Quadrant MSL Group: Driving Global Excellence With Local Relevance
By Jeremiah Agada
The narrative of the evolution of private PR practice in Nigeria is incomplete without the mention of Quadrant MSL Group. The agency is among the few that have brought positive disruptions to the PR landscape in Africa and holds the prestigious credit for being Nigeria’s first full service PR consultancy, offering specialists services.
Incorporated as a full service public relations firm in 1989, the agency flagged off its operations in 1990, and currently operates out of its head office in GRA, Ikeja area, in Lagos State. Locally, Quadrant MSL Group is a unit company of the Troyka Group. It is currently being marshaled by one of the PR finest eggheads in Nigeria, Bolaji Okusaga who has had over 17 years’ experience in communications, research, investor relations and public relations.
Leaving his position as the Head of Communications, Marina International Bank Limited now known as Access Bank Plc over a decade ago, Bolaji took over the mantle of leadership of the agency as its fifth Managing Director. He tells of how the agency has shaped private practice in Nigeria. “In terms of being pioneers of standard practice, full service practice; Quadrant MSL Group is the first in this industry.
“In terms of helping to change perception around the difference between advertising and PR practice in the days of yore, one will also say that we are first. If you look at most of the guys running thriving agencies today, you will realize that they are from us or borrowed our model whether they are from the client or agency sides. In terms of helping to anchor practice properly, we remain number one.”
Within the several generations through which the agency has passed, it has consistently evolved with the times, achieving many firsts as it goes and entrenching legacies.“Legacy is one thing, novelty is another. What are our novelties? We were the first to open the eyes of West African practice to the fact that we needed to join the global communications village when we won the Sabre awards in 2012 as African Consultant agency of the year. That feat was first from Nigeria and first from West Africa.
“In terms of helping to nurture best practice, one will say that this institution has actually done very well. We cannot only afford to rest on our oars to our peering due to the fact that new guys out there are hungry. I won’t say that the king cannot be dethroned if the king refuses to innovate. If we lead in the world of novelty, then we should be at the cutting edge novelty.”
Quadrant MSL Group is also the first in Nigeria to transition into a global agency with equity stakes, a feat that has rarely been replicated in West Africa ever since. “In terms of being an indigenous business that transitioned into a global platform not through affiliation but in terms of equity stake, we are a pacesetter. We moved into a global platform not a global platform coming to set up shop.
Quadrant MSL Group is partly owned by MSL Group, a leading global communications consultancy, which is the Publicis Groupe’s global PR firm specializing in public relations, strategic communications, media relations and engagement.
Through its relationship with the MSL Group, it executes briefs pan-Nigeria, and in the West, Central and East African sub-regions. It offers country and sector-specific advisory services; just as it co-conducts marketing and situational analysis research projects. Its global reach makes it a toast of its clients as it can leverage on its partnership to regularly call on senior personnel of MSL across the world to co-present on multi-disciplinary and multi-market pitches within and outside Nigeria. Before this strategic partnership, the agency had been affiliated with Fleishman-Hillard, another leader in global communications delivery, for a decade.
These international affiliate relationships also provide Quadrant MSL Group with a deep reservoir of generic and specialist experience and technical know-how, as there is continuous mix and knowledge exchange across the relationship via regular cross posting of personnel and internships across the world.
Its filialties to the Troyka Group have ensured that, when necessary, it is also able to tap into specialist expertise available within the group. “When I talk about what we do here, I cannot speak in isolation of Troyka. I am also talking of utilization to the current group that we belong to, called Insight Redefini. It is the strength of vision of the group that moves things. The owners of the business were not thinking about money when they started. They were focused and professional.”
“When we talk about our business, we don’t talk about them being Nigerian businesses. We talk about them as global businesses in Nigeria. Within that context, we are not MSL Nigeria, we are MSL in Nigeria. This is because we want the standard that is obtainable in Paris and Chicago to be the same here in Nigeria in spite of the super infrastructural challenges we have as a nation; we want that practice to be comparable. That has been the values of the owners of the business from the beginning.
“Even in hiring managers, they have always tried to look for a connection point from the standpoint of value not just from the ‘mercantile’ or ‘short-termist’ perspective. The owners of the business don’t do any other thing but the business. They are not the type that you find grow so big and decide to go into politics. We are talking about over 40 years of doing the same thing again and again. If we do the same thing again and again, we are only going to get much better at it.”
One of the core competences of the agency that distinguishes it from competition is its people led by experienced personnel who have a combined experience of over 80 years covering banking and finance, public sector, business journalism, corporate communications, investor relations, technology telecommunications, and public relations. The agency’s team has strong relationship management skills, solid media links and strategic content development, and strong contacts in private and public sector in Nigeria and other key African markets with a deep working knowledge of the Nigerian and West African media landscape.
It also has an excellent relationship and media contacts in Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and South Africa. The agency has in place tried and tested systems and processes for timely and targeted dissemination, follow-up and reporting. It also possesses a Media Bureau which specialises in Media Research, Media Monitoring, Trend Spotting and Digital Communications.
One other core value the agency holds dear is the importance of every project irrespective of yesterday’s achievement. Quadrant MSL Group prides itself in its professionalism, great work culture and a friendly environment to deliver great PR services for its various clients. It also has a work process streamlined and broken down into phases to properly track and evaluate PR activities. The processes are broken down into client briefing session, ideas and implementation plans, message development and working through media platforms (online, offline and electronics).
The agency operates on a core philosophy and approach focused on telling stories that matter while delivering meaningful attention that seizes leadership and drives recognition, sales and market adoption. The agency utilizes smart, proactive and content-driven strategies, what it calls ‘influence engines’ which are nimble, always running and highly repeatable programmes driven by outstanding and experienced professionals. The agency has consistently implemented systems and work flow processes which ensure effective workflow, reporting and review of PR and events management projects/assignments.
“The first thing we set out to do was to be the professional PR Company of choice offering first rate solutions to clients.
“One fundamental thing also is that we are nimble, fast and maintain that small company mentality even as we grow big because while it is good to be big, it is always better to connect. The bigger you get without connection; you begin to lose your inner core.
“We have since transitioned into a larger context within the sphere of a world that is a world that is gradually converging; a practice that is actually converging via technology into a human being business because now, the search is not for technology. The fourth industrial revolution is all things the internet; it is all about artificial intelligence, it is all about automation, so it is here to stay with us.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, USA understands the place of technology and the disruption it has brought to human existence. However, he is of the view that humanity capacity and potential are of the most important essence. He posits: “…technology (only) empowers humans to do great things. You have to be optimistic about what technology can do in the hands of humans.”
Bolaji obviously agrees with this statement Nadella made at The Future of Digital Technology at Davos in 2015. “What is the world looking for? The world is looking for human essence. In spite of the fact that I used technology, ‘human’ is the story I tell. How does it connect with experiences in India? How does it connect to that guy in Somalia who is daily fighting battles? How does it connect to that person in Australia who lives in a world that never imagines there is a place of starvation like Africa? How does it apply to the man in China who is aspiring to be a world leader and transform Mandarin into a language that is as acceptable as English? That is what the world is looking for.
“We no longer just see ourselves as a static business that wants to offer first rate solutions alone, we now see ourselves as a human being business that is able to nestle best practice within a global context because there is really nothing in the world that is local; everything is global.
“We want to remain a ‘human being’ business because it is all about humanity in spite of the fact that technology is driving that change. The world has never being more humane or focused on building connection and community than now.
“That essentially is making our business transform from just looking for first rate solutions alone to looking for solutions that make the world a better place. Those solutions must in themselves be relevant to human context; not just driven by technology. We don’t want to speak like the geeks; we want to remain at heart a very small business even as we grow in stature.”
This understanding of technology from the human being point of view, according to him has differentiated Quadrant MSL from other agencies. “We are not basically responding to change, we are leading the change. Asides from the fact that we have got a long history of practice behind us, we still strife to be at the forefront of novelty.
In understanding the place of technology in the PR practice, Bolaji projects this: “We want to be at the cutting edge of the journey to convergence such that technology will continue to disrupt traditional practice. We want to transform from being just a traditional practice to a hybrid that understands technology not just from the view of a platform but from the view of the human condition and so can create communication solutions on those technology platforms that aligns with human conditions.
“So, as the human condition changes, we also change. That means that if the human condition changes in the next 20 years, you will be certain to find us there.”
It is worth noting that Quadrant MSL Group’s corporate culture is also instructive: the agency tries not to hug the klieg lights with its clients, preferring to dutifully remain in the background whilst ensuring that it continues to promote and project client’s interests and objectives to generate PR capital for them at all times.
Among the innovative initiatives of the agency and its legacies as an industry leader include: launching of its Investor Relations offering in 2008, the first of its kind in West Africa, and worked closely with Arcay Financial Communications South Africa, College Hill and Finsbury, United Kingdom in order to raise capacity and deepen the market in Nigeria in this specialist area, which has gained traction and momentum in Nigeria since the last financial crises.
Some of its innovative services and offerings are corporate communications, consumer and brand PR, social cause, lobbying and government relations, media and community relations, financial PR, capital market and investor relations. Other are, technology and telecommunications, environmental scan, market intelligence and issues management, media training, crisis planning and communication, investment liaison, exhibitions and trade expo, events and sponsorship marketing, multimedia, website development and publications management and digital PR and analytics
Its track record can also be seen in some of the interesting briefs handled over the years. For example, it managed the Zain PR account right from its earlier days as Econet Wireless Nigeria and right through all its various corporate transformations. It achieved positive brand equity for the network’s reputation and public perception before retiring the account for strategic reasons. It also took up work with ETISALAT, where it leveraged on its wealth of experience in the telecoms sector to position the ISP. This is one reason Quadrant MSL Group is currently the only PR consultancy that has had the longest tenure on any GSM network business.
Some notable Talk-of-the-town campaigns it has executed for some of its clients includes Share a Coke, Taste the feeling, My future starts now – P&G (Always), Coke Studio, Google Photos Experience, Ikogosi and With a computer you are powerful – Intel.
Consumer Engagement Initiatives for brands executed by the agency also includes Reach for the ‘Skye’, Sunlight Alarambra, Knorr Quest Cooking Competition, Omo Door to Door Activation, Always’ Prospera Launch and Sunlight Re-launch.
On Corporate Social Responsibility, the agency has also done quite a lot. Initiatives that have become referral points in the academia and industry it executed include Copa Coca-Cola, BA Students’ Fare, Google Empowerment/Training for Journalists, Intel She’ll Connect, BA’s Leaders of Tomorrow, GSK’s Walk for Asthma, Obijackson’s Hospital, Okija and Knorr Quest Cooking Competition.
Quadrant MSL Group is also renowned for its strength in crisis communication. It was responsible for the dousing of the negative publicity on the activities of De-United Company Limited which was generated as a result of the contamination of a batch of a product of the company – Indomie Noodles. Following the disclosure of the product contamination by affected members of the public and the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, and product by explaining what went wrong, admitting the error and projecting the remedial actions of the Company. Quadrant MSL Group worked with the British Airways in managing the crisis which erupted from the agitation of its workers for wage increase. The agency has also helped manage the Board crisis that engulfed the continent-wide, ECO Transnational Bank (ETI) and ensured a smooth transition in top management.
For all these achievements, the agency has won several recognitions and awards nationally and internationally. In 2005, it clinched the Global Excellence ‘Agency of the Year’ award from the stables of Global Excellence magazine. During the LG Electronics Marketing Public Relations (MPR) Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates in 2007, it was specially recognized and awarded the LG ‘PR TDR Achievement Award’ by LG Electronics for achieving the TDR target and demonstrating outstanding performance. In 2012, it won the prestigious Holmes Report Sabre Awards as ‘African PR Consultancy’ of the year. Some other awards and recognitions include the NIPR Award for best contribution to PR education in Nigeria, Golden Wings Award for PR company of the year, Golden Wings Award for best piece of coverage of the year and Top Celebrities Award for PR Company of the year.