Engaging media content grows audience, attracts advertisers – Hanlon & Redmond

In this interview with MARKETING EDGE, Andrew Hanlon and Ronan Redmond, former TVC Communication CEO and Commercial Director shared what media owners and professionals need to give the audience to maximize advertising profitability and growth.

Q: How would you describe your career adventure and sojourn in Nigeria as CEO of the leading broadcast station in Nigeria?

ANDREW: Well, nothing but fond memories. A huge amount that was achieved through partnership with the staff was a very important part. As I’ve explained, once we started listening to the problems and the issues that our staff had, we were able to transform the organisation. We worked together as a team, whereas before the staff and the management were totally divided. It was very, very important that we got that right. How did we do that? We did basic things like pay them on time every month and introduced a key performance indicator programme so that every member of staff was assessed every quarter. And if they hit certain markers, they would get a pay raise at the end of the year, depending on how well they scored. There weren’t any smallish pay raises, but it could be anything between 3 and 10%.

But the great thing was for annual pay increases. Every year they knew if they worked well and scored highly, they would be in line for a pay increase. Then we were very transparent about promotions so that people understood that they could be promoted within the organisation. They knew they weren’t going to stay at the same level. And therefore if they got promoted, they could earn even more money and take on more responsibilities. So, things like that were really important.

Another thing that we did, which was a huge contentious issue, was about different styles of management. One of the issues the staff had was that they felt there was an indiscriminate policy of sacking people, which is quite a common thing. So we introduced a policy straight off that nobody could be fired unless there was a thorough examination of the issue, of the particular member of staff. So I think in the seven years that I’ve been in the seat, I could count on one hand the number of people that were sacked. And then if there were, of course, there were always going to be disciplinary issues. But the people would get a fair hearing from their management and from other members of staff and senior management. Then ultimately I would get involved as the CEO and I would make the ultimate judgement. That made the staff feel that they were very secure. Some of them did screw up. They had to go. But the number of people being forced out of the company was dramatically reduced. That again instilled trust between the management and the staff. So things like that were very, very important.

And then as you know, we had some very trying moments. We all suffered through COVID. But then we also had the fire which followed during the ENDSARS or at the end of the ENDSARS issue. So when our business was burned to the ground, our beautiful facilities that we had invested so much money in, we were able to get back on the air within three days. When everybody, including all of our competitors had us written off, the industry said, that’s the end of TVC. But because of the relationship that we had built, and the trust we built with the staff, they came to our rescue. They all came in, and within three days they got us back on the air. So that’s how that partnership paid off. And it just goes to show you that if there is a trust between management and staff, and if there is goodwill between them, and if you look after your staff, your staff will look after your company.

Q: What really inspired you to come to Nigeria?

ANDREW: Well I’ve worked in broadcasting all my life as a young reporter, journalist, news anchor, all of those things. So I worked at the coalface for years. And then I worked in management for many years as well, in broadcasting. So when I got a call from a recruiter in London, and they said, we’ve got this job opportunity down in Africa. And I said, oh where? And they said Nigeria. I laughed because I said there’s no way I’d be going to Nigeria. That’s one of the most unsafe countries in the world. You’ve got to be kidding. I put the phone down and I thought about it driving home that night.

I said I should talk to them about this. I rang them back the next day and said, tell me about it. And over a period of six months, there were a lot of interviews and discussions. I came in, I visited the board, I made a presentation to the board. As soon as I got here, I realized very quickly that this was a very hospitable place, and that my perceptions of Nigeria were wrong, even though I know the country had a lot of problems. But the biggest selling point to me was the strength of the people. Nigerians are very like the Irish; very open, warm and kind people. And that to me was the biggest selling point of all.

Then as far as the business was concerned it was in a bad place, but I knew that the board had the determination and will to invest in the company and for us to bring it to the level that they wanted it at. So I knew from the outset that they were prepared and ready to invest. For me, it was a huge challenge to do that. And I said, this is a challenge that I don’t want to turn down.

Q: What really gave you that courage and boldness to face the task given the challenges on ground?

ANDREW: I believed that we had the capacity and the capability to turn on TVC Communications. It wasn’t TVC Communications as at that time. It was Continental Broadcasting. At that point, I knew the first challenge that we had was to clean up our commercial division.

Ronan read about me coming down here. He called me and said, look, if you’re looking for somebody to come and take a look at the commercial side of the business, I’ll come down and take a look. And I said, fantastic, because we’d worked together in TV and radio back in Ireland. So Ronan came down. I asked him to give me a report within three weeks. He gave me the report and it wasn’t pretty. And he and I spoke about it. We knew what we had to do. He said, look, my family is on the continent. If you’re interested, I’ll come in here with you and help you do this. So this man was an integral part of the turnaround of the company. He was invaluable.

We worked together as a team and we achieved a lot. But I couldn’t have done it without him because I know if I’d have had to find somebody else from commercial broadcasting, it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, with the same skill set and experience. So I was blessed that he was available and that he wanted to come down and do it.

Q: Upon your arrival, how did you see the Nigerian media market, particularly the broadcast sector, and the challenges as well as the opportunities?

ANDREW: Well, it was quite clear very early on that whilst there were a lot of broadcasting companies, television broadcasters, radio broadcasters, upon closer inspection, there was actually only a handful of them that were performing in any reasonable way that we would want to be aligned with. I think when we started, Radio Continental was our radio station at the time. Lagos, I think, was a 35 station market. There are now 57 stations in Lagos, which is an incredible number. But again, there’s only two stations in the market and there’s only one group besides ourselves that is profitable in radio. Whilst there are many, many broadcasters, and you can say the same for television stations. Channels is an excellent business. Ourselves, one or two others may be making some money, but a lot of other broadcasters are just not generating enough revenue, aren’t commercially focused enough, and they are funded by their shareholders on an ongoing basis. We didn’t want that. We had to stand on our own two feet and get out there and sell.

Q: To a very large extent in your period of stay, you’ve been able to minimise, if not reduce, the ownership influence on the editorial policy and direction of the media group. How were you able to achieve this?

ANDREW: It’s a very simple one to answer. With my hand on my heart, I never suffered one bit of editorial interference, and the board was absolute from day one. You’re an editorial man, Andrew, you understand the business. We’re handing this over to you. Do what you need to do and just run it as a professional company. We do not want any accusations or claims of bias one way or the other and I said well that’s if we all understand each other, that’s how I’m going to proceed and that’s it.

RONAN: That’s what the agencies want, and then your customers and others say, okay, we have to be there, we have to advertise with these guys. They know what they’re doing and they’ve got big audiences.

Q. In the seven years that you’ve been here, what would you say is your biggest achievement till now?

ANDREW: Well, it’s what I said earlier. It was bringing the staff along with us. If we’d have continued the style of management that existed before, the staff would have run a mile from us. They would just come in, do their job, probably not very well, and go home. But because we built a relationship with them, and we trusted them, and it was mutual trust and respect, that changed everything. Because the staff then felt invested in the business, and they became proud of the business, and they, as you guys say over here, felt they had power and bragging rights. They wanted to tell people they worked for TVC Communications.

Q: What were the strategies you put in place to achieve commercial turnaround and growth for the TVC Group?

RONAN: Well, it comes from what Andrew said. The commercial model is very, very simple. First and foremost, you focus on your audience. You’ve got to give the audience what they’re looking for, and they’re looking for engaging content. When you give them engaging content, you’ll find that they will engage with you, and the audience will grow. Once you can demonstrate that you’re growing your audience, then you have a strong proposition to give to the advertisers. But that’s only the first part of the story. When you’re talking to the advertisers and the agencies, especially in a recessionary market, they all need value. An agency needs to be able to demonstrate to its client that it can find them value within a recessionary market. That was one thing that we didn’t do prior to our arrival in TVC. That skill set wasn’t there – to be empathetic with the advertisers, to understand that they had a job to do as well – to try and reach agreements and deals and partnerships that were win-win for both parties.

When we got there, Andrew and I, as Andrew said, went to all the advertisers. We tried to understand what they were trying to achieve, the challenges their business had, and then we tried to reach win-win partnerships with them. They wanted more than spot advertising. They wanted product placement. They wanted branded content opportunities and activation. Over a period of time, we grew the audience and were able to offer them more robust content and cross-platform solutions. And as Andrew and I often joke, we built it, and eventually they came.

Q: Coming from a different background into the African market, what would you say was the greatest challenge in breaking into the market?

RONAN: For me, because I have been coming to the continent since 2005, I understand and like Africa. But business is business, no matter where in the world you are. The media market is fragmented and within that there’s an opportunity to build a company that can offer an engaged mass audience. That’s where we saw the opportunity.

The cultural differences were more within the company. I think what Andrew and I saw, in particular, was that we had a huge young workforce. I think what Andrew did was certainly feeling that it was our responsibility to create the environment that would enable us to do business and allow the workforce to be the most productive. In particular, we allowed the young people to have a voice, whereas prior to our arrival, they didn’t. And by that I mean some of the best business solutions that we have created have come from the young people being given a voice and saying, should we not do it this way? And when we listen to what they say, we look at the research and say, in actual fact, they’re right.

I think our experience from abroad allowed us to come in. We didn’t try to bring a European perspective to Nigeria. We tried to bring our media experience, because Andrew and I have travelled a long road in the media business, and we tried to ally that experience with the best talent that we had on the ground.

Q: Seven years down the line, how would you say you have positioned the group, the corporate brand in the market and in the minds of stakeholders?

RONAN: Our objective was to create one of Nigeria’s leading media broadcasters, commercial media broadcasters. I think we have done that regardless of the scale and breadth of competition out there. Whether you talk about the media agencies or on our side in terms of broadcast. If you want entertainment, you go to DStv. If you want news, you go to Channels, Arise or TVC Communications. If you want radio you go to Wazobia or you go to Max FM. That is it in a nutshell because, certainly under Andrew’s guidance at TVC communications, everything we make gets invested back into the business to make it better, so that we can keep offering better content to the audiences and more value to the advertisers.

What we have done is to position TVC communications to be one of those very few leading broadcasters in Nigeria that can stand on its own two feet and hold its own fire when juxtaposed with all the international media outlets that operate in this market as well.

ANDREW: We wanted the company to be a mass-market media company. The audience growth went from 5.3 million audience a day to 22.6 million audience a day, so that firmly put us into the mass media camp. You don’t need to have a set-up box in your house with access to the internet to watch us or to listen to us. So free-to-air media in Africa throughout the continent I believe is going to be here for another 20 or 30 years because people just can’t afford data. They can afford a very small amount of it, but they can’t afford huge chunks of it because incomes are quite low and you’ve got better things to be spending your money on, like food and shelter and putting your kids to school. Unlike the rest of the Western world, it’s all about subscribers.

For as long as people want free-to-air media advertisers will buy it from you because you’re mass media. So we achieved what we set out to do.

Q: If you look at the Nigerian Media market, oftentimes, the privately owned establishment tends to be more successful than the public owned institution, what would you say is responsible?

ANDREW: You’ve got to bring in enough revenue to pay the bills, to pay everybody, and with a bit of luck make a profit. Public broadcasters all over the world, not just Nigeria, have a different mindset. They’re subsidised, they’re paid for by the central government, a lot of them, or by taxpayers. And that’s a completely different environment. That breeds a different type of culture, the commercial broadcast culture, which Ronan and I have worked in all our lives. It’s a very different environment, and it demands different skill sets
and different results.

Q: What would you want to say about the partners that you formed to achieve your objective and goals?

RONAN: In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been saying goodbye and I have gone around with Andrew to meet all of our big clients. They’re not clients anymore, they’re actually friends. Andrew and I came from a marketplace in Ireland that had been through a recession. We understood how commercial broadcasters need to operate through recessions. That’s giving value to your partners who themselves are suffering in the recession. We brought that philosophy into this marketplace.

Q: What would you say are your most memorable contributions to the growth and development of the Nigerian media market within the period you have been an active participant?

RONAN: As the commercial director of TVC, first and foremost, my responsibility was to TVC. But again, in a recessionary marketplace, you’ve got to look beyond your own company. You’ve got to look at the sector and you’ve got to try and understand why the sector is suffering.

It happens everywhere in the world, we’re in the advertising communications business, but we’re very poor communicators. So we don’t tell enough stories of what advertising can do and the benefits it can bring return of investments to advertisers. One of the jobs I thought we could do was telling the advertisers the value they can get from the advertising and the media sector.

ANDREW: I think trust with clients is what Ronan and the team had to build up, and once trust was established then you have a partnership with your clients. But it took several years to do that because it’s about, as he said, delivering on the campaigns you promised and not lying to people, not telling people a false narrative, not trying to tell them something that you can’t actually deliver. And that’s one of the hallmarks of how Ronan operates. Don’t over promise, and he and I would both subscribe to that. Over deliver and then show people that you can really produce the results for them, that leads to trust and partnership and a great relationship between both parties.

Q: During the ENDSARS, how did you feel seeing yourself at the helm with that kind of unexpected calamity befalling an institution in which you are highly devoted and dedicated to?

ANDREW: I was frightened, I was watching it on TV down at the Toll Plaza, just like everybody else. But first and foremost, our thoughts were for our staff. Thankfully none of our staff died or were badly injured in that attack. My immediate thoughts were for the staff and then how we get our business back up and running very, very quickly. it goes back to what I said then earlier; having the relationship and the trust with our staff is what got us back on the air within three days. There wasn’t time to be in a state of shock for any long period of time. We just had to get back on the air. We had to make sure we salvaged what we could for the business and the funny thing is that despite ENDSARS and COVID we still managed to grow the business in terms of revenue and audience that year. It was quite something we never expected but we kept selling until we got back on the air. Our content was still good but it was compromised.

To some extent because our facilities had been damaged so we were operating at a subper level but our numbers continued to rise because we had partnerships with our advertisers and our viewers and our listeners were fans and we had their loyalty and they stayed with us.

RONAN: Just to follow on that, we had a lot of credit in the bank from our advertisers post COVID and ENDSARS happened after COVID. Because during COVID, when again, there was a lockdown and people stopped, you know, consumers couldn’t go around. They weren’t purchasing. Advertisers couldn’t get their messages out there because people weren’t purchasing. We changed our strategy over March and April during COVID, whereby we reached out to each of our corporate partners who themselves were engaging in huge CSR campaigns, if you remember. Because the world was suffering, Nigeria was suffering, so the likes of the Airtels, the MTNs, the Dangotes, were all doing great work around CSR.

Instead of chasing them for advertising campaigns, we opened our doors to their corporate communications people and we said, come in and tell your story to the world, the great work you’re doing for the CSR. We’re not going to charge you, just come on and tell everyone what you’re doing. And they couldn’t believe that an offer was made from a broadcast like that. They came in and told their CSR stories.

Q: As a media specialist of repute, which of your programs would you say resonate more with most of your target audience?

ANDREW: There’s a lot of different programs. Remember, we operate two television channels, an entertainment channel and news channel. One of the first things we did, back in 2017, was launching Wake Up Nigeria. Nobody else was doing an entertainment breakfast show to the same sort of standard. We had done it before elsewhere. We knew it worked. We know when people wake up first thing in the morning, not everybody wants to hear hardcore politics, even though there’s a huge appetite for politics in this country. But not everybody wants it. People want some joy and happiness in their lives,that’s why we launched Wake Up Nigeria, and it was a phenomenal success for us.

Within a very short period of time we said, news only gets two minutes at the top of each hour, and no current affairs. I’m sure you can do a quick review of the newspapers. Show the front pages. Then we had other entertainment programmes on the entertainment channel. We recently concluded a deal with Paramount Television. We now have Nicktoons and MTV, various top rated programmes. Be true to what it is you’re offering your audience. If it’s an entertainment audience, entertain them. On the news channel, we have great programmes like Journalist Hangout. It’s been on the air for several years, but has grown over and over. Your View with Morayo. That was there before we came. But we’ve grown that even larger now.

That’s 2.6 million viewers every day to that one programme. It’s phenomenal. Kudos to Morayo and all the ladies who were on that show. Now we have Your View on Saturday mornings that’s doing very well as well. We’re very lucky to have the two channels and two different offerings.

And then our radio station, particularly Max in Lagos, is phenomenally successful. 2.4 million listeners every day. That’s because we’ve got great OAPs on the air. Wale Popo in the afternoon, Wait and Day. Our breakfast show, our drive time shows, great personalities, great OAPs.

Q: What’s your parting words for the people you’re leaving behind, especially some of your employees who really love your style of administration?

ANDREW: What I would say to them is, you’ve all achieved wonderful things in the company. You’re all responsible for the results that I’ve outlined to you – the audience, revenue and brand growth. All of the customers that we’ve brought in. Let them continue to work hard and do your best. Things will get better and great things will happen.

Q: Who is Andrew Hanlon?

ANDREW: That’s a deep and meaningful question there, John. Who’s Andrew Hanlon? Well, he’s just an ordinary Irish fella, as we say back home. First and foremost, I’m a father and a husband. But I love what I do. I love adventure and I certainly got an adventure here in Nigeria. And I’m looking forward to the next adventure and the next challenge. So that’s who I am.

Q: It’s been seven successful years in the Nigerian media space, what’s your advice on growth for media owners and practitioners?

RONAN: You’ve got to understand your own audience and then you’ve got to understand what they’re looking for. And then you’ll find that in a marketplace such as this with a young population, everyone’s looking for entertaining content. The problem is the world is hard today. People are looking for entertaining content. You’ve got to give them entertaining content to engage engage with you. And if they engage with you, you’ve got something to offer the advertisers.

But for Andrew and I and our business, it is a service business. It’s run by people. People are your asset. You’ve got to look after your people. You’ve got to make sure that the good people are rewarded. Once they’re rewarded, then they don’t have to worry about salaries and outside influences. And then they’re in a position to be at their most productive in the workplace.

Q: In one word, how would you describe the last seven years in TVC?

RONAN: A blast.

Q: Okay, so what’s the best for you from here now?

RONAN: That’s a really good question. Personally, I’ve got a young family. I haven’t seen a lot of that young family in the last seven years. They’re living in Cape Town. So I’m looking forward to spending some time with my young family. On a professional note, like Andrew said, I love the commercial media business. Regardless of the challenges in Nigeria, I have no doubt that the African continent is the next continent when it comes to media and entertainment growth.
Within that, Nigeria is going to be a huge marketplace, a dynamic huge market of 250 million potential consumers, young consumers.

I think there are great and better days ahead for the media and entertainment space in Nigeria and Africa. I’m sure Andrew and myself would love to be part of that in the future.

ANDREW: Well, like Ronan, I’ve got a youngish family back home as well. So they want to see their dad and their husband with a bit of relaxation and restoration. That’s the first thing. But we’re not done yet. Ronan and I are working on various projects that you’ll hear about in due course. We’re not gone. It’s not goodbye. It’s just farewell for now. No hints on what we’re working on but you will be the first to know.


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