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Our Focus is to Unite the Creativity of Africa

Going into its fourth year, the Pitcher Awards is establishing itself as one of the most valuable and internationally respected accolades for creative ideas coming out of Africa. As part of an ongoing interview series with winners of the 2020 Pitcher Awards, we paused here to speak with Nnamdi Ndu, our very own CEO of CHINI Africa, parent company of Creativity Week Africa and the Pitcher Festival of Creativity to shed more light on the ideas behind the festival.

Nnamdi Ndu, CEO CHINI Africa

The 2020 edition of the Pitcher Awards has been remarkable in the sense that you widened the scope beyond West and Central Africa, tell us about this.

Since last year, there's been a few changes in our annual celebration of creativity and pre-Cannes Lions event. One of the most significant is the renaming of the 3-day seminar and awards programme, Creativity Week Events to the Pitcher Festival of Creativity.

This still includes the various events and platforms, namely: the Future Creative Leaders Academy, the Young Professionals Academy, Creating a Better Africa, See It Be It Africa, Pitcher Talks and Pitcher Awards.

Creativity Week continues to provide industry relevant content through the regular newsletter, website and the occasional print magazine publication covering creative industry news from Africa and beyond.

Opening Pitcher Awards for entries across Africa was one of the difficult decisions we had to take for 2020. Yet, as our focus is to unite the creativity of Africa in advertising, design, digital and creative communications and make a case for its uniqueness and relevance on the global platform, we felt this was inevitable.

Today, we're happy that we took that bold step. Pitcher Awards has indeed become the new Pan-African benchmark for creative excellence with jurors and entries coming from across the continent. One important learning we're also taking away from this first year is that many African agencies already work across the continent, so why place a restriction on which of their works they can enter?

Why was it a difficult decision to expand entries beyond West Africa?

It's usual hesitation you feel when you're about to do something new, especially when you're not fully sure what the results will be. We have worked with agencies in Nigeria and Ghana for over 10 years, so we were quite happy working within our comfort zone. But going to other countries , building new relationships from scratch is exciting but also something you do with a bit of apprehension. Again, Pitcher Awards had only been done for 2 years and we were caught between a vertical expansion, that is having it more firmly rooted within the sub-region or a horizontal expansion across the entire region. Both ideas had their benefits and drawbacks, but we settled for the latter.

Part of the reasons you've listed as the need for Pitcher Awards is to showcase African Creativity, what are the different ways you do that?

Increasingly, the realization is stronger and clearer that until Africans are able to speak with one voice, the lone voices that rise up here and there won't be heard. And, I speak also concerning African affairs in the diaspora. What we want to do is to unite African creativity, such that the winning materials are first celebrated across the whole of Africa, giving them the impetus to hold their own on the world stage irrespective of what others think about them. The Pitcher Awards is the only Pan-Africa awards in the brand communications category that is fully indigenous and judged by only professionals working in the region.

Celebrating the winners at the Pitcher Festival is only the beginning. Following the festival, we have published all the winners at As in previous years, we are also working with our partner of many years, Lürzer's Archive to publish the winners in the magazine’s international edition of volume 3-2020. This edition has faced a delay because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we hope the publication will be out soon. It will actually be released as double volume of 3 & 4 -2020. Unfortunately, many industry events have been cancelled for 2020 including Cannes Lions where we usually distribute Pitcher Awards Winners Showcase. However, as soon as things begin to change, we will identify various opportunities where we can exhibit the winning works from the Pitcher Awards.

Well, the performance of this year’s jurors was top-notch despite the challenges caused by Covid-19. Kindly tell us the standards you have set to make the judging impartial and devoid of bias?

The judging was already planned to take place online, so we already had the structure for that. The judging was not affected in anyway by the pandemic, except that in the early days of the lock down, we had to take a break to enable everyone adjust to the new situation that we were all confronted with. As I mentioned before, all the jurors are leading professionals working in reputable organizations in Africa. First we have a formula, which combines winning record, entry information and recommendations to determine jury membership. Since Pitcher Awards is still relatively new, we presently use a lot of external information we trust, but as time goes, we will begin to use more and more of our records. However, irrespective of who the jurors are, the judging system is highly objective and transparent. Being a juror doesn't make it easier for you to win because as a judge you cannot score your own work and you're neither allowed to nominate it for discussion nor contribute to the conversation when it's being discussed. It's sometimes difficult as a judge to sit there and see your work tanking and being totally helpless about it.

Speaking at the awards show held recently online and on TVC channels, you said: “We need creativity to restore livelihoods, businesses and economies.” What do you think agencies and brands should be doing to cope with the new normal?

When people say new normal, they're mostly referring to remote work. And, I don't see this as new at all, only that more people have now been forced by the lockdown and social distancing to work from locations outside their office. What I think is new that people have to deal with is the resulting devastation that this has had on jobs and businesses. And, there isn't one answer that fits them all, otherwise it won't be a creative solution. Some employees will need to become entrepreneurs, some businesses will need to transform completely and work in new sectors. Agencies may need to become more proactive in proffering solutions to clients instead of waiting for briefs. In every case, they need to assess their potentials vis-à-vis the existing opportunities or the ones they're able to create. But, also very importantly, I was trying to draw the attention of governments and other stakeholders to the need of offering assistance to the creative sector as this was vital to the restoration of other sectors.

What are your expectations for the 2021 Pitcher Awards?

As an awards show organizer, one important lesson you must learn is that your role is not to lead but to follow. You need to go in the direction the industry is moving. If you move too fast for the industry, you will be left in the cold. However, it's also true that when you're too slow, you become obsolete. So, you need to be sensitive and alert. Just like an actor, you must know your cue. Interestingly, those cues are not always obvious. For instance, the popular assumption was that at a time when companies were shut down and festivals were being cancelled due to the pandemic, no one was ready for awards. But, the reality could not have been more different. When festivals started announcing winners online, the celebration was so much that some agencies said it was exactly the magic they needed to turn the gloom around within their system. As regards 2021 though, we're still listening to our customers to understand what their priorities are at this time and to see how what we do can be complementary. However, what is constant for us is to continue to identify and showcase celebration worthy ideas created or implemented anywhere on the African continent.

Away from Pitcher Festival, you're also the representative of Cannes Lions in Nigeria and CHINI Africa recently won the 2019 representative of the year silver award, tell us about it.

Yes, winning the Cannes Lions 2019 representative of the year silver award was another development that brought us great excitement in the past year. It is heartwarming that our modest contributions could be so highly ranked on a global platform like the Cannes Lions, with a representatives’ network of over 92 countries. We are ever grateful to our customers and partners whose contributions made this possible. Unfortunately, the awards will not hold in 2020, but we look forward to 2021 and it's not a secret that our eyes are on the gold award.

Apart from South Africa and a few other countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Kenya, African countries don't win in Cannes Lions, what is the reason and what can be done?

That's one of the issues that Pitcher Awards is designed to address. If you don't celebrate your own work, don't expect others to. Today, African music is celebrated all over the world and that's because this generation of Africans have first taken pride in their own music.

Right from the time we were appointed representative by Cannes Lions, we have been confronted with this issue. Our initial solution was to help shape the mindset of the next generation of creative leaders, who will have a burning desire to change the status quo. So, we created the Future Creative Leaders Academy for students in tertiary institutions and the Young Professionals Academy for those already working in the industry, who were 30 years or less. I remember sharing the burden with Ron Seichrist, founder of the Miami Ad School and his response was "let's give 11 scholarships to young creatives in Nigeria and see if they will do for Advertising what Nigeria is doing for professional soccer". This is how the Miami Ad School Scholarship Competition was borne. Today, many of the graduates have gone on to win international awards, including Cannes Lions, save that they were working in foreign agencies.

The fact that virtually all the forward-looking creative shops in Nigeria are now led by those who have passed through these youth programmes is perhaps the reason why there's an obvious determination in those agencies to do great work and win accolades. However, we must also remember that over the last decade, this quest to excel has been seriously confronted with economic headwinds. Factors like lower production budgets have impacted on quality and currency devaluation has drastically reduced the capacity of agencies to enter awards or even attend the Cannes Lions Festival.


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