At Chain Reactions, We Are Audacious In Our Thinking – Israel Opayemi

Chain Reactions
Israel Opayemi, Managing Director/ Chief Strategist, Chain Reactions Nigeria.


Israel Opayemi is the Managing Director/Chief Strategist of Chain Reactions Nigeria. Chain Reactions is Edelman’s Exclusive Affilliate for Nigeria and Preferred Partner for West Africa. In this interview with Brand Communicator, Opayemi bares his mind on the practice of perception management in Nigeria, and the achievements of Chain Reactions in the PR landscape. Excerpts…

Public Relations Practice Landscape In Nigeria

I will say the landscape has recorded some significant leap but not as much as I would love to see. This is Africa’s largest market. This is where things are supposed to be happening. Practice anywhere in the world is shaped not just by the practitioners but by the clients.

No matter how daring the practitioners are in terms of big ideas, if the client wishes to stay within the realm of the familiar, there is very little the practitioner can do.

Chain Reactions In The League Of Leading PR Firms In Nigeria

I believe relevant media platforms and industry watchers like yours represent the jury. The jury is out there. It will be uncharitable of us to mark our own script and take over the assignment of the jury to rate ourselves. But one thing I can never deny is, at Chain Reactions, we do brave works! We are audacious in our thinking.

The issue of ranking is one of the challenges with the industry in Nigeria. We do not have our own version of the Holmes Report yet. Agency ranking can only be done by an independent body that is not a player in the competitive space. Anything to the  contrary will not be credible. So, one issue that must be settled is, the parameters for the ranking. What are the parameters for the ranking? Do we use billings? Do we use the quality of work done? Who is doing the ranking? The best we can do for now is, when you look at the critical sectors that are doing well in the economy and you say, which PR firms are servicing the leading players in these sectors, I am pleased to let you know the name of Chain Reactions Nigeria will feature prominently. From telecommunications to technology, banking to mining, agri-business to oil and gas, you will find our footprints there.

Success Stories In Recent Years

I think 2015 was a turning point for us a company in many respects. It was the year we had the honour of working on a winning campaign strategy for the All Progressives Congress (APC) to defeat a ruling party with stronger financial firepower. I must credit Alhaji Lai Mohammed, Dr.Kayode Fayemi and Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola with that. They believed in our rich insight and strategic propositions from the very start. It was also the same year we won perhaps one of the keenly contested PR pitches in the recent history of the industry in Nigeria.  That was the Etisalat now 9 Mobile PR pitch. I love the fact that when the list of shortlisted PR firms was released and people saw the names of the giants of the PR industry against our name, some people didn’t even give us a chance.

Someone actually called my office to ask one of my senior consultants if he had seen the list of the shortlisted agencies and asked if Chain Reactions stood any chance at all. By some divine arrangement, I was reading this book, David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell about that time. It was a book about underdogs, misfits and the art of battling giants. That book was my most potent manual for preparing my team for the APC campaign and the Etisalat PR pitch respectively.

For me the crown jewel of our success stories was the commencement of our partnership relationship with Edelman, the largest PR firm in the world. That partnership was consummated with the signing of a formal affiliation agreement in December 2016. So, despite all of the odds of the operating environment, God has given us some major success stories to tell.

Core Values And Operational Philosophy

The first is our Can Do Spirit. We live and breath this within our tribes and in all of our relationships with our clients. This is almost contagious amongst us. Even in times of crises, even when our clients panic, we exude confidence and that strengthens our clients. It buoys our own confidence further to see that our clients are calm in the middle of a storm and they trust our judgement. The second is our spirit of ownership which is both internal and external in dimensions. We let our people embrace the fact that the business belongs to them. This spills over into how they see the business of the client too. So, sometimes you can almost feel and touch how passionate our people are not only about our own business but also about the businesses of our clients.

Competitive Edge Of Chain Reactions

Our competitive edge is first grounded in our being. It is etched in who we are. We chose from inception not to be an agency but a consulting firm. We see ourselves the way Consultant Gynaecologists see themselves. We are specialists. So, each time we go to pitch for a business with those who, with the greatest respect, call themselves agencies, the clients always see the difference. So, while others are talking about top-of-mind awareness for their brands, we are talking to them about the reputation economy and how reputation can make the consumer spend more on their brands and how our work will impact the numbers for their business.

Innovative PR Campaigns

One of the most exciting campaigns we have done this year was an International advocacy by ONE campaign to draw attention to the plight of 130 million out-of-school girls around the world. Chain Reactions was one of PR firms from around the world which managed the campaign together with our partners in Edelman.

The campaign had over 70 celebrities lending their voices to the call on world leaders to tackle poverty by addressing gender inequality. It was a celebrity power campaign in which we had to leverage the voices of Bono, Malala, Angelique Kidjo, David Oyelowo, Waje, Omotola Jalade Ekeinde and Desmond Elliot while our colleagues in other markets were doing same with other celebrities. The impact was tremendous.

Also, the 9 Mobile Breakfree campaign was just refreshingly different. Next to the Breakfree Campaign was the Brand Migration from Etisalat to 9 Mobile which was a PR-led brand migration campaign. That was somewhat uncommon in our clime. What is common is to see that a rebranding or brand migration campaign will often be led by advertising. My colleague, Steve Babaeko, Chief Executive Officer/Chief Creative Officer is one humble creative genius who keeps reminding me that the chunk of the credit for that campaign should go to the Chain Reactions team considering it was indeed and in truth a PR-led campaign in which advertising played a strong supportive and intrusive role.

Again, I can also talk about the What3Words launch campaign. What3Words is a revolutionary company that has taken the world by storm by dividing the world into a grid of 3mx3m squares and assigning each one a three word address. This is one campaign we are very passionate about because it will bring better addressing systems that will improve customer experience, it will deliver business efficiency, drive growth and support the social and economic development of countries. With what3words, everyone and everywhere now has an address whether you know it or not. This will be next big thing that will happen to e-commerce globally. We have the honour of handling the launch PR campaign into Nigeria. I do hope NIPOST is able to make the best of it for Nigeria.

Quality Of Human Capital


I will say we have retained some of the brightest and most daring thinkers within the PR echo system in Nigeria. When we restructured our business, we were deliberate in rethinking our human capital needs. We are perhaps one of the few PR consulting firms in Nigeria where you would find a Consumer Neuroscientist. There is a way this impacts our thinking around a client’s brief. We have our team of cinematographers within our Content and Creative tribe. So we can turn a story telling intent around a client’s corporate brand into a full corporate video from scripting to post-production. We have a tribe of strategists. We have our tribe of seasoned writers who do “platform agnostic storytelling and transmedia story telling” in the real sense of it. We have a Data and Digital tribe. The way our guys turn the insight from big data into strategic ideas has endeared us to clients we work with.

I am glad we decided to go counter-intuitive on the issue of human capital acquisition. Like I often say, the next set of guys Chain Reactions would love to hire will be Psychiatrists whose works will complement that of our in-house Consumer Neuroscientist. You will observe you have not heard me talking talk about the familiar like you would see in most places – client service department, media department. We tore that structure to shreds. The global PR echo system has changed.

So, any future-minded PR consulting business owner must think beyond that outdated structure. That was the structure the founding fathers of the PR profession bequeathed to us. It served its purpose then. But Chain Reactions just did not find it useful any more and so we discarded it. Of course it has paid off. We started working for one of the world’s leading multinationals recently and when we went for our first business review, the feedback we got from the client gave me a sense of assurance that our creative insanity has paid off.

Clientele Base

It is quite diverse and growing steadily. As you well know, we do a lot of work for 9 Mobile right from 2015 when the brand was still trading as Etisalat in Nigeria. We work with HP, Dubai Tourism, GE, First Bank and Arla Foods, one of the world’s largest diary companies and makers of Dano Milk as well as the Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development. We have done some great works for ONE Campaign, an International non-profit advocacy which has Bono as co-founder, Motorola to mention but a few.

Chain Reactions In The Next Five Years

I hope to have raised more business leaders from within our tribes who can run the business better than I have done. We are making an inroad into West Africa gradually because we are suddenly seeing a surge in the demand for our services from clients in French and English speaking West African countries. If any client walks into the market in five years from now and they want to do business in Nigeria and they want to brief just three PR firms, I will feel fulfilled if Chain Reactions Nigeria is consistently one of them.


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