality of any organization is traceable to its human capital. To remain relevant in an industry and be in tune with the trend, an organization worthy of its name must give priority to training and retraining of its workforce.
Awoyomi agrees with this notion. He says, “For us here, training of the workforce is an enduring exercise, off and on the job. On the job, I don’t think that you can have it anywhere better than we do here. We have very experienced people who are involved in the day-to-day running of the business. We don’t have directors, EDs and or leaders that fold their hands and watch others run around. We are involved from the MDs to the EDs to the directors. We are all involved in brainstorming. We put our staff through on all the processes involved in carrying out their assignments. We provide ongoing coaching and on the job training.
“We equally give periodic training to our field staff. We also have in-house sessions where we bring people together and train all our people. We also go to identify training programmes that will benefit our staff and enrol them. So we take training very seriously.
“Of course, if you look at the composition of the top management of the company, you will find people that have had the privilege of working in multinationals. So, we understand the value of human capital as the engine that drives the business and what a business stands to benefit if it has a well-trained and competent workforce. This is exactly what we have been able to bring on board.”
Odedina reveals that First Katalyst is almost through with the set up of a Trade Marketing Association saying the plan is almost at the level of completion with the CAC.
He says the agency is not just looking to form an association for the mere sake of coming together of practitioners but to use it as an umbrella to train and retrain the workforce. Every director of sales and trade marketing will be enlisted to be part of the initiative in order to enhance the knowledge base of people within that space and to ensure that people are equipped with the right tools.
“Here in First Katalyst, I always say to people that the first responsibility for knowledge acquisition is the individual himself. Most of the people we started the Agency with are people we picked from ground zero, with little or no experience. But in 5 years, some of them have become so good that they became attractive to multinational businesses.
In line with the agency’s vision of going beyond the Nigerian coast and conquering the West African market, the agency has made inroads to Ghana, Benin Republic and others. For Odedina, this is just the beginning of greater things to come. He speaks further on the rationale behind the expansion move.
“It is safe to say that we have taken the first step towards expansion beyond Nigeria. What we have come to realize is that many West African countries look up to Nigeria. Secondly, there are brands in West Africa where Nigeria is their home base. Asa result of that, what we are doing is to follow the footprints of these brands. More so, when brands are asking us if we can replicate what we do in Nigeria in other West African countries. We will continue to expand our footprints in West Africa. There are several other places that need to be touched such as Cameroun, The Gambia, Sierra Leone and Senegal where the opportunities are immense. It is just that you need an agency with a big heart to take that step.
It is a cliché worth its emphasis to say that the best advertiser is a satisfied customer. FK Marketing has retained most the accounts it has worked on till date, an uncommon feat for a BTL agency. The reason may not be farfetched as captured in its successes and testimonials by brands and the disruption that they have brought to the industry.
Odedina says they have worked across all industries for different brands. “We have touched base with almost all major brands. We work in the drinks and food beverage industry as well as in oil and gas. FMCGs are attracted to us because of our rich background and experience.
Awoyomi adds voice to the conversation. “We pride ourselves on the fact that we have just done five years but we have done so much in terms of quality and the volume of clientele that we have. We have worked with a good number of brands across all sectors of the economy. We are currently working with Guinness Diageo, Procter and Gamble, PZ Group, Vlisco, MidWestern oil and gas, as well as MTN, among others.