Why are clients afraid of great work?

Why are clients afraid of great work?

My annual chats with Emuron Alemu follow a pattern. Work is hard; *whiskey*, life is exciting, *whiskey*, advertising is a calling, *whiskey*, Africans are *whiskey* hilarious, we need to *whiskey* work hard, *whiskey* we *whiskey* have *whiskey*to *whiskey* change *whiskey* the *whiskey* world. *whiskey* *whiskey*

Starting out in Uganda and now at WPP, he is the fastest rising creative I know. Saving brands, taking names and kicking ass. We talked about the industry across the continent and about opportunities for young creatives (a common idea is that the industry is dominated by old, geriatric farts whose time is long past but more on this later), then he said something intriguing.

He said rather casually “I was talking to someone at work recently and he said to me across the world clients are now afraid of great work.”

I saw my life flash before me. My chest constricted. My breath caught. I was perplexed. Creatives give life and limb, blood and tears to do great work. They sacrifice family, relations, friends, parties, and more to commit to this craze. How possible is it then that across the industry people were saying that clients were slowly moving away from great work?

What was happening?

This is how he explained it to my addled mind. Great work won awards. It won pitches. Looked good in portfolios. It might even save a tanking brand – for a while. Above all it created expectations.

Expectations are always rising. insatiable. innumerable. Inexplicable. Unseen often unspoken even. They make clients say things like “But last month you did this campaign in 1 week how come you now say you need 3 weeks?” Expectations are dangerous.

Great work also never starts out as great work. Often it will be an idea and not much more. It will require someone to believe in it (insert client) and to pay for it. Why? Because great work has a 50-50 chance of bombing. It can either be very good or very bad. The risk, the edginess is what transcends it. And often, with jobs in the balance, clients will simply not go “all-in” on an idea. They require some certainty.

The biggest reality to hit great work has been the evolution of client roles. In the past most corporate structures separated marketing and sales roles; ostensibly making marketers “spenders” and sales people “earners”.

Businesses are now merging these roles making marketers have targets – real hard cold targets. Don’t get me wrong, they still have to achieve emotional warmth, brand affinity, and emotional equity but they also have ROI, market share and conversion conversations.

The latter conversations are quite difficult to have because they involve justifications to the business and also influence future budget allocations. How will this great TV commercial turn customers to my product and keep them there? The truth is great work does this. It answers the brief and saves the brand – for a while.

Then brands go back and do the same shitty things. Disrespect customers. Abuse employees. Lie to stakeholders. Break every promise they make. So naturally the “great” work done by said campaign is eroded in customers’ minds. Then it is all downhill again. Until the next great campaign. Leaving the business graph looking like the heart monitor reading of a tachycardia – erratic with little chance of normalization.

Those difficult conversations mentioned above have defined the job to be done – deliver results. Clients want work that works. Work that delivers. That doesn’t solve only today’s problem but that will be built on tomorrow, next month and next year. Strategic work.

Work that works.

Good work. That’s what it is. Good, effective, grounded, researched, insightful, problem-solving, long shelf life, and targeted work. That’s what clients need today. Work that helps them keep their jobs so they can keep paying for school fees, mortgages, rent, car loans, bar bills, new phones and CIM.

Clients are also people. They have dreams, aspirations. and responsibilities. 

That doesn’t mean you can do crap work. No. It means if your work isn’t solving a problem, it doesn’t matter if Zeus himself touched you with a lightning bolt, it’ll be crap. It means that if your work improves your client’s bottom-line, you improve their chance of getting a promotion, advancing their career and ultimately growing their brand.

Good work is also replicable; month after month, year after year and is not unattainable. That means you can six good campaigns a year and not only the great one. This naturally lays emphasis on solid strategy and good old hard work and crafting. Where it all starts.


At what now seems a long ago time I was invited to the finale of the 2014 UEFA Champion’s League live screening. It was the epic clash between the mercurial Athletico Madrid and the galactic Real Madrid. Going into the clash Athletico had overcome the giants from Milan, the ensemble from Barcelona and had left the Chelsea bus in tatters. They had done well indeed but the Real Madrid team had overcome 3 German teams to get to the final; Schalke 04, B. Dortmund and B. Munich. They too had overcome great odds. Now I’m not a football fan or enthusiast for that matter but I remember these details because in the middle of the match I got into a somewhat animated conversation with the epic Boaz Shani. One that would niggle me to no end till today;
I postulated that there was a data war coming. He said that what I was saying was what the market had said when Seacom had launched back in July 2009 and it was all speculation. He insisted that the telecoms had been too lazy to roll out and sell the requisite amount of fiber and internet connections that would drive economies in order to generate profits. He said that the internet prices as they were, were guarded by a “cartel” of people enjoying super profits and in whose interests it wasn’t for prices to drop. I was perplexed. So I probed.
“How about the many more people they would connect? They could make more money, they could translate the internet into all sorts of languages, answer all sorts of questions that farmers  and small businesses had,” I asked.
The answer came back clipped curt sentences. “That means nothing to them. Just last month I fired my internet service provider. I mean I’d been with these guys from the beginning. I had brought them lots of business. I had referred all my clients to them. And they just disconnected me without even a phone call or a notice or even an invoice. I now know they have grown too big to care about us small businesses. And that’s the problem with the whole industry”
“So where do we go?”
“The answer will come once the Google satellite is up and the country becomes one big hotspot. Well maybe not the whole country but even just Kampala. It will be enough for internet prices to plummet and these Telco’s to learn their lesson”
He made so much sense I almost believed him.  But I wasn’t convinced. If the Google internet was going to level the field why were the telecoms doing nothing about it since they would most likely be the hardest hit? My own observation had been that since the last great price wars that brought so much misery and tears to the category vows had been taken never to go back there again. Never
The price wars left everyone bleeding
But after the Airtel Warid merger the market had moved to stasis. Growth had almost plateaued. However Orange which hadn’t had much success in the voice category had been continually registering considerable success in the data category especially on the small screens which surprisingly didn’t reflect on why the big screens. Someone somewhere asked “What are those guys doing?”
So it crept up on us.
Slowly, deliberately, MTN Uganda’s communication started having social networking icons. It started with Facebook, then twitter, then YouTube and now you’ll find LinkedIn and Instagram. This of course followed by their recent release of the “What do crocodiles eat?” TV commercial shows a focus by the business on internet services as a priority.
The recent launch of Airtel’s “Switch On” – (good product review to be read here) also indicated that this area has growth potential.  What’s interesting with Switch On is the way it was built like a lifestyle product – not inflexible and rigid like most of the category products but responsive and built around how consumers live and use data. Almost intuitive – this was a win.
Even Smart East Africa Telecom, the newest market entrant in the Telco sector entered with a data offer. 30 days free surfing and data. The offer might be attractive and as most things in this market go, it will be tested. Ugandans never fail to test (they use the word “Jaribu” more than the originators of the word which is of Swahili origin)
However corporate war like the military war of days past has morphed like modern day warfare into something of a fight-between- handcuffed men. After the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) put out their moratorium on all telecom promotions the market is likely to see an increase in the how-much-providers-will-offer-customers versus the previous who-has-the-lowest-price model. So there will be no dramatic price cuts and no front page news about this. Not yet.
It will be who offers more.
But all the above is only an indication of war, nothing more. Well that may be true but when the two biggest players in the market – who ostensibly have the most to lose start shoring up resources and the small players do about or learn nothing from it, there is little wonder why they are small players.
Will the data war wait for Google to launch its satellites over Africa? I don’t think so. I think that with two more ISPs entering the market by end of year both heavily backed to drive data acquisition and marketing to the hilt we are likely to see moves and steps that will drive customers’ uptake and optimal utilization of the data space much much sooner. Here are 6 trends currently in motion that we are likely to see amplified going ahead:
  1. The Age of The Device: We will see increased focus on devices and whether this is from the telecom network operators MTN, AIRTEL, ORANGE, SMART, UTL, etc. ) Or from devices providers (Transtel, Nokia, Huawei, etc.) themselves it will matter little. The biggest challenge in the past was access in the last mile; how would people access this wonderful world of the internet? How would they enjoy it? How would you sell them data if tehy had no smart phones? Given the wildfire growth of WhatsApp, Facebook and other apps I feel confident to say the device saturation will get there soon enough.
  2. Product Recombination and Innovation: We will see more combined and spliced product offerings; those with more will offer less product and more options. Those with less with offer more product with less options. Confusing? If all you have is data, you will offer more ways to enjoy that data, (e.g. is smile@night/weekend  bundles) while if you are a telecom operator you will look to offer minutes, SMS and data packages/combos to customers as a way to entice data consumption. Whichever way you do it, its important that get to know that your data offering is solid.
  3. Speed, Like Size Does Not Matter: Speed isn’t what it used to be. Customers don’t are for it as much as they used to just like women moved on from their obsession with size. Why?Because speed is a function of technology and investment. If a customer gets a faster phone they will enjoy more speeds, they know that but they are happy with what they have. If the ISP or telecom gets more money, they will invest in upgrading their users’ experience to the next level of speed and tehy also know that. So speed doesn’t differentiate. Stability is the key now. The connection has to be stable. It can be average speed but stable is important. And that is why Smile has picked its niche and is comfortably nestling in it. A stable connection means your download links won’t break but is also predictable and that is a critical thing with the web.

  4. Experience Will Drive New Inroads: From the Orange Expo to the MTN Internet Expo we are seeing more demonstrability of capacity and possibility by providers and operators to bring an experience the public cannot find in great advertising. It doesn’t mean people will not need the great ads but it means before people buy they will want to “see” the Ugandan way – with their hands!
  5. Sharing And Engagement Is The Master Key: When “#StanAirtelUg” hit the market about two years ago no one thought it as possible to do; to have round the clock response to customers online for the second largest telecom provider in the market? Impossible. But they did it. #StanAirtelUg proved that appearing superhuman, being indefatigable and being on point with customer responses was possible. To a point where “Stan” was the answer to everything. Was Airtel going to launch a rocket to the moon? Ask Stan. Would Museveni retire in 2021? Ask Stan (sic) even Stan doesn’t know that one. Anyway, the point being they broke a barrier and challenged the industry. Now at every moment the MTN Instagram page is filled with what they are doing, where they are or who they are rewarding. Is it exhausting, redundant, time consuming? Yes, but if they don’t do that people will never spend their MBs following them and will instead end up on the @Bus250 IG (Don’t ask how I found out). The truth is that other brands are building their engagement platforms as well but they are all following the leaders and that’s who we really talk about on here. We are seeing a lot more traction in the advocacy and NGO sectors too and that will continue to grow as engagement opens up an erstwhile apathetic young audience to issues and activism. If people can share it, they can talk about it – and you can talk to them.
  6. The Rise of The Influencer: call them big wigs, influencers, twitterati whatever you call them. They are looked up to in the social media world and digital world. They can be recognized by followers, influence, responses, like, follows, RTs, Favs name it. People who in online speak “run these streets”. Whenever brands have had run-ins with them, there’s been carnage and bloodletting. Why? Because these customers are articulate, they are sharp, they are educated and mostly fearless. Some classic examples was the epic battle between Caleb and MTN when he started that page MTN SUCKS; they called him to their office and things got heated; then of course the dance of death that happens regularly between Dr. Thome and Umeme whenever there is no power in Bunga; the short lived spat between Collinsand Vivo Energy didn’t last since the brand capitulated. But its not been all bad because there are good moments too, for example when KFC launched in Kampala it was trending for two weeks on social media that there was food for 99,000/= or that hashtag #AtDuskWeRise; much spoken about but not as much done to raise the requisite amount of FOMO. My last example is the last how all the influencers came together to ““#BuyABrick”” for the 40 days over 40 smiles campaign to build a dormitory in Luweero for an orphanage. Splendid use of influencers and all done on a small budget. As brands move, they are going to need to build their own arsenal of influencers; people who will stand in their corner when the gloves are off. Yes, they can be bought but you don’t have that much money. So build engagement experiences and make them love your brands.


Image taken from @Ayampatra
The war is coming. I only hope we are ready both as customers and brands because surely this only where the fittest come out alive. Just like those real guys crept up on Athletico Madrid in that finale.
Spartan out!

In Uganda what you wed isn’t what you marry – Airtel and Warid Part II

In a recent blog post I was talking about what the buyout of Warid by Airtel meant for Uganda. And now that the wedding campaign has come out and we know that the fact for sure is that it is real I think it’s going to be exciting to see how the in-laws work together to make sure the marriage stays together or doesn’t. Well from an industry standpoint the issues to fix will be many.
Well, because not unlike human relationships marriages (or mergers) are not easy. The first issue normally comes with choosing which side of the bed. A small issue but you see in the end even when the wife will take her husband’s name she will have great influence on how happy he is for the rest of his life. So he has to make certain concessions. I think things like that can be deal breakers and impact the relationship deeply.
It is my strongly held view that while Airtel has its merits it also has challenges that will not allow it to get the most out of its new “wife”.  Its like how you date the most enviable girl on the market and you marry her. The truth is that all the other guys wanted her but didn’t have the cojones to approach her. But in reality while you had the balls in a moment of courage you can’t tame her or keep her down or whatever male subjugation of women is called these days. She had a life of her own before you came and you are hoping she dims her brightness for you. Ugandan women – no chance. You must find your place in her shadow /spotlight or another wife.
As the most enviable brand in the market people were aware of what they were buying. They knew where Warid was at every point in the value chain. Known for the most innovative product offers on the market that bright star considerably dimmed when compared to the lackluster and modular Airtel charade. The truth is that integration of products can happen but when push comes to shove most of Warid’s innovative products will be dropped in order to drive a more streamlined brand agenda and product profile. The sad thing is that those were the things people loved about Warid in the first place. So the wife must assume the position and prepare herself. Things like the Entrepreneurship Fund don’t have equivalents on the robust aggressive Airtel side of things. Like marrying a man who never puts the toilet seat down when he goes to the washroom, he never knows why you get UTI after UTI. If he changed his behavior he might be able to afford that little dress you want.
Buyouts are different from mergers in that the guys who get bought out never get a choice on whether they stay. Most times a young blue-eyed auditor from a world renowned audit firm works out the optimum “offload capacity”; how many resources the buyer is able to take on with the buyout and therefore the rest will have to be offloaded. Now it might mean more revenues for Allen and her cohorts at the URA but if more than 50% of the current employees at Warid get laid off she can expect that much less in taxes and probably not as much an increase in boda boda revenues as their new chosen professions start to emerge. Kind of like a guy telling you after getting married that you have to drop your single wild partying friends since they “aren’t in your class anymore” and yet that brother met you in club!!
Most times the husband determines the sex positions the relationship will assume. Sure when you are dating he might let you ride on top a few times but my feelings are that this normally tends to change once the ring is slipped on. Similarly, if it was not previously determined how the customers are going to get screwed, there are going to be issues about this. Mass market pricing and continuously communicating seemed to have worked around what Warid was doing however whether this will work for the aloof new head of house is another matter. We wait and watch for changes coming soon. For now I would tell the customer to assume the position.
Speaking about positions, when the hottest girl on the market gets taken other girls get jealous most especially her friends. It says they weren’t worthy enough of the ring; especially when some of them have been on the shelf for a longer period of time-openly looking to be picked up, attending weddings, being at funerals, showing open interest, going to the gym so as to hide the cellulite [read UTL]. It simply isn’t fair. It makes them seem less attractive and openly speaks about their value to the market. But then what I think is that such behaviour prompts the lady in muzigo number 3 to get all antsy and start asking for her own wedding (no more akawundo kakubye’dirisa – Luganda for cohabiting). And we can already see this behavior with freebie Fridays, bonus weekends, etc. We are going to see a lot more “promos” from MTN before the market settles. Whether that is a bad or good thing we are yet to see but I can tell you that all the miniskirts are going to come out now.
Meanwhile back at the ranch
Now how about the step children? Anyone in the industry and who knows their products well knows that Warid Pesa was the most superior mobile money product offering on the market. Some have argued it was a technology thing [a superior IN] and others had it down to the Chinese invasion [Huawei and ZTE]. Either way the erstwhile sheltered child of the home Airtel Money was not as boasted or even as robust. With the marriage comes the scenario of the mother saying to the father “don’t let your child spoil my child with his bad manners”. One of two scenarios could result. The stepchild is abandoned; Warid Pesa gets chopped up for pieces or some modules but is overall co-opted into Airtel Money. In the second scenario; the stepchild thrives and shines – someone thinking straight takes Warid Pesa and gives it its true place in the spotlight and watch it make money for them.
When I first said the reason for the buyout was because Airtel needed a superior product to compete with across the continent, it was argued that Uganda was the last place to look for such a thing – since as my former boss used to say “Nothing good grows out of Uganda” but consider this for a minute. If you buy Warid in Uganda you not only get a challenger brand and 3 million customers, you also buy a mobile money product superior to anything you have anywhere on the continent in 17 countries, complete with its copyrights. Now the details were not disclosed but if I were an Indian billionaire I would think that’s 17 stones to pay for 2 birds. Like marrying a girl and finding out can also cook, and think business. Don’t laugh, in Kampala it’s like a venn diagram to find a girl who can do all three!! The third quality? That one they can all do – with bells and whistles!
I think that we are bound for some turbulence ahead but then again like most things Ugandan, someone who is NOT the ordinary citizen will win. We can celebrate now and we should because after all who doesn’t need a party in these dark times but we should always keep an eye on that shiny horizon for the sky rumbles and cloud billow with the wind of changing times.


A story about new business and hard work

I have been here in a while eeh?? It feels good to be writing again. Well actually I have only written  one sentence but that still feels better than what I have written over the last half year.

My life has been dramatic as you might expect. Up and down. Here and there. But mostly in and out. Well, it’s almost half year and I am thinking about things people who would normally read this blog would normally be looking out for.

A new house

I moved out of my house. Well the other one where I lived and again to a new one. Quite nice actually. I was able to get a house with two bathrooms but one toilet bowl. So what the hell does one do with two bathrooms? Wash your feet in one and the rest of your body in the other? Then I discovered that when you host guests over, it serves well for you to use different bathroom coz then you both ruminate on your iniquities of the previous night separately. No shared guilt. Also after one of the guests run away with my special Radox weekend strawberry smoothie, it became wise to split the bounty so as not to inspire larcenous feelings in people.

Then there was the issue with the new account at work that caused a lot of excitement among my colleagues and forced there to be screaming and wailing and tears.

It all started…

So when I was hired as Business Development Manger I was not told that things would be as difficult as they had been over the last few months. I really needed an account. A new paradigm, some salvation, anything! If you are in this business, you know that once you draw two salaries and stuff ain’t working, you know that your pitches need to get better or you need to get going.

 I was getting used to the place. I was starting to like this place, as I am oft wont to do. I liked the people, had made some friends. I had gotten attached. Then one day the owner of the money descended upon me in a dark part of the office that has no CCTV (yes, there is CCTV, and this conversation “never happened”). And there it was delivered with a clam, death-defying tone that I would not be tolerated anymore if I was not getting any clients. As I looked into the facts surrounding the lack of clients, it was not because clients were afraid of working with us, it was because they actually had and were happy to stay with whoever they had at the moment. So when I went into “pitch” mode for a beverage company, I was truly frightened that things would go awry since I would inevitably fall at the foot of all pitches for new business… We went in. Pitched for the business. And went back home.

They called us two weeks later to say we had won the business. We were called and that is how after almost two years of being out of the business, I was thrown back into the tumultuous and high-octane world of Public Relations. Things like these sap your soul, one thing at a time, one day at a time. This is what we did.  And we hope to do more.


(To be continued…)

Orbis non Sufficit