Recently, Tecno signed Grammy nominated afrobeats superstar Wizkid as its first celebrity brand ambassador. Behind the reported multimillion naira deal is SBI Media, a fast-rising seven-year-old media agency. In 2019, the same agency had helped Syinix and another Nigerian star, Ahmed Musa, find common ground and work together. Rotimi Bankole, 39, is the founder and CEO of SBI Media.
For a man who runs one of the youngest media agencies in Nigeria, Bankole wields more influence than has been reported in the trade publications. Through its long-running work for Transsion Holding, his company manages over 50% of the marketing spend in the mobile phone market in Nigeria. And Transsion, with the Infinix, iTel, and Tecno brands in its portfolio, currently leads holds a larger share of the Nigerian mobile phone market than Samsung, Apple, and Huawei combined. Aside from Transsion Holdings, SBI also manages media planning and buying for 9Mobile, Access Bank, First Bank, and Sterling Bank.
At its current growth rate — 50% year on year in revenues, far above the industry estimate of about 12%, according to PwC — SBI Media must be stepping out of the beaten path in more ways than one. These are the rules Bankole says his company follows a unique direction that should only lead to SBI Media becoming a bona fide world-class agency. These are the ideas he’s found along the way:
1. Compact Team
According to SBI management, the company began with only one person in 2013. This person was Rotimi Bankole himself, functioning as media planner, buyer, and client service executive. However has the business has continued to grow, SBI has maintained a tight, nimble group of staff, keeping just about 50 people on a permanent basis, the rest of the work is often handled by professionals in the supporting industries. By avoiding the common pitfall of many agencies, which, to their own injury, become top-heavy or saddle themselves with a bloated wage bill, SBI has remained financially judicious and agile.
2. Vertical Growth
It is not uncommon in the 21st century marketing industry for advertisers to demand creative services from publishers and media agencies. For SBI Media, this is an opportunity. So in 2016 it built Streams Communications to design and produce print, digital, and electronic advertisements. Later, it launched Digital Planet to focus exclusively on digital marketing. It also owns investments in digital Out of Home (OOH) media across Nigeria. SBI reversed the old model of creative agencies owning and passing business to media independents. It has systemised its approach of offering creative services as a value-added to its clients.
3. Digital Focus
Gone are the days of nebulous “proprietary tools”, which are more or less the clones of one another. Gone are the days of “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” Today’s advertisers want a crystal ball to predict the outcome of their campaigns. Which is why AI and programmatic buying come in to make marketing spending more efficient. SBI Media says 90% of its work for client is done with the assistance of modern technology. With Tecno, Infinx, Boomplay, iTel, and 9Mobile as key clients, it continues to deepen its roots in the Nigerian tech industry, perhaps more than anyone else in its area of business.
Says Bankole: “With the arrival of 5G technology, the industry will see more investment and need to innovate and communicate. We believe the market will lead information and communication technology innovation as more investment and leverage of artificial intelligence, big data analytics, quantum cloud computing, and real-time automation becomes major business drivers.”
Says Samuel Odusami, the group head of strategy: “Our team comprise people who respect the truth about their own strengths and weaknesses. People who say to themselves: I have my own skills but I need to join other people who have the skills I might not have. We can all bring our own pieces to the puzzle and make it a complete picture.
“So, if there’s any other agency that has been in the market for so many years, if they’re richer than us, if they have more clients than we do, what we can assure them is that they can’t execute better than us; they can’t be more client-focused than us, because we actually work as a team, and that is the core of what we do and how we got to where we are today.”
5. Client Relationships
“Sometimes your client speaks to you without even using words,” Bankole says. To continually manage portfolios across a diverse category of budgets and industries, his billion-naira tip is that you “understand your client and always be there for them.”
6. Masscom Global: An Unusual Affair
Rather than chase an affiliation a previously-established network, SBI Media in 2018 pooled resources with over 50 of its kind in Africa, the Middle East and Asia to launch Masscom Global. Now, the group is present in more than 150 countries, with SBI as the West African hub, expanding its reach and influence into viable markets in Ghana, Kenya, and the UAE. “We leverage global best practices, case studies, and business leadership that further standardise our quality of execution and delivery,” Bankole says.
7. Get Out of the Way
“We are used to long hours and weekend work and the work just never stops. We pick our team members based on their antecedent, open-mindedness, team playing ability, and most especially, their values work ethic and so, as CEO, all I need to do is empower them and let them do their job,” he declares.
Legend abound of agency CEOs whose personal expense account was the same as their company’s business account, and whose expenses are limitless. But Bankole says an agency survives and grows when it has a multi-layered strategy to sustain itself. So, for SBI Media, with the verticals it has built as well as investments in real estate and oil and gas, it is drawing a map to a future where its staff can keep doing the job they love without the fear of the agency packing up overnight.
9. Celebrity Partnerships
The instant vigour that celebrity endorsements inject into brands, especially in places such as India, has made a Rotimi Bankole an advocate of brand ambassadorships building a reputation as the celebrity whisperer for brands looking to piggyback on established fame and built-in audiences in Nigeria. Between 2018 and 2020, SBI secured partnerships with Ahmed Musa for Syinix and Wizkid for Tecno, this last one taking almost 10 months to finalise.
10. Investment in Intellectual Firepower
Mr Bankole himself is an alumnus of The Polytechnic, Ibadan and the Lagos State University. He also has professional training from the Pan African University and several others. Inside SBI itself, he says there is a “learning culture.” Quote: “We have a constant budget for continued education and exposure of our people to the latest thinking, case studies, and experiments that will boost the confidence, justify our presence in our clients’ meeting rooms, and help these clients perform optimally.”