The Hook Creative Agency is my greatest adventure yet – Sam Ochonma

After trying his hands on so many things, Sam Ochonma decided to settle for advertising. Currently, he is the managing director at The Hook Creative Agency, an advertising agency he co-founded with three other people. Together with his team and with the help of emerging technologies and their combined creative thinking, Sam is creating a fascinating ecosystem where both brands and agency talents co-exist to drive positive business growth.

In this interview, the debonair ad man talks about how he ended up in advertising, his experience and how, with his partners, he is driving The Hook Creative Agency to lofty heights.

 Would you say that you doing now what you dreamt of doing when you were growing up?

Absolutely not! My first intention was to be a Lawyer. Eventually, I started to like the sciences and then I wanted to be a programmer. I even learnt some programming languages like Java and C++. Shortly after, I learned visual effects and animation. From there I worked as a video editor in a small studio in Lagos. You would see from that that I was kind of a confused youth, way back; but one good thing about me was that I was really determined to succeed. That youthful determination is still there, today.

How did you end up in an advertising agency as an art director and eventually become one of the fastest rising business executives in the industry?

I’m glad you consider me to be one of the fastest rising executives in our industry. I was first introduced to the agency business as a creative. I was creating several advertising materials for some of the biggest companies in the fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), telecommunications and other business sectors. I continued to work on the agency side at Centrespread Advertising, a leading agency in Nigeria at the time. We were in charge of the old Etisalat account, which used to be fun, by the way. For example, we created the legendary “Saka” character that became so endearing to so many Nigerians that MTN later got.

Around the time I was asking myself what’s next in my career; I was poached by Oando PLC. Mind you, I had never worked in the oil and gas sector before then; but I thought it might be interesting and lucrative. This happened to be true as I joined as a creative lead in their corporate communications department. My experience in this department sharpened my business acumen. But by the end of the first quarter of 2016, I left Oando to join another oil and gas startup called ENYO Retail and Supply as their corporate communications lead. It was at this point that founding my own agency became a no-brainer for me.

Would you let us into how you met your partners;  how your agency was founded, and all that?

Back in the days in creative agencies, as an art director, you’d have your own copywriter that you’d often work with to deliver clients’ jobs. My copywriter then was Toheeb Balogun. We’d usually create print materials and different advertising types for our clients in the agency. Our synergy was so great that we built a portfolio of work together; that’s to show you how much we collaborated together. But after I left the agency to join an oil and gas company, we stopped working directly with each other. Although somehow, we still managed to hook up during our spare time and sometimes we’ll get to work together on some projects.

After seven years in oil and gas, I started feeling like it’s time to do something else. I reached out to my friends Wale, Bayo and Toheeb to find out what’s next for them as well. Fortunately for all of us, we were all at that level in our careers when we felt we needed to shake things up in the advertising industry. To cut the long story short, we decided to take the plunge and founded The Hook.

How easy has it been,  founding and growing an agency with three partners; how do you manage growing together?

Recently, I thought about this question you just asked, simply because it just makes me wonder how far we have come with one another. It hasn’t been one of the easiest. But what has kept us is our ability to stay united; no matter the differences, we always try to watch out for each other. It’s crazy when you have four people with different ideas and perspectives about some of the issues we face while running the business.

However, over the years, we have realised that the success of the business is greater than whatever individual ideas each of us has. The goal is for The Hook Creative Agency to outlive our executive leadership. Therefore the business comes first, no matter what. Thankfully, we all have similar ideas about the growth direction of the agency. That’s all we are currently working to bring to life.

Do you consider your agency an underdog in the Nigerian ad industry?

Frankly, we are not an underdog. We made over a quarter of a billion naira in revenues in our second year of operation. We created “O to ge”, Nigeria’s most revolutionary political campaign since “Hope ‘93”. We crafted a long-running campaign for a leading financial services business in Nigeria. Our ads are reaching 370 million households worldwide. We have a few international awards nominations for some of our great works. How then can we be an underdog?

So, what exactly do you do?

I slave away (laughs). On a more serious note, I oversee the company’s operations, implement sustainable corporate and business strategies, drive growth, and generally, I am responsible for the overall performance of the business.

Which trait is best suited for anyone trying to be in a similar role as you?

One of the most important ones is the understanding of how your business and the industry you play in operate. Of course, along the line you’ll need to demonstrate some empathy and appreciation to your team and your clients – because you’re in business because of them. Ability to be very decisive is also a key trait to possess.

Is it natural for creatives to always crave independence to the point that they want to own their own agency?

Honestly, yes; it’s indeed natural. It starts from your first private project. The first time I was paid N50,000 for a logo that I did in 10 minutes was when I knew independence was paramount. I was earning N00,000:00 per month at the time. However, it’s also very important to be patient and rise through the ranks.

What many creatives fail to realise is that there is a required sharpening and polishing that must happen for you to excel independently. It’s not just about breaking out and setting up a [creative] shop. You’ll need a considerable amount of business acumen to excel. You’ll also need a lot of relationship building because you need to know the right people. When you know them you’ll need to learn to manage the relationships, and trust me, it’s a lot.

My advice always remains, grow through the ranks, gather some experience, watch your bosses, learn from them, build a depth of knowledge, be liquid, because it’s tough on the streets.

What has been your greatest adventure in advertising over the years?

Quitting a healthy 6-figure job to set up the agency is my greatest adventure yet. So, I will say the greatest adventure is still ongoing, seeing the business still thriving today is incredibly amazing. I think until we fully actualise our vision of building a long-lasting business, this whole experience will still continue to be an exciting adventure.


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