Mr. Akin Adeoya, right now in the country, runs one of the biggest PR agencies we have around – Marketing Mix. He is also the proud owner of three hotels, The Prince of Anthony, 1960 and Eagles Park. He is equally into other things. A jolly good fellow but astute businessman, he shared the story of how he started out as a reporter with ThisDay Newspapers with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor in Chief, AZUH ARINZE as well as debunked the notion that you need money to start your business. Come with him as he reveals the vital things needed to do that and more…
When did it dawn on you to be on your own and what prompted it?
As a person, what I love most is independence. My personal independence. I like that feeling of having control over my own destiny and that I can get off my bedroom exactly when I want to get off my bed and go to bed exactly when I want to go to bed. In that sense, having an employer and having a wife, I will say, are the two biggest impediments to personal freedom. So, you can imagine that it took me a long time to get married. But it didn’t take me long to do my thing. By the mid 90s, I had worked in some of the top agencies and by the late 90s, it was clear to me that, that personal freedom was absolutely necessary for me to be myself and the only place I could go was a newspaper house. So, I got a job in ThisDay and of course, my editors allowed me or rather understood the need for that personal space; personal freedom. So, I had a little bit more freedom to operate than some of my colleagues even though I was a staff, but I was allowed to work almost as if I was a contributor and that helped me a great deal and really if the Nigerian media system was a stable one, I imagine that I would have probably remained there for the rest of my life. Because I don’t really see any thrill that is greater than putting a good story together in a newspaper and after publishing a real good story, then you go to somewhere and they say whaaoh; that was a fantastic story. For me that thrill is irreplaceable. Not all the money in the world can do it.
With how much did you start your business and how did you raise the fund?
No, no, no…I didn’t have to raise any money to start my business. And that is what I tell a lot of my younger friends who are graduating, who are complaining, who want to go into business; who are complaining about money, money, money. It’s not money you need to start a business; it’s the will, the knowledge, the capacity that you need to start a business. Again, it depends on the kind of business you want to go into. There are some businesses that you may need money, but a lot of the businesses, to conceive it, to start it, you don’t need money. I started by doing special projects. There was a guy called Femi Akorede who was on my desk – Saturday – who did a special project on the pharmaceutical industry and I called him and said what was the turnover of this project you did? And he said about N300,000 or N350,000 then. That was like 1997/98 or thereabout. Femi is back now and I think he’s in Kwara State. I think he works for government. He was always very, very proud of that achievement and I just said to myself, I’m sure I could do that, because you were given 35% of whatever you brought. So, I decided to go into special projects. But I didn’t do it from my desk and that was the difference. I’ve always had this feeling that you got to be organized. So, I had a friend that I was consulting for – Explicit Communications – and he had a BQ. I reasoned that he can give me a room in that BQ and so I employed about two people to assist me to do secretarial work and run errands for me. And then I did my first special project on the outdoor industry. Signs and Colours, that’s what I called it. That was in November 1998. I started marketing it and then you know what happened, weeks ahead of the time I thought the cheques will start coming in, I just got a cheque of about N40,000 and I didn’t even have an account. I had not registered my company even. I said whaaoh! A cheque of N40,000 and I had to go and register my company. You see, the idea had even succeeded ahead of the business. So, that was what forced me and I quickly went and registered a company and I went to again Tunde Thani’s friend who was running Metropolitan Bank then, one of the GMs. I contacted him and he said fine, I should bring the cheque and the registration papers and they processed it. I said I needed some money, because I was now inspired to do more marketing. They advanced me some money and I hit the road. At the end of the day, we did a turnover of N950,000 or so.
After registering your business officially, who was your first client?
The special project was the beginning, the kick off. I was still writing for ThisDay, but I did the special project with the kind permission of the publisher, of course. Journalists were allowed to do such things. I made a commission of 35% which was a lot money for me then. You can imagine at that time, doing a business of N950,000 (Laughs).
You’ve worked for a lot of clients, who is your best client and why?
You know there are two levels now. So, which of my businesses are we talking about here?
Marketing Mix of course?
Everybody knows; it’s got to be MTN (Laughs). I mean, we’ve worked for MTN now for ten years and by next year we will be clocking eleven years on the business. There are very few clients who can be loyal to an agency as that. And I think we’ve also been extremely loyal to them.
Your relationship with MTN will be 12 next year, why do you think most agencies fall out with their clients?
Focus and conquer. It’s a simple marketing rule. Well, I must admit that sometimes agencies lose out for political reasons. We must admit that. Also a lot of the time agencies crash out because they forget where they are coming from; they become arrogant, they become careless. It happened to us too in the past. But the key issue really is that agencies forget how they got to where they are and they begin to take things for granted and then the client says no, let’s review this.
As a business, when did Marketing Mix break even?
From the first transaction, we broke even. I was using a room in somebody’s BQ and did a business of about a million naira, N950,000 and I made about N300,000 plus. I broke even of course. The second time we did a project shortly after, it was called The Power of Advertising, also in ThisDay. Do you know how many pages that project ran for? It ran for 50 pages. The newspaper itself was 40 pages; our special project inside it was 50 pages. And we clocked close to about N4 million. So, look at it, I made my first million easily. But you must understand this, I didn’t do it alone. One thing I’ve always done, I have always tried very hard to have people around me. A lot of people are afraid to pay, they don’t want to pay money; they don’t want to do this or do that. I’ve always had a crowd around me. Sometimes making my business unprofitable. Even when there were no steady businesses or whatever, you will see 10 people, 15 people in the office. Maybe I just love that. I hate to see people walking the streets.
Currently, you are into a lot of things – public relations, publishing, dry cleaning, hospitality, etc. When did it dawn on you to diversify?
Most of the things I did, I did them as a natural progression. Not that I just woke up and said oh, I want to do this business, I want to do that business. It was just natural. It was just following my instincts. I’m fairly conservative even about the way I spend money and I discovered that somewhere along the line, I tended to spend a lot of money in hotels. If I want to write a proposal, I will not want to write it at home, I will want to go to a hotel and stay there for two days and put my thoughts together. Sometimes, even as a bachelor, I won’t want to be running generator all the time. It’s noisy; the smoke is getting the air polluted. I just want to get out of it and go to a nice hotel and relax. Of course, anytime you want to relax, you go to a bar, have a drink and I just realized that, that took a lot of money out of my pocket. So, when the opportunity to invest came up, I said to myself, if I own a hotel, first and foremost, I won’t really have to pay for hotel anymore and I mean, I wasn’t even looking at it in a strictly business sense. I only felt that I could get all these things now without paying for it. Room, food, drinks, whatever! And when my friends come, we can go sit down there, hang out there, it will be our own little pub; it will be our own little place. We may not be drinking, we may be having a Coke, we may be having water; it could be pepper soup, whatever. For me, that was just the whole idea. And then we opened the first one, it turned out to be far costlier than I imagined. But I had a bank which said to me, oh you want to do it, we will support you and they put down quite a substantial amount of money to acquire the building and all that and we started. Because I was new in the business, I was very particular about how it went. I focused on it and that first, second year was very, very successful. So, I said to myself whaaooh! There’s a lot of money in this business. What have I been doing? I’m gonna do another one (General laughter). So, I did the second one, but the second one did not turn out to be as successful as the first one, I must confess. But the important thing is that it’s an asset, it’s a living asset and it’s getting better every day. And then I said to myself I want to do something better; bigger and better and that’s why we have The Prince of Anthony now.
What is the biggest mistake that most business people make?
Doing it on your own. Trying to do it on your own. The biggest mistake I’ve made is raising a fresh business and making myself the chairman of that company. That was the biggest mistake I made. By now, if I had done things properly, I should be a multi billionaire. When I look back; it’s 14 years now, and now I remember what happened in 2000. I went to see Mr. Enyi Odigbo, because he was one of those I trusted and liked in the industry. I was talking to him about my vision for my magazine and he said if you want to do it, do it well; bring in people and so on. But he said don’t do it alone. That if he had known 10 years ago, and brought in people, by now Casers would have been somewhere else. But guess what? In this country, they bring us up to believe that when you bring people into your business, they are gonna stab you. Well, a lot of stabbing goes on. A lot of people have brilliant ideas, but bringing in directors and all of that, they kick them out of the business. But the truth is that if you really want to play in the big league, don’t try to do it alone. Bring in people, either people working for you or people on your board. Smart intelligent people who are far better than you. You wanna do it on your own, you are not gonna go far.
From experience, why do you think that most business people attain success but find it difficult to sustain it?
They forget where they are coming from. I think that’s the most important thing. That’s why I said maybe I’m a bit conservative about things, because I never, never, never forget where I’m coming from. Sustenance of success depends on your capacity to remain true to yourself. It doesn’t matter what people say around you or how they try to make you feel like the chairman, calling you this, even using papa, this, that. Never, never forget where you are coming from.
NB: First published April 2014