Toheeb Balogun is currently a creative director and the chief impact officer at The Hook Creative Agency operating in the United Kingdom and Lagos, Nigeria. In this interview, he breaks down his perspective on advertising, storytelling and career growth.
When did you first know you’d end up in advertising?
It started back in the university. We just finished a course, ENG 312: Semiotics. After the lecture, I struggled to see the relevance of that course, and the other ones I have taken, to the real world. You know, in most Nigerian universities you are not really taught the value-creation side of courses, it’s just theory.
I remember leaving the classroom and heading to the library specifically to read anything that’s not linguistic or literature related. Fortunately, I picked a book on marketing strategy. It seemed interesting because it dealt with real world issues. I read how brand activities contribute to brand’s growth and some of the activities included advertising messaging and that’s how I got to know about advertising. It took me another year before a friend, Olumide, we used to call him Olumighty, saw some of my rough ad sketches and he mentioned it passively that people get paid for coming up with ideas. The realisation that I could get paid for something I’m willing to do for free changed everything and it fueled me to develop a career for myself in brand communication.
Tell me about your earliest years in the ad agency world?
It’s funny that people who changed the trajectory of our lives didn’t know they were doing that as at the time they were acting.
It all started at Orange Academy. I met a guy there who was interning at Phillips Consulting. He sold the idea of interning for free to me. Since I didn’t have a job, it made sense to give my time for free and gather experience while at it. So I did exactly that. I reached out to Emmanuel Okereocha who was my pathfinder in the ad industry. We attended Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU) together and he already had a job with a media planning company “Alternativ Media” so he set up a meeting with the managing director, Charles Arong. I interned there for 3 months. I worked on the introductory campaign for Hi-Malt can, “I can” — that was my first ever campaign. I remember that I was paid the semblance of a salary for the first-time after I did that campaign. While there, I reached out to Kenny Badmus via Facebook chat. He was then the Chief Imagination Officer of Orange Academy and the Creative Director at Centerspread. I told him how I was willing to leave my salary and intern for free again at any place I could learn. Weeks later, he called to tell me I could join CentrespreadFCB. That call validated my abilities. From that moment onward, I became an irrepressible force. I took that newfound belief in myself to everywhere else I worked at.
Some individuals had to believe in you before you believed in yourself. Kenny Badmus was that for me.
What’s the most interesting piece of advice you received in your early practice days?
Prioritise learning or gaining quality experience over money. As long as you are talented and you work hard, e sure me die, money will come.
Who are the people that inspire you?
I am one of the most fortunate individuals in the industry. I actually worked with all the people that inspire me locally. Kenny Badmus, Babatunde Sule, Abolaji Alausa, Lanre Adisa, and Yemi Arawore.
And there is Dave Trott, one of the founders of Gold Greenlees Trott (GGT). You can say that I modeled my philosophy of advertising based on his approach and theories. I was lucky to have stumbled on him very early in my career. I hope to actually meet him someday and thank him.
What is the most daring thing you’ve ever done?
Choosing learning over money many times in the first years of my career is one but I will say starting The Hook is the craziest. There was no one that we told that we were starting an agency that didn’t think we were foolish.
Tell me more about The Hook Creative Agency?
The Hook is Nigeria’s greatest creative solution provider but a lot of people don’t know that yet. The full manifestation of our agency is going to put us in a space where we can’t be competed against. It wouldn’t be accurate to call us a creative advertising agency, we are more of creators of impact.
The agency is in a perpetual state of being founded, we are evolving on the go. The only thing that has remained constant is the name. What the business offers is in constant change. We are this way because we are committed to the client’s problem and we have been able to maintain this approach thanks to my other founding partners: Bayo Owosina, Samuel Ochonma and Akinwale Muse.
Walk me through what you do at the agency
What I do is fix my eyes on the client’s problem and manage the resources that can help solve that problem.
Can you tell me about the campaign you worked on that gave you the most professional satisfaction?
The “O to ge” campaign for the All Progressive Congress (APC) in Kwara state. That campaign was really personal for me because I am from that state. Also, It was also one of the few times bureaucracy wasn’t in the way of getting the job done.
How will you describe yourself, are you a marketing person or a creative person?
I’m an impact person.
Aside from what you do at the agency, is there any other thing you are passionate about?
Education, specifically childhood education. That’s the next phase of my life when I’m done with this phase. I believe that everything that’s wrong with any dysfunctional or underdeveloped country can be fixed by fixing the educational system. The reason I’m particular about childhood education is because things are more redeemable at the early stages of life. An individual’s potential in the future can only manifest if it’s properly encoded in the first 10 years of the child’s life. In fact it starts as early as the fetus stage. Most destinies are formed by the quality of the nutrient the pregnant mum takes in.
So for me, apart from paying school fees for my children, one of the motivations to work for me is to gather resources that can help me intervene in early childhood education. I have started with teartear.org, a platform that donates school uniforms to kids from poor homes. Tear Tear is an inroad into the classrooms where we can begin to influence the quality of education that’s delivered to kids.
Is it possible to learn how to be creative or one just has to be born with it?
Everything can be learnt by anyone but some people are naturally disposed to be better at doing certain things. This could be because of the shape of their heels, knee cap or their DNA. Anyone can think and have ideas. What differentiates the creative person is the ease of scenario occurrence and the ability to mint new ideas consistently and reliably over a long period of time.
Talking about creative ideas, how do you generate yours?
The business of creativity has made people treat the creative process like business. It is not. That approach will only get a flawed output.
Everyone has a process. For me, it’s being in a quiet place alone with a paper and a pen. Then I listen.
When you generate these ideas, how do you recognise the one that’d work?
Any idea that can’t get attention is not a good idea.
Lot’s of hype about storytelling. Do we really have to tell stories?
Not telling stories about yourself is the only thing you can’t do. Everyday things you do, say, wear, not do, not say,…are all stories about you. Storytelling is not just what you say. A lot of people misconstrue brand communication to be broadcasting a brand’s message. It is more than that. A brand communicates beyond what they creatively broadcast. Brand communication is the website interface, it’s how the product is developed, it’s in customer service. Brand communication happens at every point the consumer engages with the brand.
If artificial intelligence were to battle a creative individual in a copy contest, who would win?
It depends on what victory looks like to you. If it’s in speed and quantity, AI will surely win. If it is in being human, the creative individual will win. It’s like fast food vs home-cooked food. You can’t put up any real reason while people prefer home cooked food to fast food. Fast food is probably made with more accurate measurement of recipes than home cooked food and it’s mostly made in a more pristine environment but for some reason nobody ever goes poetic about it like they will do with say Amala Sky.
What’s an unpopular opinion you hold about advertising practice in Nigeria?
The client has usurped the role of consultant.
What advice would you give a creative executive eager to make a mark in the industry?
Prioritize learning over money when you start out. Seek platforms and places that will increase the quality of your ideas. God willing, it will surely compound in the end.