We Help Clients Excel with Sustainable Branding That Delivers Value -Meka Olowola, Zenera Consulting
Meka Olowola is the Managing Partner of Zenera Consulting. With over 20 years’ cross-functional experience in communications straddling Public Relations, Banking as well as Oil and Gas, he is a much sought-after communications expert. The Ahmadu Bello University Graduate of Physiology has to his credit a Change Management Certificate from the Colorado State University, USA. Olowola is a major exponent of sustainability in Africa. He advocates that an expanded culture of social responsibility and ethical action by government, individuals and corporate bodies is at the heart of the panacea to current economic challenges and negative realities in Africa. In this chat with Janet Udogu and Michael Efengbe, he critically analyses the Perception Management industry in Nigeria and reveals some of the strategies deployed to make his firm stand out from the crowd. Excerpts:
Setting up Zenera Consulting
Zenera Consulting was born out of the desire to create a unique service delivery platform. I’ve been in the business of managing reputation, perception and corporate communications for 20 years. And one of the things I noticed when Nigerian Corporates began to gravitate Westward to European and American markets to either raise funds or extend the frontiers of their brands, was the need for world-class communication. I was privileged to lead Oando Plc’s branding effort to pioneer many products in sub-Saharan Africa, especially financial instruments to raise capital from international markets. We were the first to have an inward listing into Africa on the JSE. We revolutionised the way public offers were introduced way before the banks started it. We approached the markets in London and New York with convertibles and then went on to list in Canada with a reverse takeover.
Now, for every international market that I went to on behalf of Oando, we had to retain the services of the international PR agencies. I was overseeing agencies in South Africa, United Kingdom, America and Canada.However, we noticed that they didn’t have the requisite local know-how to translate all that world-class communication to meet the psychographics of the local market. So,many corporates ended up having to retain the services of international agencies to manage their branding overseas and a local one to connect with the actual market. When we started Zenera, we decided from the outset that our clients would not have to employ an international agency to manage global communications as we would provide world-class communications solutions to meet all their needs holistically. with our experience. Our clients find out that reality with us. That was one of the reasons behind setting up Zenera.
At Zenera, we do end-to-end communications. Some people refer to it as corporate communications; while some others describe it as brand management. However, our most exciting service offering is the in the area of financial or investor communications, which is something that I don’t find a lot around here. We are focused on ensuring that there is a pipeline of information between entities and their investing publics, which you hardly find in Nigeria. That’s something our clients find very interesting about us.
DNA of Zenera Consulting
At Zenera Consulting, we believe that branding is a way of life, not just a job. Consequently, we strive to develop the emotional intelligence of our staff with soft skills such as professionalism, integrity, respect, solution-drive, ingenuity and teamwork which together make up our brand DNA. Our operational philosophy is to help our clients excel with innovative corporate communications that deliver value on a sustainable basis.
Zenera Consulting and Industry Competitors
I’ve always felt the industry presents a level-playing field for everyone whose services are hinged on professionalism and client satisfaction, so I’m not sure we are necessarily competing with other agencies. However, to answer your question I would say our competitive edge revolves around a thorough understanding of our client’s business which tailors our advisory services to their needs. We boast a dedicated team of sector-focused professionals with over 45 years’ combined experience providing strategic communications services that help our clients establish and maintain close relations with their key stakeholders.
More importantly, our services at Zenera Group are diverse, making us a one-stop hub for clients focused on 360-degree branding and reputation management. For instance, our subsidiary CSR-in-Action (CiA) is one of the foremost CSR consultancy firms in Nigeria, offering services such as CSR strategy, Sustainability reporting and CSR/Sustainability training. BuzzDigital, our digital marketing arm, provides high-quality social media content and digital marketing solutions; while Redbee delivers creative event solutions, strategic planning and flawless production for the Group’s clients. Collectively, these specialised services give us an edge in an industry many describe as saturated.
Expansion to London
Our expansion drive is guided in the sense that it is tied to the 10-year strategic growth programme signed by our Board in 2014, which includes upscaling our operations and delivering increased value to our esteemed clients.
At present, we are focused on consolidating our foothold in Nigeria and London by continually providing very focused communications solutions tailored to our clients’ growth aspirations and adaptable to changing markets. If that demands spreading our tentacles elsewhere further up the line, we will not hesitate to do so. Last month, we opened our second office in Lagos which we call Zenera Signature for our high-value and discerning clients.
Corporate Social Responsibility is a key part of our brand DNA at Zenera Consulting. Our overarching focus is to positively impact lives through the work that we do. In the six editions of the Sustainability in the Extractive Industries (SITEI) conference so far, we have thrown our weight behind our sister company CSR-in-Action to demand accountability and good governance within the extractive industries.
Last year, we invested in the younger generation through the Olusegun Oladiran Adebutu Foundation. The platform seeks to eradicate poverty and nurture the lives of young internally displaced children by providing them food, clothing, shelter and most importantly, education. We adopted two children and have taken responsibility for their care and development.
Also, Zenera Consulting responded to the call for immediate action against the increasing menace of drug abuse in university campuses at an event organised by the Student Affairs Division of the University of Lagos (UNILAG) and the KB Klub. I personally sensitised participants on the adverse effects of drug abuse and provided healthy alternatives of coping with the challenges of everyday life. In August last year, we partnered with CiA to host youth representatives of other NGOs on the United Nations’ International Youth Day. The World Humanitarian Day also provided us a unique opportunity to engage the children in the internally displaced camp at Jakande, Lekki with a charity football match tagged ‘Play4Humanity’. I am the chairperson of Project Lights International – a Global Initiative freely disseminating Business Success Principles at local markets across Africa. I am also on the Board of Tsori Foundation whose efforts Zenera Consulting has supported with a donation to its Trauma Centre for victims of child sexual abuse. In addition, I chaired the Youth Entrepreneurship Summit (YES) which aims to tackle youth unemployment and financial exclusion against the backdrop of inflation and recessionary pressure.
Ranking of Zenera Consulting on The Continent
You will agree with me that we cannot play the role of agency and judge at the same time. We would be more comfortable referring any ratings or rankings to our clients and of course the media who track the quality of services we offer.
Manpower at Zenera
At Zenera Consulting, we prioritise hiring the best and brightest practitioners in the industry. In turn, we offer our staff local and international training opportunities aligned with their personal and professional objectives as often as we get them. We also offer career development programmes on a weekly basis using internal or external facilitators.
Zenera’s Account and Businesses
We actually don’t do any marketing any more. All the work we have done is strictly based on referrals. We don’t like to pitch because from experience when people refer us, they would have asked their questions and understood the way we work. That makes it easier for us to work together seamlessly.
However, I made an exception to that rule a couple of months ago. I went to pitch for the Major Oil Marketers Association of Nigeria (MOMAN) account, which is the only account we have pitched for. We were probably the last to be invited for the pitch. I think it was somebody who observed that we have a very strong oil and gas practice in Zenera that suggested that we be included. First, I wanted to honour the invitation. Second, MOMAN is very dear to my heart because I was secretary of the Association from 2002 to 2007. I took permission from the other Partners to be allowed to go and pitch for the account, and they agreed to further demonstrate our oil and gas practice leadership. We were about 15 agencies that pitched for it, and it was a unanimous decision that Zenera should handle the account. They didn’t waste time in signing us. That was one of the fastest responses that we have ever gotten. It is critical I make this point so it wouldn’t look like we have chips on our shoulders when we say that we don’t pitch for accounts.
Perception About Mergers
Mergence is an interesting scenario, but I don’t know if clients are after size anymore in this era of digitalisation. Without technology, we would not be able to handle the volume, complexity and scale of some of the businesses that we have done today. I think it is no more about scale and size but about the integration of technology, innovation and creativity.
I think what businesses need more importantly may be channels and openings here and there to be able to deliver exceptional services to their clients. However, one of the things that the big brands consider is scale. At Zenera Signature, we tell our clients that we are in it together. We enquire of the important resources that we need to serve them in the immediate and as they grow. As they grow, we grow with them. We sit down and analyse their needs and requirements. And where the data or the consistent research show that we need to upscale say in terms of size or scale, we do so for our clients.
Truth is, there are still enough markets in Nigeria for small agencies. What happens is that when you are going through an economic recession, diversification comes into play. Look at the number of small businesses springing up or big ones breaking into small units to survive. They require nimble agencies to service them. They are not interested in tradition or history, they want superior service.
Challenges Militating against PR in Nigeria
I have always maintained there is a lot of room for professionalism among practitioners. Good enough, PR agencies are by no means in short supply as far as Nigeria is concerned. But I’m not sure we should get carried away by that development because a good number of agencies only specialise in media relations and not necessarily strategy. In my experience, most clients would prefer that agencies serve as extensions of their marketing departments and provide strategic advisory services when needed. Obviously, agencies that do not fit this bill will have a hard time keeping clients and consequently struggle to stay afloat.
I’ve also observed the need for PR agencies to embrace the dynamism that has defined the industry globally since the turn of the century. We are in the digital age and use of the Internet is growing exponentially. Forward-looking agencies have to latch onto this trend to effectively manage the reputation of their clients both on and offline since citizen journalism has come to stay. The task for PR agencies is to align with this development and boost their in-house digital capacities or risk fizzling out of relevance.
Zenera Consulting in the Next 5years
In the next 5 years, I see Zenera upscaling its operations such that we will represent clients across all the major continents as the foremost brand management and sustainability consultancy in Africa.