‘Journalism has given me fulfilment, fame, lots of latitude’

Publisher of Marketing Edge, Mr John Ajayi who pioneered marketing and advertising reporting in Nigeria clocked 60 on June 12, 2023. In this Mediacareers interview with Esther Adeniyi and Isaac Akerele, he recalls his growing-up years, journalism career and the state of the media.

Congratulations on your 60th birthday anniversary on the historic June 12 day. What does clocking 60 means to you?

I will say it means to me a new sense of maturity, a sense of responsibility and of course, a new sense of personal renewal and review. Looking at the past and looking at the present and not losing sight of the future. Sixty for me is the next youngest of the oldest and the oldest of the youngest.


Looking back, will you say you have been able to achieve in life and work what you expected at 60?

Certainly yes, because in these last 60 years, it has been a journey of trials, travails and triumphs. I started very roughly in life. You can call somebody like me an upstart if you like. But again, an upstart or a late starter with a focus.  At the childhood stage, from primary school, the age of partial consciousness, I had set my eye on the big idea. I had set my focus on the future and saw myself as ‘that famous man’, ‘that man of achievements’, not necessarily with fabulous means, but that man of convenience, comfort and impact.

My vision has been to be somebody who can always add value within the value chain. I took time in my younger days to read biographies of great men. I grew up in the village, very rustic village in Ekiti, Gboyin local government area of Ekiti state.  Being the son of a great farmer and a petty trader woman, in a highly polygamous set-up, with all its rivalries, intrigues and all that, I was one who was least expected to break the shackles surrounding my circumstances of birth. So, here I am today, it’s been a story that could sound like fiction or faction, but mine is no fiction. Those who knew me growing up can attest to that, and from that younger days, I have told myself that if there was any shackle I must break, it is one of no achievement. I always believe if I am in a class of 20 or 30 students, in that class if my other colleagues have godfathers and godmothers, some are genius, and I John Ajayi do not have a godfather or godmother, neither am I a genius or someone who is naturally lucky, none of them should be more hardworking than me.

I always tell myself, that one thing I will always use to beat my age mates and competitors is hard work. Some people are naturally born lucky. I don’t get involved in betting. Pools betting or any lottery deal, I don’t do it, because I will not win.

It is not my nature. For everything in life, I have always worked for it. And when I work for it, God answers my prayer

What are your dreams ahead of 60?

Beyond 60, I look forward to the next ten years of gradual relief, and gradual stepping aside.  In the next ten years, post-60, I look forward to gradual disengagement. I have been working tirelessly for the last 60 years since I entered secondary school, left for the university and started this Journalism. I started Journalism almost 32 years ago, and I have never gone on leave, or break.  I come to work ok Saturdays. Having practised Journalism with some established newspapers, I started my own publication. I started Journalism with The News in the early days of guerilla Journalism.  Then we were trying to chase out the military dictators and after that, I went to join THISDAY Newspaper.  I later went to the Comet. I went to the Comet more or less like a consultant writer. I introduced the marketing and advertising column which I usually run for them on Fridays, and it was a bonus that gave me the idea that I could start a publication in an entirely new area in journalism.

I call it a special genre in journalism which we call brand Journalism. I am the pioneer of marketing and advertising reporting in Nigeria.  In THISDAY when we used to have a column for Fridays and Mondays and it gained traction. I took that innovation to the Comet Newspaper, but after working for the Comet newspaper for a year, I did a special supplement from which the newspaper made about N5 million, which is more or less like the biggest money they will make on corporate special projects.   It was like a standalone publication. It was titled ‘Forces behind the brand’ and it was very wonderful and we had a lot of patronage and the company made money. I also made money. As a matter of fact, it was through that project I got my own commission from the company and I was able to do my wedding. Don’t forget I told you, I don’t have a godfather or godmother, everything I’ve always achieved, I have always achieved through hard work.

So, that has been the journey. Since we set up Marketing Edge on September 10, 2003, and between now and then, it’s been work and work, such that every edition is always a better and improved edition from the previous one, in terms of content, design, aesthetics and overall quality of the total package.


Why did you opt for Journalism and how fulfilling has it been?


If I had not done Journalism, perhaps I would have been a lawyer. The reason is that I see society in the words of that famous philosopher who said ‘Man is born free, everywhere he goes he is in chains’. Given the circumstances of my birth in a polygamous set-up, I was born into challenges of rivalry, and very intriguing family challenges of a polygamous set-up, and of course, I weathered the storm. For someone like me, I knew what it means to be one of the voiceless in society. A society where you see injustice, iniquities and unfairness that has become the order of the day. For me, life is not about what I will amass for myself, it’s not about fat bank accounts. It’s not about how many mansions, it is about how I have been able to help the other person. It is about the other person. I am also not very particular about the number of years on earth because one may spend several years, like Methuselah and it may be long years of emptiness. But I want to live a life of impact. So I saw that Journalism provided me with a veritable platform to be a voice for the voiceless, to be the advocate of the oppressed.

Journalism has given me fulfilment. It has given me fame. It has given me a lot of latitude and aptitude because if you are a very hardworking person as a Journalist, you will be successful. No hardworking Journalist will be unsuccessful. Even when I was working the private newspapers, I left nine months’ salary with ‘THISDAY they didn’t pay me. I didn’t kill myself, it never bothered me, but I did my best I was always doing my best. When I worked at Comet, I walked away from Comet owing me 19 months’ salary. All those things strengthened my resolve to be an entrepreneur. For entrepreneurs that do business, sometimes it’s not as if they are deliberately not paying. Still, the turf can be tough and turbulent in terms of income, in terms of balancing books, in terms of profit margin, but they don’t want to lose business. So, over and above, I have enjoyed this job, and done it very well. In the industry where we belong, we are applauded, we are renowned, and we have become a brand name.

A lot of people know Marketing Edge, they don’t know me. The brand is bigger than me. We are in Nigeria here, getting requests from Europe, from America, to be partners.


Based on your experience, what is your assessment of the media industry and how do you think it can get better?

The media industry is doubly challenged. First, there is the challenge of lack of innovation which is an indictment on media entrepreneurs and secondly, the challenge and the onslaught of the social media in Nigeria called the digital age. The digital age has happened upon all of us and has its own good and bad aspects. In those days when you talk of the traditional media, an average journalist leaves his house in a day hungry to get super exclusives. He goes across the metropolis looking to get exclusives to report in the next day’s edition of his or her publication. Those exclusives make you. If you are good and constantly getting them, that helps you to build your brand equity. Your brand equity is the equity height you attain in the minds of your readers.

However, social media has ridiculed all those super exclusives that make newspaper to be a sellout. Talking about ‘Citizen journalists’, you might have done an investigative report for about four, five days or two weeks, but the day you plan to publish it, you have prepared your story, and given it to the editor who has planned it for cover, you just get to Agege like 10:30 am and hear that by 10:00 am there was a plane crash and a citizen Journalist just unconsciously took photographs, did a report and post it unknowingly, just for fun, and within five or ten minutes, it goes viral. Your newspaper will have no choice but to drop your exclusive.

You don’t have a choice. So social media brings more contemporary news, super exclusives at regular intervals, 24 hours, seven days a week. The traditional journalist will just be wallowing in his own world of ignorance, apathy and lethargy. As a good Journalist, a modern journalist is one that can deliver on all fronts. You don’t take for granted the ubiquitous nature of social media and its transgressions on the profession. It has a lot of transgressions because social media is replete with fakes and falsehoods, forgery and fabrications.  But again, people are easily sold on emotions and sensations. When I said the traditional media is doubly challenged, it is in the sense that some of them are still not thinking, they are not reinventing, and they are not innovating. If you reinvent and renovate, you will continue to be relevant.

At Marketing Edge, we did a survey. We took five major newspapers in Nigeria, and looked at their publication for each day, trying to see whether brand owners and advertisers are doing much in terms of advertising in newspapers on a daily basis. Our reports revealed to us that most brands have jettisoned the print media. Most newspapers now only have adverts from banks, obituaries and real estate.

Where have the brands gone? They have gone to social media. They have gone to be digital. You see them creating content to fit into social media and different platforms. The digital age has been killing some professions, ridiculing some and rendering some professions useless while creating new professionals. You can say you’re a writer or a Journalist, but companies are looking for younger generation people, Gen-Z s to employ them to come and create content for their brands. That content will create engagements. It is that traction the brand owner wants. You create fantastic content for a brand and in less than an hour you see four million views, you get influencers to help you. So the media is challenged as it is. So that’s why some of them are struggling and reinvigorating their online platforms.

There are some traditional newspapers in those days that will not publish pornography. Some of them that want to be part of the times are now following the tide, yet there is a saying that you may not be able to arrest the wind, but you should be able to chance on its sail.


That’s just the fate of the media today. I feel pity for the media. We took our time years ago at Marketing Edge if we should continue to depend on the stereotype, doing the same old publication. A lot of special publications have come and gone. We told ourselves, what we do in print, can’t we replicate it on television?

That was what informed the idea of Marketing Edge TV. It’s an innovation. It is a weekly Television programme that is shown on popular DSTV channel stations like TVC and WAP TV. We are still taking it to other stations. We have it every Wednesday, 12:30 pm on WAP TV and DSTV 262 we have it from 8:00 am to 8:30 on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and a repeat Broadcast from 9:30 to 10:00 am

If you don’t have the opportunity to read Marketing Edge, you will watch the broadcast version. We are in Lagos here, my people in Ekiti and everywhere are watching us and we have very fanatical followers across Nigeria. We have not stopped at that, we said if we write stories, how many people can even pay for magazines and read? We are concerned with promoting the brand idea, while also expanding on the frontiers of marketing and advertising. So we came up with news stories on LED billboards.  We highlight our news stories. We have a relationship with major billboard companies who have LED billboard screens and we have a partnership such that when we post stories on our websites, it goes automatically on LED billboards.

We also have a newsletter that would be delivered to you via your phone almost every day and the same way we have activated our online platform. We have gone ahead to also institute our industry’s virtual service. We have what we call a quarterly virtual service such that local and international players will be part of it to share ideas, rub minds and ventilate on contemporary Industry issues.


What advice do you have for young media professionals and others in the industry?


The advice I have for young media professionals is that they must imbibe the culture of hard work. They must imbibe the culture of value addition. It is not about worries about what am I going to wear. It should not be about what am I going to eat, it should not be about ‘My age mates are buying cars’, my age mates are marrying, I got married very late. That never bothered me because I wanted to impact, and I have since made a lot of people. I have mentored people, I have mentored youths because people like us were lacking in all those opportunities. Any youth that comes across me, if he is not a lazy type, he is made forever. So, the younger generation should go back to the drawing board and learn from the older generations. What made those generations so relevant, still respected, still credible, and still believable. Sometimes when I go out and see some of these youths who get involved in Yahoo (fraud) I just shake my head and feel sorry for society. The other time, they said former president Muhammadu Buhari referred to some youths as lazy. The old man was not lying. When I was at their age, I never learned to drink beer till I entered the university. I think I tasted my first beer when I was in the university, but about ten years ago, there use to be a joint me and my friends go for after-hours, we saw young guys sagging, ordering beers, and I said this society has lost it.

I want the younger generation to learn the ethics of hard work. Hard work pays, don’t say it because you don’t have a godfather

Are there any other thoughts that you want to share with our readers?

I want to thank my wife. God gave me a good family. I met my wife as a 200-level student when I went to do my master’s at the University of Lagos. In fact, I had wanted to get my PhD before I got married, but time was going.

It was after finishing my postgraduate diploma in journalism at the Nigeria Institute of Journalism that I went for my master’s degree in Political Science at the University of Lagos as a full-time student, working fully with THISDAY newspaper till the afternoon. In the evening I go to the classroom and use to sleep in the classroom.

Since I met my wife, we have been together. She has been very helpful and has given me comfort. Sometimes I don’t know my ATM pin number she is the one who knows everything.

It’s been a great journey, rich with experience, the good, the bad and the ugly

And above all, I give glory to God.


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