“…if you really want to do business and you’re coming to town, you have to come in a big way. It’s either you go hard or you go home.” – Steve Babaeko

Nigeria’s advertising spend is estimated to be about $500m a year, and growing. According to a research by PwC, the industry is growing faster in Africa’s largest economy than anywhere else in the world – at about 15 percent per annum between 2015 and 2019.

One of the big names behind this impressive growth is Steve Babaeko, who no one would call big about a decade ago, but he broke into the industry and forced himself into reckoning.

“Well, like I always tell people; if you are not coming to do anything different, then why come at all? If I was going to come out and do what those old guys have been doing then I should go and start farming chicken. But if you really want to do business and you’re coming to town, you have to come in a big way it’s either you go hard or you go home,” says Babaeko as he entertained questions from The Nerve Africa at his sprawling Lagos office that exudes class, inspires creativity and shows a different way of thinking; not like your average Lagos office.

“It’s just that different thinking that the clients are expecting. That’s what they want, that’s what they look forward to,” Babaeko adds. “If you can’t bring any new argument, any new thinking, any disruptive way of doing this same old thing to the table then you’re wasting everybody’s time including yours.” And that was how Babaeko broke into the advertising industry in Nigeria.

Although he has been in the industry for over two decades, he only branched out on his own three years ago. He started X3M Ideas (X3M is pronounced ‘extreme) in 2013 with a totally new vision that took the industry by storm.

Advertising landscape has changed in Nigeria; Steve is one of the people who spearheaded the change. With X3M, Steve Babaeko has made giant strides and sealed massive deals working for big companies such as Etisalat, Multichoice, Diamond Bank and Oando. He says technology has helped a great deal.

“Technology has helped to make quantum leaps and I think that has happened to X3M ideas a lot that we’ve been able use different thinking to help us amplify everything that we’ve done from imagination to execution to the vision itself. We were able to reach out to the whole world,” Babaeko says.

Speaking of reaching out to the whole world, he says he looks forward to going global and finding some kind of partnership, one that allows X3M drive some of the values the company currently drives.

Babaeko’s story is very inspiring; he arrived Lagos after his one-year compulsory youth service not knowing anyone. He just knew he wanted to work in the advertising industry and since Lagos was (and still is) the home of advertising, he had to be in Lagos. “I was squatting in a hotel for two years with the chef of a hotel around Mile 2. It was a little suite, I was sleeping on the sofa, but I remember each time I go to the bathroom and I see myself in the mirror I used to talk to myself that before I leave this town and not be successful, the Bar Beach would run dry. Those are the kind of motivational things I’d say to myself and I believed it through the struggle even though it was faith that flew in the face of my reality at that time. You know because I had no job, how was I going to be successful? Crime was not going to be part of it and I didn’t know how to do 419, so I mean what was I going to do? I just feel I had to pursue my dream which was in advertising and I did that,” Babaeko recounts.

At just over 40 years, Babaeko has achieved so much success in the industry that will inspire generations unborn. There are lessons that can be learnt from his attitude.

“A couple of things, first and foremost is that I just don’t think anything is impossible. Don’t tell me about impossibility because I’m not even listening to you,” he says. “So that is at the back of my mind, if I can dream it then I can do it, it’s all it takes and dreaming it is free but you have to break your back afterwards to say ‘Okay, look, this is from dream to reality it takes a whole lot of hard work’, so that influences me and I put in a 150 percent all the time.

“You know it’s not about what you did yesterday, yesterday is like 24 hours ago, who remembers? It’s about what you’re doing right now and what you’re going to do in the future. So once you keep that at the back of your mind, you never get complacent.”

Babaeko says he only celebrates his success for 20 seconds after which he moves on. “So we’ve achieved this one, yes we’ve done it so what’s next?” He says the question “what’s next?” pushes X3M to the next level.

The advertising guru says his trade can shape the future of Africa. He opines that Nigeria has underutilized the advertising resources it is blessed with to sell ‘brand Nigeria’. While he does not plan to run after government officials to convince them on the need to utilize the resources they have, Babaeko says he is always available to contribute. He has started in Lagos where he produced communications materials for the government for last year’s ‘Horn-free day’.

Although Babaeko is not one to “rest on laurels” like he says, but he has enough to make a bed if need be. Steve has won several awards, including the Marketing World Awards, over 12 categories at the Lagos Advertising and Ideas Festival.

Babaeko was recently appointed as a grand jury of the world’s oldest advertising festival, the New York advertising festival.

The Nerve Africa