“I always find it difficult to write about myself. It’s not that I can’t – after all, I am a copywriter by training,” the advertising guru, Steve Babaeko started.
“However, despite the name recognition one has garnered over the years, I still find it a bit difficult to write about myself. Don’t ask me why.”
But being a man of his word, Steve Babaeko sat with The Spark team to talk about his journey so far.
I was born in Kaduna. My dad was in the Army and, because of that, I spent a lot of childhood years in Owerri and Kabba, with most of my teenage years in Kaduna.
I studied at the Federal School of Arts and Science, Suleja, for my ‘A’ Levels, after which I got admitted to the Ahmadu Bello University for my degree.
For my NYSC, I was posted to NTA Kano, from where I made a final move to Lagos, where I’ve built my career and family.
Like many Lagosians, I came to this city with nothing but a strong determination to succeed. Twenty-four years later, that never-say-die spirit of adventure and a relentless pursuit of excellence remains my driving force
The one thing I’ve learnt from this somewhat ‘nomadic’ lifestyle of my formative years is the ability to appreciate Nigerians from diverse backgrounds and ideological leanings.
For me, Nigerians are not difficult people; you just need to see things from another person’s point of view.
So how does a boy from Kabba end up being one of Nigeria’s top creative entrepreneurs? To be honest, it wasn’t something I planned to do.
It’s not like I had a twenty-year plan that would see me owning even a pure water factory. All I wanted to do was just create good work and get rewarded for it.
However, when I turned forty, it occurred to me that some of the solutions to the challenges I had while working for other people, could be better implemented if I had full entrepreneurial control of the machineries of the company.
So I did the ‘crazy’ thing of opening up my own agency.
And has it been worth it? Absolutely! It’s not been all rosy, though. You see, with entrepreneurship, everyday is new.
The experience can be likened to living in Nigeria: no matter how wonderful living here is, Nigeria will throw you a curveball when you least expect it.
You learn how to become a stronger person, employing your wits and creativity to put out fires that seemingly come out of nowhere. That’s what entrepreneurship is all about.
It gets more interesting when you’re a creative entrepreneur. I’ve come to learn, in almost seven years of running my own company that truly, you can’t quench new fires with old methods.
You must adapt. The way I see it, customized problems need creative solutions. That is one thing that has me on track.
From the people who don’t understand why a creative person has refused to confine himself to the back room – heard but not seen – to managing creative people with their special needs and eccentricities, and also dealing with a financial system that isn’t particularly in tune with the creative industry, curveballs come at you from every angle, but like our philosophy here at X3M Ideas states, you must adapt in order to survive.
That is why, apart from creativity, which is our hallmark, we are heavily invested in using new technology to solve age-old problems, as well as making sure we’re guided by the best corporate governance practices in our day-to-day operations.
Like someone said, “if you’re not stepping on toes, you’re probably standing still”. As long as you’re striving for excellence, you will make mistakes. I’m not exempted, and our journey so far reflects this.
We always wanted to go beyond the stand-alone agency model to building an ecosystem with lots of companies, so as to help our clients achieve their objectives of creating better, more effective communications.
But this has led to situations where we rushed into setting up ancillary company operations which, with the benefit of hindsight, were ahead of their time.
We’ve had to start and, almost immediately, close some businesses. I’ve also had to delay the commencement of other ventures because I didn’t have all the elements in place.
All in all, I’ve learnt from my mistakes and adjusted my course.
Some people have asked me what the secret to the history of the high client-retention rate of our agency is.
While I can talk about the quality of our work, which have won numerous local and international awards, the quality of our team or even our continuous quest to know a lot more about our clients’ businesses, I can point to one very important factor why we are increasingly becoming Nigeria’s preferred agency group: relationships.
I’ve always said that if I wasn’t in advertising, I would perhaps, be working in a restaurant, for the simple reason that I take often-overlooked things like basic courtesy and etiquette and timely service very seriously.
My mantra is that we must treat the client the way we would want to be treated. Don’t just treat the client’s business as a one-off transactional relationship; you must be genuinely interested in the client’s business and its success.
That is why we have been known to work with clients that most people didn’t think would succeed in this market, and creating a huge success story out of the relationship.
A humbling experience.
And are we proud of these stories? You bet we are! Not only have we made built many brands from the ground up, we have also have many established clients pitch their tents with us because they’ve seen just what we can do.
It’s an immense honour to celebrate with clients like Glo and DStv who have reposed immense trust in us.
For one thing, it is both terrifying and humbling to be relied on by such huge brands to create memorable communications and experiences for their numerous customers.
The huge reception we got from the relaunch of our creative philosophy – shapeshift or die – has also made us aware of just how much expectation people, both clients and the general public, have of us.
Learn, but don’t dwell.
When it comes to regrets, while saying I really do not have regrets might not be the politically correct thing to say, it is the truth. My philosophy is this: learn from the mistakes of the past, but don’t dwell on them. Look for the lessons and move on. In my opinion, regret is an action in futility, and I really don’t do futile.
Ego check 1, 2.
On a final note, a word to those who will one day take over from us as we seek to build the most vibrant creative industry in Nigeria: your word, sometimes, is not gospel.
Check your ego at the door. Co-creation is the way to go, and you must learn that you and the client are working towards the same goal, so you must work together to achieve it.
Being a creative entrepreneur is a lot of hard work, sleepless nights, unexpected twists and breath-taking curves. But the payoffs are massive. Be prepared. Be passionate. Be tenacious. Be creative.
If I can do it, you can. No pressure.
Editorial Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles.