We are set to advance together, says Steve Babaeko

Newly elected President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN), Mr. Steve Babaeko, also Managing Director CEO of X3m Ideas is a creative juggernaut whose revolutionary approach to the advertising agencies have yielded remarkable impacts that have redefined the Nigerian advertising lately. Shortly after his election at the last and maiden virtual annual general meeting in Lagos spoke glowingly to MARKETING EDGE about his mission and vision for AAAN. Not only that he insisted that with the recent election in the association, the industry is posed for greater changes albeit positively.

Using the theme campaign “Advancing Together “ as the new guiding philosophy, Babaeko, a soft-spoken advertising and marketing maverick enjoins all industry stakeholders to collaborate and unite to get the industry fully calibrated in the new mullein. He spoke on other issues as well.


Congratulations on your recent election as the president of Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria (AAAN)

Thank you very much.  It’s a great pleasure to serve the association

How has your journey been to the AAAN presidency?

Honestly, it has been an exciting journey. Don’t forget there is no individual membership in the association. Agencies constitute the members of the AAAN. The members of the AAAN usually serve the association at one point or the other under different capacities. I started serving as deputy publicity secretary of the association some years ago. Later, I became Chairman of the Lagos Advertising Ideas Festival(LAIF) and I did that for three years. Later, I was elected as the Publicity Secretary at some point. I was Vice-President of the association about two years ago. On July 2, 2020, I was elected (unopposed) as the President of the Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria(AAAN). I feel very privileged to lead the association especially at this critical time.

Would you describe the pundits’ views that your leadership connotes a generational shift in the history of the association?

I must start by giving a big shout-out to all the founding fathers of the advertising agencies in Nigeria. They made giant strides to lay a solid foundation for the association. The association started as Association of Advertising Practitioners of Nigeria(AAPN) in 1973 and it metamorphosed into Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria(AAAN) during an epoch-making Annual General Meeting in 2004. It has been over fourty-seven(47) years old now. How many institutions in Nigeria have lasted for that long? With all the intricacies and complexities of this country, it is not a mean feat for an association to have stayed that long and strong. A lot of credit goes to the founding fathers of the association. I am always of the view that the framework for which the universe was built and erected is that the old shall give way to the new. It is no surprise that we are having the passing of the baton to the next generation. On the day of my inauguration, I made reference to the fact that this was the first time in the 47 years history of the association that we are having our AGM on a virtual platform. To that effect, you can call me the “digital president”. It is a shift of some sort in the way things are done because it is the new normal. A new dawn beckons. I feel very privileged to lead the association at this time.

As a young president, what are some of your goals and vision for the association?

The theme of my campaign was “Advancing Together”. Though I contested unopposed, I campaigned vigorously. I am not taking it for granted leading the association at this critical period. The association is a honourable body and I did contest for an honourable position. There is no time in the history of this industry that I believe we need to stand together as one body, one people, than now. The ”Advancing Together” campaign theme was premised on four-points agenda. One of those points include among others, the issue of empowering women who are members of the association. If you count agencies owned by women in this country, you can count them on your fingertips. I am hoping during my tenure as president that can be changed. Even on the board of the association, we have been able to move from having two women to having three women. We have also been able to appoint some women as committee chairmen. Again, there is a small vibrant group in the association called “Women in Advertising”. We would like to support and empower this group. Our aim is to adopt inclusivity in running the affairs of the association and also foster unity among the members.

How do you intend to achieve all of these?

There is no industry in the world that unity of purpose and team building are not as key and crucial as the advertising industry. If you run an agency, you can’t do it all alone. You can write the copy, do the aggression or be the brand manager yourself.  My plan is to physically take myself in that zone where people know I’m working for the industry and not just trying to feather my nest. I just want to see that the industry survives. If the industry survives, I will survive. When people see that open demonstration, we will make one or two steps forward.

Aside from your goals, what are the specific things you intend to do for AAAN in the face of Covid-19 global pandemic?

There are lots of things we have started doing already. We intend to collaborate with other allied associations like ADVAN, OAAN, MIPAN. Our destinies are tied to these allied associations. In fact, my first courtesy call after I was inaugurated was to one of these allied associations. All of those “solos” we used to run should be over. Let us all come to the table and have a seat at the table so we can discuss all the difficulties we are faced with. From there, we can proffer solutions. I know that we will overcome all these challenges. It is just to continue to foster unity and conversation.

Knowing that the industry has evolved for over some decades, how do you intend to reposition the industry during your tenure?

Do I look normal to you? (General laughter). In the history of the association, I am probably the first president to wear dreadlocks. Beyond even the physical attributes, we operate in a digital world and I understand how it works. Even though some people might think I am too old to be a digital person. We must be able to tap all the opportunities in digital real estate to help reposition the association and put it in a different pedestal for the world to see.

How would you assess the AAAN as a key and critical sectorial group in the Nigerian Marketing Communication Industry?

Like they say on the street, AAAN is probably the most underrated industry in this country. I remember some IAA ad said “When advertising does its job, other people who have hired us can then do theirs” . Imagine if there is no advertising in the world today, all of the big corporations that hire thousands of people would probably lay off staff because they have not be selling. Nothing to push the brand in the face of the public. Not forgetting the fact that the advertising industry itself hires thousands of young people. It is a powerful association and I hope that the public and government will give us the kind of recognition we desire.  What we do is behind the scene and I guess that is why it is not appreciated. We contribute a lot to the growth of the economy.

How do you and your team intend to midwife the association in the midst of the Covid-19 creative challenges?

Thank you so much for that question. My shout-out goes to the health workers who are on the frontline battling the pandemic. They are our heroes.  But if you are looking for the next generation or frontier of heroes, I think it would be the advertising people because of the challenges that advertisers are facing. They have had clients whose entire supply chain is being cut off or disrupted. Our job happens behind the scene and we are not the loudest set of people. We have been helping our clients to keep their businesses. We are joined at the hips with our clients. We are fighting for our clients’ survival because our survival depends on their survival. We are fighting every day and night, scheduling meetings, strategizing and helping to push communication to the market place.

So, it’s been a challenging period for you as the President of the AAAN especially with the effect of Covid-19

Oh yes. Don’t forget that with the way the economy distribution is done, advertising is at the bottom of the food chain. If the client is hemorrhaging, one is almost dead. So, we have had to work extra hard to support our clients at this critical time.

Would you say the new normal has had a positive or negative impact on the advertising industry?

I would say both. It has positively affected us because it challenged us to think of new ways of doing some of the old things we normally do. But at the same time, it has negatively impacted so many agencies economically. It then goes down to, what we should do or what we should not do at this point. If clients are laying off staff, downsizing or rightsizing, the agencies would also be affected.  We are excited about some of the the things we are doing in a novel and different way.

What are the challenges faced by members of AAAN in this new normal?

We have seen that some clients have already started adjusting in this new normal. If the economy starts to go south, the first thing the client thinks of is reducing the communication budget. Once that happens, clients start telling agencies they can’t pay retainership fees or start complaining about certain fees. At that point, agencies start to bleed.

How have creative agencies responded to new ways of doing things?

Before Covid-19 hit, the tendency is for the agencies to wait for the clients for brief of solving a marketing challenge. At the moment, we are all drown in the same ship. We know that what common sense dictates is that you should wait for any client to send you a brief before Covid-19. Agencies are now scanning their environment for marketing challenge and finding creative solutions and pushing it actively and strongly to the client.

How do you see the relationship of AAAN with other allied associations- ADVAN, OOAN, MIPAN, etc.

Nobody is an island. We need everybody on board, ADVAN, OAAN, MIPAN, BON, etc. Since I was elected, I have been scheduling meetings and conversations with stakeholders in the industry to help move the industry forward.

The Governing Council of Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) is yet to be reconstituted five years after it was dissolved, any effort in the pipeline, as AAAN President to galvanize action in that direction?

This is one the key reasons I am here. Having an advertising industry without APCON is like a plane flying without a control tower.


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