Sam Ochonma is the managing director and co-founder of The Hook Creative Agency based in Lagos. He has worked on integrated marketing campaigns for some of Nigeria’s leading companies like Oando, Etisalat Nigeria, Enyo and more.
In 2019, he and his team conceptualised and managed the critically-acclaimed “O to Ge” political campaign that led to the defeat of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) by the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Kwara State of Nigeria during the governorship election.
In this interview, Sam Ochonma opens up about his career and some of the burning issues in the Nigerian advertising and creative industries.
What was the most defining moment of your career?
The answer to this question depends on what stage of my career you’re asking me about. When I was starting my career, I’d decided to take up some programming, video editing and animation skills. For a science-inclined person, doing something that wasn’t pure science felt like the wrong decision. But that decision laid the foundation for where I currently am today.
At every interval, I always ask myself "what is the next step in my life?" I believe this has helped avoid complacency and to stay grounded. I remember when I decided my time on the agency side was up. It was a tough decision because, by that time, I’d already built strong relationships with my colleagues, some of whom had already turned friends. Again, I considered it one of those moments where you had to make the most uncomfortable and risky choices to get greater rewards.
Many younger advertising talents these days consider exiting the agency-side as an easy way out. But more often than not, it’s the other way round. This is why I always tell the ones I know to be patient and learn the ropes while they keep their eyes open for opportunities elsewhere.
Like I said, if we’re talking about the most defining moments in my career, it’s much better to look at it in stages. During the earliest stage, I decided to learn some video editing. At the mid-stage, that’d be leaving the agency-side to join the client-side. Currently, it's me quitting my assured 9-5 to embark on an entrepreneurship journey as a co-founder of a fast-growing advertising agency.
Do you think ad agencies are going through a post-covid-19 rut?
I wish it were as straightforward as that. Ad agencies haven’t run out of creativity. The problem ad agencies are facing isn’t a creative rut, if you look at it closely. It’s more about the slow rate of adaptation to the current creative landscape — which currently favors the consumers and nimble content creators. We’re moving, but not as fast as the consumers and their favorites are moving and you can’t fault agencies for this.
It’s excusable for content creators to make posts that don’t abide by the rules of anything: not the rules of film-making, not the rules of third, nothing. This is because the only people they’re accountable to are their subscribers and followers. For brands and their agencies, the playing ground is different: you have to please regulators, consumers and even your professional colleagues. Because they’re the people who will judge your work; grant operation licences; fund the production and so forth.
Consumer behavior and receptiveness have changed a lot post-covid, So, while we’re charging ourselves to move even faster and create better work, we have to accept that the reality of our existence isn’t so straightforward.
How can agencies empower their team to produce their best work in the most uninspiring times?
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to inspiring your employees. So, I won’t speak as if I own a magic wand that turns things around in an instant. But I think every business owner has their way of ensuring that productivity remains at least optimal, whether the staff is inspired or not. Some people might decide to approach this by creating certain constraints in the workplace and that might limit happiness in the workplace. This is why I never encourage going hard on your team in their low moments.
Honestly, I think when you encounter staffing issues, you need to first ask yourself whether your system enables your employees to deliver their best. A workplace that positively challenges the employee will most likely still do great work.
From a creative point of view, in my agency, for example, we switch up account roles so that no team member feels bored and uninspired on the job. We also make sure that there’s always something to look forward to by assigning each member with secondary tasks and leadership responsibilities to make them feel challenged and inspired.
We recently introduced a reward system that enables employees to accrue points based on their non-work related activities. So, if you’re good at gaming (FIFA, board games, football, Ludo, cards and the likes) you earn points that you can easily convert to tangible things. These points can be used to unlock extra leave dates, extra free lunch and more. Since our implementation, we’ve noticed that our team feels positively challenged and highly competitive in relevant areas.
What is one thing you wish the advertising industry took more seriously than they are currently doing?
This is cliche, but I think collectively as an industry, we don’t take storytelling seriously enough. The world is made of beautiful stories and they can come in numerous forms. It could be stories of success, failures, and even stories about things we consider mundane. If you look at our work, you’d find out that we try to embed narratives into them no matter how simple or complex the approaches are.
One of our most successful works to date, “You’ve come this far, let’s take you farther”, a campaign we did for Meristem was deeply rooted in our realities, the fruits from our years of labour, and we managed to turn it into something that resonated with people way different than us. That is the beauty of telling stories, it’s a universal language.
Traditional influencers are now creating content beyond just posting aspirational pictures of their jet-setting lifestyles on Instagram. Do you believe the ‘influencer’ concept is now obsolete compared to the ‘creator’ concept?
The two are not concepts you can outrightly separate from each other. No matter the direction the world as seen on social media is tilting towards influencers or content creators will still be required to look good. Being presentable is more of their job than the actual content creation because their followers need someone to aspire to be like.
However, this must be backed up with impactful messaging, strategically curated content and storytelling, which I’d like to call "the full package" for the influencer or content creator to be indispensable.
I’ll be honest with you. There’s no place for lazy content again in the social media spectrum. Your followers and subscribers are not lazy, do you think they would now go ahead and reward your lazy content? 😄 no, they’d only reward you with troll commentary and if you’re being a nuisance on their feeds, they’d unfollow you.
Thankfully, a few Nigerian content creators understand this pretty well. Taymesan's podcast Tea with Tay, FK Abudu & Jola Ayeye’s I Said What I Said, Mr Macaroni and others are good examples of people who put thought & sweat into their content. You can see what their followers and subscribers reward them with there is no need to say it. So, the concept of influencers would never become obsolete. Only the lazy ones will become history.
Brands are beginning to favour creators who own their platforms and create interactive and creative content for their users. Is this a win for creativity?
I get where your question is going. Yes, brands are beginning to favour content creators. There are various reasons why this happens. Sometimes, it might happen because the brands have a limited budget to spend on the distribution as a massive production, such as TVCs and other brand films, would require. It can also be because the brands are making efforts to appear more "human" to their consumers. The latter happens to be the more common reason because brands are increasingly focusing on becoming more accessible and purposeful to their potential consumers. So, this will always be a win for creativity, to me.
Let us talk about awards. Does your agency plan to submit its work for award considerations this year?
This year we will be more intentional about that. We have our eyes set on a few indigenous trophies. The Pitcher Awards should be watching out for us as we are actively considering sending our work in for the next edition.
Photo credit: Olasunkanmi Bolarinwa