Bolaji Okusaga: Growing up, I wanted to be a writer…. I modeled Wole Soyinka in my head.
- My Proudest moments and high-point were when I took Quadrant from a loss leader to one of the profitable businesses in Nigeria and Africa….
- My proudest moment in life was when I had my first child…
- The depth of Awolowo’s thoughts endeared me to him….
- If I weren’t practicing PR, I would probably have been a Lawyer.
He has extensive experience in banking, financial services, marketing, and reputation management, having led assignments with major corporations, NGOs, and businesses. Across Nigeria’s PR industry, he has been credited to have in 2012, taken Quadrant, the nation’s foremost PR firm, from a loss leader to one of the profitable businesses in Nigeria and Africa. Since then, it has been a story of unprecedented growth, and his leadership was instrumental in scripting the success story. With a strategic mindset, professional business acumen, and strong leadership ability, the lettered Chief Executive Officer, Precise-Reputation Design; Bolaji Okusaga who is known for his work ethic and tenacity, and irrational hatred for low standards, speaks with Adedayo Adejobi on his incursion into Public Relations, clocking 50, the panacea for Nigeria’s reputation crisis, his proudest moments, how he unwinds, penchant for literature, his love for Awolowo and why he modeled his life after the Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka…..
Can you tell us about your journey into Public Relations?
I didn’t deliberately go into Public Relations. With everything in life, it’s more like the art of science of life. For us to exist within society, we must relate amongst ourselves. It is the quality of these relationships, that determines the quality of deduction, education, service within that environment. Except you relate, you cannot tweak the context and relationships in society. Essentially, that is why I’m in Public Relations.
How would you describe the experience?
I’ve been in Public Relations for over 20 years since I left the media in 2001. Even before I came to run Quadrant, I’ve been involved in PR on the client-side. From Marina Bank to Access Bank and a very short stint at Eco Bank before moving on to run Quadrant for 11 years. Since I left in December 2017, I’ve not done anything but Public Relations.
What’s the biggest change in the agency business since you started?
Lots of changes have happened since the world wide web became a phenomenon in the early nineties. A lot of things have moved online now, and it’s digital. As digital possibilities continue to expand, we find out that it’s had an impact on the practice. Whilst in the past, you would go with flash disk or printed materials to Media houses, do face-to-face meetings, have direct interactions with the media or investors with a view to getting things done, all of those possibilities are online now. And there are several platforms that create digital possibilities to make the process fluid. The practice isn’t what it used to be. The thinking is changing and society is evolving, needless to say, it has an impact on Public Relations.
With tremendous change taking place across the PR landscape. Traditional agencies are struggling, digital is altering the value equation, and non-traditional players like consulting companies are entering the agency market and making an impact. All of this can be very confusing for clients — what’s your perspective?
Whilst the industry is transforming, at the very core of the practice still remains some form of principles, and they don’t necessarily change, even as the practice evolves. You need to be close to your base to understand their needs. The principles don’t change. It is the practice that is varied. Because digital is evolving, you find out that practice is also evolving, but principles are the same. There needs to be some intersection between principles and practices.
How has your firm adapted its business to address the challenges caused by the pandemic, and how proud are you to see the way your workforce has shown resilience during this challenging time?
We are getting more digitally attuned. Were building more digital platforms for insight gathering. We are able to deploy from the campaign perspective, remotely. We now understand what it is to deploy remote campaigns, investor and consumer outreach, and Press Conferences. The transformation has occurred, Covid-19 has driven phenomenal changes in remote work, and interaction across geographies. We’ve built more digital technology platforms. We don’t do manual monitoring anymore. We do digital monitoring laced with analytics. More people are online, news consumption has changed. Whilst you find out that circulation is shrinking in the physical sense, readership is increasing in the digital sense, because there’s no better access from the click on the mobile phone.
What will the ideal PR agency landscape be like in five years? What will happen to the big holding companies?
It would be a tech-based business because values are moving more online than offline. The future PR Agency must be able to build aggregation platforms for news, intelligence, or practice itself and create phenomenal value.
Nigeria is plagued by so much, from insecurity to terrorism and a depressed economy. This no doubt puts Nigeria in dire straits in the eye of the global community. What do you see as the panacea as the way out of the nation’s reputational crisis?
Reputation is also an evolving phenomenon. Even though people say your image is a fluke, reputation is the reality, but if in spite of that reputation is something that is subject to change and constantly evolving. Nigeria currently has a problem. Once we accept that we have a problem, then we can build change into the equation, and in no time, evolve again. Because we have the potentials to evolve. if we are looking at the bad eggs who have given us this bad reputation, we also have the most educated in diaspora, and we offer the most value to their economies. Once we begin to get leadership right, it’ll have an impact on the economy. It wouldn’t transform, but we’ll tell the story of transformation to be able to magnetise the kind of reputation we want. Once we change our orientation, we can then start to re-tell our story with copious proof points. We would have evolved from a pariah to a darling within the committee of nations.
What’s your proudest moment in business?
From a Professional point, the proudest moments and high-point would be when I took the Quadrant from a loss leader to one of the profitable businesses in Nigeria and Africa and won the first of such awards within the presentation in Brussels in 2012.
Away from PR, you turned 50 a few days ago. What does it feel like being 50?
It tells me I’m coming of age. Life is so short. what it then means is that I’ve got to do so much in the next 10 years of my life in order to be able to earn myself a desired retirement in the next 10 years. As for wether I’m weaker or stronger because of age, I don’t feel any difference. I still feel as strong as 35 years old, and I’m willing to maximise the next 10 critical years of my life.
What’s your proudest moment in life?
My proudest moment in life was when I had my first child. I had looked for him for several years after marriage, and it didn’t come. At some point, he arrived and I could hold the bundle of joy in my hand. It was a proud moment for me.
What did you have for breakfast this morning?
I’m not a breakfast person. I’m more of a lunch person. But I do a bit of detoxing every morning with my lemon, green tea, turmeric, and a lot of water. That cleanses my system. I do lunch at noon depending on how busy I get. I then do an early dinner at 6 pm.
What’s the last great thing you binge-watched and why?
I watch movies on Friday nights when I know I don’t have to wake up early to be on the road. I do 3 Netflix films, depending on how long they are. It’s the only time I have to bond with my wife. Fridays are my movie nights and I covet it.
What’s the industry buzzword that annoys you the most these days?
They say things like “Advertising is dead’, and “long live PR”. all of those things are just buzz words. Advertising and PR are never going to die. It’s their shapes, context, and forms that would change. Nothing is dying. We are all just reinventing a lot of things. The principles will always remain.
What’s the last great book you read? Why was it great?
One of the greatest books I’ve read is Shogun that talks about the Japanese experience and how the Samurai’s relate with the peasants and farmers. It x-rays how they are so stoical and ready to die for what they believe in. I like books that take me to other cultural contexts. I also read biographies. I enjoy Awolowo. I envy Mandela a lot. Obasanjo strikes me as a lettered Military man who has taken time to document his perspective.
It’s the depth of his thoughts. The relevance of that thought even in today’s Nigeria is evident. He prioritised education. Real development is about people and not just about factories and engines. He also saw before his time. The whole idea of the stock exchange and the creation of marketing boards for produce. Imagine that Western Nigeria Television came into being before South Africa at all. It took a man of vision to build the most durable bitumen roads in Ibadan in 1957, the farm settlements, the first Olympic-sized stadium, first skyscraper- the Cocoa House- all built by Awolowo. You can hate him for all you care, but can fault him for all the things he said about Nigeria? Aren’t they evident? He may never have become President, but he remains my Hero. The world was created by God but re-created by thinkers. Awolowo strikes me as one of Nigeria’s deep thinkers.
With a deep bias for history and leanings towards politics, is it safe to project that you’ll be a politician in the near future?
Man is a political animal. You may not be an active participant in politics, but you are not apolitical. You will always have a political will and belong to a broad set of definitions and ideologies, in terms of how society should run, and get the best of the world. Some people believe in running the capitalist economy where the economy is liberalised with private sector players, whilst government just regulates and collects taxes and ensures society runs properly along the lines of human capital development and education. Others believe that government must stretch itself beyond the normal, and as such, they begin to intervene in the structure of the economy in order to procure good outcomes by dealing with equality and opportunity. These are views indivisible of politics that we hold whether you are operating on or against the political divide. How do you separate human endeavour from politics? As fr playing active politics, that’s not on the horizon, but I would always be a political animal because I have a view on what a better society should be for Nigeria.
If you were to write the annals of your life, what would it read?
A father, a Professional, and thinker within a social context who tried to do his best. We live here and hope we have enough legacies to show for our best.
If you weren’t practicing PR, what would you be doing?
I would probably be in the legal sphere looking at how law shapes society and procure good outcomes in terms of policy and socioeconomic context.
What do you have an irrational hatred for?
People who are sycophants. I believe the best of love you can give a man is to tell him the truth. However, you must love genuinely. Even if the love has to be tough love, because it takes you to love to tell the truth, so be it. I suffer consequences of that from time to time. Over time, I think my good intentions bail me out.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a writer. I modeled Wole Soyinka a lot in my head. I found out that what he had done was phenomenal in terms of being the conscience of society. But what I found is that society had since evolved. How many people got to watch stage plays? How many people sit down to read thoughts of people in written form in an era where kindle and all mane of abbreviated lessons are taught in the digital space? How much of an influence would I be in the current context beyond pure cosmetics and relics f the past? I thought to do something more contemporary and of more impact, so I found myself here. It is an extension of my dream. I still write poems and pen prose when I have time.
With your Facebook post, you make marriage seem like a roller-coaster ride. What’s your marriage like?
It’s a mixed bag of challenges dealing with someone coming from a different set of values than yours. It may not always work out in some instances. In some, it may work out. Again, there have to be compromised to make it work. When people say they are getting away because of irreconcilable differences, I know what t feels like. If you don’t agree, you are pretenders in that boat. So, you must always find a compromise. You’ve got to make it worth your while. It is what you make of it. Am I going to be in a relationship I cannot celebrate? If it’s something I must hide from the world, then it’s not worth my while. If it’s a part of you, show it. Make it better away from the limelight.
What do you do to unwind when you’re not working?
I go to hole 19 at the Golf Course and have a cold drink. Right now I’ve started playing golf again. As you know, it can be time-consuming. By the time I finish on the court, it’ll have been dark. Or at weekends, if I can afford the time to play, I play, otherwise, I read books.
So, what’s your handicap?
Right now, I lost anything called handicap because I’ve been away for too long. I’ve not even had time since the beginning of this year to play a full 18 hole. So, I’ll be playing more often soon. But I should have a handicap before the end of the year.