We Thrive On Setting Our Goals At Towering Heights, Says Steve Babaeko


Excelling in creative advertising in Nigeria is really a great feat.  But slicing across 6 African countries and the Middle East like a hot knife in butter, and winning the coveted Cannes Lions Award for the first time for Nigeria and West Africa are certainly out of this world. Only one Nigerian leads the team that accomplished this massive exploit- Steve Babaeko, CEO/ Chief Creativity Officer of X3M Ideas. In this Interview with Usukuma Ntia, the Editor of Brand Communicator, Babaeko speaks on how he led his team to achieve various great feats, his strategies to expand further across Africa, and his plans going forward after eleven years of exciting experiences, among other issues.

Steve Babaeko, CEO/CCO, X3M Ideas

Specific factors behind your company’s excellent performances and the excitement of being the first Cannes Lion Winner In Nigeria

From the beginning, securing a Cannes Lions medal stood as one of our key aspirations. Fully aware of the fierce competition among equally skilled agencies, we understood the challenges that lay ahead. Year after year, we consistently pushed our boundaries, continuously raising the bar until we ultimately achieved our goal. The distinction of being the very first West African/Nigerian agency to claim the Cannes Lions is a remarkable accomplishment that we rightfully take immense pride in, and rightfully so, as it’s a feat that truly sets us apart. As they say: “Only one can be first.” Our achievement as the first is one for the history books.

However, Awards, to us, represent the visible realization of the exceptional creative concepts we develop for the brands under our care and our valued clients. As I consistently remind our team, focusing on producing remarkable work inevitably leads to well-deserved recognition. While we are appreciative of the accolades we have garnered on both local and global stages, we acknowledge them briefly and then swiftly redirect our energy towards crafting the next extraordinary campaign.

The motivation behind the “Soot Life Expectancy campaign that brought the Cannes Lions award

Our conviction rests on the potent role that advertising plays in tackling the intricacies of society’s most pressing challenges. The dire situation of soot pollution in Port Harcourt deeply affected us, particularly during our immersive on-the-ground research for the production of the Soot City documentary. It wasn’t merely an abstract issue; we experienced its harsh reality firsthand. Rather than being passive bystanders, we were resolute in addressing the issue head-on. This determination led to the creation of the Soot City documentary, a project aimed at shedding light on the problem and sparking change. An integral part of our efforts was the support and insight we received from the German Environmental Protection Agency. Their valuable data on soot and its impact on life expectancy was pivotal in shaping the narrative of our work. In essence, the campaign was born from a genuine desire to effect positive change. The collaboration with the German environmental protection agency underscores the significance of global cooperation in addressing these challenges, and we are grateful for their pivotal contribution to our cause.

How would you describe the impact of your organization in the Marketing communications industry in Nigeria in the last decade?

 We prefer when assessments are conducted by external parties, as it avoids any appearance of chest-thumping Nonetheless, it’s reasonable to acknowledge that we’ve introduced a significant degree of innovation to the Nigerian advertising landscape. This journey of innovation has been possible due to the trust placed in us by our clients, and for that, we extend our gratitude. Our commitment extends beyond the present achievements. We are dedicated to continuously pioneering new avenues and challenging the established boundaries of advertising not only in Nigeria but across the broader African context. The faith that our clients have shown in us fuels our determination to keep pushing the envelope, ensuring that we consistently explore new horizons and redefine the landscape of advertising.

You are one of the very few agencies that have expanded operations into other African markets. What is the current level of your foreign operations?

At present, our footprint spans across six countries: Nigeria, Zambia, South Africa, Congo Brazzaville, Kenya, and the United Arab Emirates. Looking ahead, the expansion is set to continue, with two additional countries slated to join our roster by the first quarter of 2024. We thrive on setting our goals at towering heights, believing that reaching for the extraordinary is what fuels progress and innovation. The momentum behind our expansion, our enthusiasm for the potential of Africa, and our unyielding pursuit of ambitious goals collectively form the ethos that drives us forward. As we look toward the future, we are steadfast in our commitment to realize our vision of being a beacon of global excellence rooted in the African spirit.

Most lucrative foreign locations of your company and How we monitor the subsidiaries.

Our emphasis transcends mere financial gains; it centres on the impeccable service we provide to our valued clients across all our operational countries. Our infrastructure boasts a robust framework that effectively oversees all aspects of our operations within diverse markets. With each expansion, we conscientiously refine our operational procedures, ensuring that our control mechanisms remain optimized and effective. Our commitment to excellence remains unwavering as we uphold our dedication to delivering unparalleled service quality and creating ground-breaking campaigns.

Any form of marginalization or isolation anywhere on the continent?

Africa has extended a welcoming hand to us, allowing us to establish a presence across the continent. In turn, we are deeply committed to reciprocating this warm reception by being a responsible corporate contributor in every country where we operate. Our dedication to being a conscientious and respectful participant within each local community remains resolute.

After 11 years of excellence. what more should Nigerians expect?

 Our journey is just about to begin. Our foremost objective is to reinforce our leadership status within the industry, a feat that necessitates our continuous attraction and retention of the finest talents the industry has to offer. By consistently fostering a culture of excellence, we aspire to perpetuate our position at the forefront of the advertising industry.

 X3M Ideas nationally and internationally in the next 11 years.

Eleven years from now, I envision our complete evolution into an authentically indigenous African network. The question of whether we remain independent or become part of a global network is secondary to our unwavering commitment to delivering unparalleled service to our clients. Our focus remains steadfast on upholding the standard of excellence we’ve set, regardless of our organizational structure.

CSR Projects for 2023

Since our inception, it has been our tradition to renovate a public school annually, returning it to the Lagos State Government in improved condition. We’ve even extended our efforts to regions like Borno state, where we supplied desks to students in Chibok. Corporate Social Responsibility is deeply ingrained in our ethos, constituting an integral part of our identity. Presently, preparations are underway for our 2023 project. We firmly hold the belief that giving back to the community, which creates the foundation for our business growth, is a fundamental responsibility.

Nifty balancing as AAAN president and CEO of X3M How do you cope wearing 2 caps?

At the core of effective leadership lies the skill to construct a robust team and a supportive framework. Be it in my role as AAAN President or as CEO of X3M Ideas, I’m privileged to be surrounded by an exceptional team. Special recognition goes out to the distinguished members of the Executive Board of AAAN. These individuals represent some of the brightest minds in our industry, offering unwavering support and invaluable guidance throughout our collective journey. I must also extend heartfelt appreciation to the dedicated Management team at X3M Ideas. Their contributions have been pivotal in enabling us to attain the milestones we’ve reached. Acknowledging the combined efforts of these teams underscores the collaborative nature of our accomplishments.

The challenge of talent retention- How are you tackling it?

 I view the current situation as a temporary chapter in our narrative, and my optimism leans toward its swift resolution. The challenge of talent migration is undeniably a significant obstacle in the path to establishing a successful and lasting business. Nevertheless, technology offers a silver lining, enabling us to transcend geographical barriers and recruit top-notch talent regardless of their location. This adaptability signifies a crucial step forward in our pursuit of sustainability.

Update on your book and the Journal of Ad Case studies

As they often say in Nollywood, “Coming out soon!” The inaugural book is currently in the proofing phase, and with any luck, it should make its debut before the close of 2023. Stay tuned for its release!

Advice to young students and aspiring professionals

There is a captivating Latin phrase: “Festina Lente,” which, when translated, embodies the idea of “Make haste slowly.” This sentiment underscores that achieving success is a gradual journey, urging us not to hasten the process. For young and upcoming entrepreneurs out there, it helps to understand that entrepreneurship is a marathon and not a sprint. Even when you fail or hit a roadblock, it’s part of the process, just pick yourself up and keep going.

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