Pendulum: Ovation International and 25 Years of Uncommon Strategy….Dele Momodu
Fellow Africans, please, permit me to make an open and audacious declaration today. No Professor of Business Management or Mass Communication could have published Ovation International successfully for the period of time that we have done. I apologise if it sounds immodest but that’s not my intention. It is a fact that’s solidly backed by 25 years of an epic journey and with the sight of many would be competitors sadly falling by the wayside within a short time of debuting.
One of the most frequently asked questions everywhere I go is how have we managed to keep Ovation going when much older, bigger and richer publications have long collapsed, dead and buried? I will try to expose some of the strategies that have truly helped us, since April 1996, when the first copy rolled out, like a new-born baby.
First, we had limited funds, so we were forced to be disciplined or perish before we even started. I must expressly state and reiterate my oft repeated expression that publishing is the ultimate casino. If you’re not a compulsive gambler, don’t even go near it. We were ready to sacrifice everything possible to sustain this amazing dream and the heavens know that we have done so. It is by the grace of God that, in the words of my cherished and adored brother, Professor Dele Ajayi, “we have not lost our shirt”! We had abundant faith in our abilities and capabilities as a team but the only thing we lacked was funding. After the initial take off plank provided by my Uncle, Chief Ezekiel Olasunmoye Fatoye, it has been a battle of wits these last twenty-five years. The more money we spent, the more we needed to sustain the brand. We were never ready to produce a mediocre magazine. We went for the best printers, photographers, designers, cameras, drum scanners, international cargo companies, in order to source, obtain, produce and deliver extraordinary stories, special events, global travels, super adventures, and so on. We simply went all out to make our dream and vision a reality and God has helped us tremendously.
From the outset, we decided on publishing a world class magazine. We chose our niche, the lifestyle of the rich and famous, the celebration of achievers, celebrities, entertainers and sportsmen. We knew that to penetrate this genre of personages, we must operate like a member of the privilegentsia. We must talk the talk, and walk the walk, and essentially look the part. We also knew that this would cost money. Every copy of the magazine must be a collector’s item, attractively readable but not disposable. We wanted it to be an integral part of the lifestyle of the rich and famous that we chronicled. We were under no illusions that this would be tough, rough and tedious. Naysayers said that we were too ambitious, that our quality was way too high to be sustainable. But we were not going to compromise on our incredible quality in order to make ends meet. We owed it a duty to our readers, advertisers and clients in general to keep the fire of beautiful African journalism burning.
We chose our focus and developed it. We decided to go against the norm by publishing positive stories about Africa, Africans and Blacks of African descent, wherever they are on this planet. Again, doubters told us only bad news attract the biggest readership. We were told Africa did not have enough of good stories to tell and sell. They were right and wrong at the same time because we were ready to create what did not exist. For every David Beckham, we decided that we shall respond with George Weah, John Fashanu, Nwankwo Kanu, Tony Yeboah, Austin Jay Okocha, Didier Drogba, Finidi George, Quinton Fortune, Mikel Obi, Abedi Pele, Sunday Oliseh, Michael Essien, Taribo West, Daniel Amokachi, Shola Ameobi, Asamoah Gyan, and so many others. For every Richard Branson, we shall line up Moshood Abiola, Antonio Fernandez, Mike Adenuga Jr, Aliko Dangote, Tony Elumelu, Jim Ovia, Abdulsamad Rabiu, and others. We shall tap into our robust arts, culture and literature and parade Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Buchi Emecheta, Ben Okri, Chimamanda Adichie, and others.
We showcased the most beautiful Black homes on earth. For every Bishop’s Avenue or Knightsbridge in London, we photographed eye-popping edifices in Ikoyi and Victoria Island, in Maiduguri and Kano and in Oguta and Benin. The world must know and see that Africa is rising. The world must notice us by fire, by force. In music, in sports, in business, in fashion, in hospitality, and all fields of human endeavours, we are thriving. We decided not to discriminate against anyone. Every soul must have a voice even if we disagree vehemently with the person. This approach turned out to give us the biggest headache. Many Nigerians did not know the difference between reportage and opinions. Every feature is regarded as an opinion and promotion. It remains a miracle that we survived the plethora of attacks against us. But we remained undaunted. We are now vindicated. Our inimitable style is regularly unashamedly duplicated and mimeographed by the species we have spawned.
Our niche market was clear. Ovation was designed primarily as a magazine for the upper class elites but it was also aspirational in nature. If you get hold of a copy, it must inspire you to dream big. And we are happy and proud to say that we achieved this. Too many budding young artistes, fashion designers and sporting talents have expressed their appreciation to us for providing them with the inspiration and platform to achieve their dreams.
Access became our biggest asset. We were able to connect to the high and mighty. We built on our integrity and trustworthiness. Of course, many emergency publishers emerged from nowhere and began to try to imitate, and sometimes intimidate us because of their vaunted deep pockets, but we were too confident to be bullied by those who thought money was all that was needed. Our foray into other African countries also helped our brand. We soon became the interconnectivity that Africa badly and urgently needed.
Africa should no longer be synonymous with wars, diseases and famine. A new Africa must emerge where an individual, Dr Mike Adenuga Jr would singlehandedly lay submarine cables from Europe to Africa and change the lives of millions on the continent as a result. A Tony Elumelu would grow a global bank in about 20 countries and empower new entrepreneurs in all African countries. A Philip Emeagwali will feature on the cover of a magazine for designing the fastest computers and not for internet fraud. A Keem Belo-Osagie will be a case study and academic icon at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard.
We set forth to work and navigate our ways through the labyrinth of a thousand daemons. Our tall dreams soon became our albatross. According to Chief Moshood Abiola “the bigger the head, the bigger the headache…” We confronted many challenges, and soon ran out of funds. Many friends tried to help but what was needed was much bigger than their strength could muster. There were times I considered packing it up or handing it all over to a moneybag in order to free myself from the bondage of perpetual stress. I wrote to Dr Mike Adenuga Jr to please take over the company from me while I would just be his staff. He responded by telling me to work harder. “Ovation is your baby; I can’t take it from you.” The message rekindled my determination. On another occasion years after, I ran into Dr Adenuga and his adorable wife, Mrs Titi Adenuga, at Hilton Park Lane, when Chief Igbinedion marked his 70th birthday dinner some 18 years ago. Dr Adenuga was happy to see me and promised to ask GLO to give us massive support. This was a turning point. Only God can thank him for this stupendous support. Whenever business slowed down, the Spirit of Africa would miraculously emerge from nowhere and solve our problems. I once told him that our relationship was definitely spiritual. He told me he loves reading everything I write and even refers to himself as a student of the Dele Momodu school of writing. Imagine such generous words from one Iroko tree that everyone would love to touch.
We made sure we invested heavily in our products. We were lucky to embrace social media before most journalists realised the times have changed. This was another game changer for us. Not just that, we became the connecting bridge between the old and the young. We updated ourselves and upgraded our art and our craft regularly in order to keep up with the times. We knew this was going to be a long-distance race and we were prepared for every eventuality.
We’ve added The Boss newspaper (an online publication for those who value the news behind the news. For example, we broke the news of the boardroom coup at First Bank days ago). By introducing Ovation International Television, we now seriously contend for anything media by being a one stop company. Our Public Relations capacity and capabilities are super-hot.
Interestingly, and graciously, I was awarded honorary Fellowship of the African Public Relations Association (APRA), in Kigali, Rwanda, two years ago. Most of the famous African men and women have been featured by Ovation International. Many diplomats have told me how they buy Ovation International as a catalogue for studying who’s who in Africa and Nigeria in particular. It is such a big honour to be so relevant.
Many magazines also came out to compete with us but sadly none had the stamina or staying power. The occasional competition pushed us harder, but we never felt threatened at any time. One of our biggest strategies was the launch of the Ovation Platinum Club, a membership only elite group for special corporate organisations. There is a hefty annual fee attached to it, but it gives the clients global access to our services. The first bank to sign the package was Access Bank, under the leadership of Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede. This package further provides us sufficient cash flow annually. It also eliminates the need of going cap in hand begging governments for patronage, which we have always been determined to avoid because it would otherwise compromise our integrity and independence.
We are truly exploratory and original. We are quite versatile and will not relent or rest on our oars. The journey has been long and tortuous, but it’s been worth the pain and pleasure…