The Fidelity SME Forum is a weekly radio programme run by Fidelity Bank Plc. to educate, inform, advise and inspire budding entrepreneurs in Nigeria with knowledge and expertise that will enable them build sustainable and successful businesses. Its entertainment series tailored to highlight the business side of entertainment, the opportunities that exist therein and how these opportunities can be harnessed effectively and efficiently by players in the sector, featured Nigeria’s king of comedy, Atunyota Alleluya Akporobomerere, also known as Ali Baba, who shared his insights and experience on Building a Sustainable Business in the Nigerian Entertainment Industry, and Nnamdi Okonkwo, MD/CEO of Fidelity Bank Plc. Excepts
Why does Fidelity Bank recognize this industry as such a pivotal one for the Nigerian economy?
Okonkwo: Fidelity Bank chose to play in the SME space because we did not just want to keep up with the Joneses. We sat down and crafted a strategy that would drive value addition by us to the SME segment. As you may be aware, for about four years we have been focused on this and part of the strategy that we had was to focus on segments of the larger MSME segment. In this connection, one of these key segments we chose to focus on is the entertainment segment. A lot of people see entertainment as just entertainment. However, as bankers, we see beyond the entertainment. We look at the business components of what people do. How does talent translate to business? How does that young man who admires an Ali Baba for instance hope to make a living out of what he does? If you recall, in the past, comedy was about people wearing funny clothes, dressed like clowns and making people laugh. Somewhere along the line, certain people like our distinguished guest this morning, Ali Baba, began to refine things and people realized that one could actually make a proper living out of comedy. The same thing goes for music and movies. Back then, a lot of people made movies and several kinds of music, but they did not make money, because they could not see the business side of it. Now, we are helping the entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry identify the business side of what they do, teach them the basics (access to markets, access to finance, etc.) and how they can diversify even beyond the entertainment industry on a guided note. You can make money from entertainment and diversify into other areas, so that when your talent begins to ebb, you can still make a decent living and also shield your income from the vagaries of the environment in which you ply your trade.
Okonkwo: One arm of our SME Banking Division is what we call Managed SME, which is essentially the business advisory and handholding platform we have created as part of our larger SME banking business, to bridge the yawning gap for capacity building in the small and medium enterprise development space and help SMEs in Nigeria build the needed capacity for entrepreneurial success, in furtherance of our long running support for growth and development of small businesses in Nigeria. For example, a lot of people are clueless about finance, which is why the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) takes financial literacy very seriously. I happen to be on the sub-committee of the Bankers’ committee on Financial Literacy and later this month all the bank CEOs will be all over the country teaching Finance in secondary schools. It is in line with this that Fidelity Bank also tries to help this industry by teaching people the money and business parts of what they do. Like I said, we have an arm of our SME banking business called Managed SMEs which is situated at Adeyemo Alakija in Victoria Island. You can actually walk in there and have a session with them on how you can add value to the money you are making as well as do something valuable with it. Our team is on standby to gladly and freely guide you through all of that. In addition, at the end of the next 6 to 7 weeks, Fidelity Bank will run a free seminar/capacity building workshop for the entertainment industry which will be themed “Personal Financial Management”. We have seen many superstars go down to penury from being millionaires and billionaires. We do not want the same thing to happen to our Nigerian entertainment industry players. This seminar will teach them certain basics of financial management and will also look at case studies of people who succeeded in the past but who suddenly became poor as a result of mismanagement of finances. This theme on personal financial management will also be featured on this programme, at the end of this special series on the entertainment sector. For us at Fidelity Bank, the series of insights sharing and capacity building programmes we have at this time put together for the entertainment sector under the auspices of our SME Banking propositions, is to let players in the entertainment sector know that just like the man who owns a supermarket; the way he manages his affairs is same way people in the entertainment industry should manage theirs. Those are some of the things Fidelity Bank will be teaching at the planned workshop mentioned earlier. For us, we are not just asking people to come deposit money with us, we also want to add value to their lives and what they do. If we teach them personal financial management and they become billionaires from there, they will remember that one bank stood out to help them when it mattered most.
Tell us a bit about maximizing the brand potentials of the entertainment industry.
Okonkwo: That is the important thing about the Fidelity SME Forum; whether you are an Ali Baba, Don Jazzy, P Square, or a D’Banj, what matters is how you are able to differentiate yourself at the end of the day. Someone like Ali Baba was able to take his game up and brand himself to the extent of using a billboard on the streets of Lagos with just his picture and name written in a funny manner that read “Ali Baba Hiccupuray”. That was branding. Nobody was doing it at the time, except for the large companies and multinationals. In this case, one man wrote his name on a billboard, so why wouldn’t he be a strong brand today?
Alibaba, tell us about the journey so far and how allied businesses also affect your industry.
Ali Baba: Thank you to Fidelity Bank for this opportunity. The first thing people need to understand is that what is sold in the entertainment business is service. Once you have a service to sell, there will always be somebody who needs it. Like you said, most people see entertainment as just entertainment; they don’t see it as service provision. What an entertainer does is provide a service at the place where you need him or her. If it is an MC, he will provide the services of an MC; if it is a comedian, he will provide the services of a comedian.
For me, I started with pushing the value proposition. I wanted people to see that it was not just about the comedy, but about adding value to what I was hired for. It was about making people see that what I was doing was a service. Whatever talent anybody has, nobody will want you until you make that talent a service. If what you are doing as a Singer will not add value to what I need you for, I won’t pay you. At the time when I started and I was pushing my envelope, I wanted people to see that the comedy business was something new and a kind of service that needed to be valued and built into a career. That was what sold. To come to the second part of your questions, for example, there are a lot of people in the industry who do not know that the businesses allied to the entertainment sector actually affect us.
Being a comedian, I work for people, and when I work for people, somebody has to do something for me. Like you mentioned earlier, I bought a Honda Accord back in the days, but I would have needed a driver. I have a driver now and he came to work late today in the first place. That is how some other businesses that people do affect our own businesses. The value chain goes down like that. These days with Twitter, Instagram, and so on, there is no entertainer that will like to repeat clothes or else it will be rated that he or she does not have money anymore. It means that once you wear something on the red carpet, you have to wear something else afterwards. It also means that the fashion business will continue to grow. There are also the make-up artists as well. You cannot keep make-up on for one week; you have to continue doing it every time you have an outing. That is another business area allied to the entertainment industry. There is also equipment rentals that people can go into, photography, dry cleaning services, and lots more. There are artistes that cannot think of going to certain places because they are popular. For instance, Ramsey Noah cannot go to Oyingbo market; they will mob him. Don Jazzy cannot even dare to try it. There are also the artiste managers, costumiers and so on.
A lot of people do not know that all these allied businesses are important and can be sustained in the entertainment industry. For example, when I want to go to Abuja, there is a ticketing service company that gets me my ticket. If I get to the airport and they have not gotten my ticket, there is a problem. Instead of me to be thinking about creating value for the event that I am going for, I will have the problem of going to the airport myself and doing the ticketing. When I was told that the topic for this episode was about sustaining businesses in the entertainment industry, I thought it was awesome and I give Fidelity Bank thumbs up for that. People do not see the businesses in entertainment. Look at the business of printing; when we do our concerts, you have to print banners, fliers, tickets, and so on. All these are allied businesses for the entertainment industry. In 2008, the then Governor of Lagos state, Babatunde Raji Fashola (BRF), said we should do some research on how much is spent in Lagos every weekend. We did it and discovered that N3 billion is spent in Lagos every weekend. However, the question to ask yourself is, how much of this amount are you getting as an SME? Are you part of the people printing tickets? Are you part of the people doing home services? For people like M.I, they wait at home for barbers to come and cut their hair.
Like Jigsaw, if those guys do not deliver, you as well will not deliver. Taking it from there, how then do you sustain your brand, because everybody now knows that every 1st of January is Alibaba’s show?
Ali Baba: First of all, I just spoke about the value propositions. Everyone wants to celebrate the New Year, but what has happened over the years is that after we go for church services and we come back home, that whole day is wasted. Some people even finish their cross-over service and then the church fixes another service for the morning. This means you also get to go for the morning service and when you get back home at 1pm, you are wasted. There are also friends who will call to ask for activities to do on that day. If you look back to every New Year, nobody does anything, except just sit at home. I thought it was good for us to celebrate people, celebrate the New Year and get friends all around. I thought about this for close to 10 years. That is something that SMEs should do; feasibility study.
The interesting thing is that the business dynamics cuts across all sectors. It is just the application of it to what you are doing that matters. When I want to do my show, I am thinking of the people that will come, the venue, the parking space, security and so on. For instance, in Nigeria today, we have private security for celebrities. Somebody called K-Square set it up. He set up the company and started providing protocol and security services for people. If you have an event and you don’t have those bouncers, then you are going to lose revenue.
We see you talking to the high and mighty and still remain friends with them. How do you manage that as a comedian?
Ali Baba: There is a thin line between being funny and being offensive. The thing is that you have to understand how thin that line is and how far and well you can stretch it. For a lot of people that I tell things and the jokes that I throw at them, it is usually on something that I have shared with them before. For example, I have known the MD of Fidelity Bank for so many years. I have known him all through this time so there are certain things I can share with him. When he was the MD of a Bank in Ghana at the time, he hosted me in a place called Buka which was an awesome experience. While we were there, he introduced me to some other Ghanaians in the area. For me, I know the people that I work for and I know what can offend and appeal to them. That is the most important thing. Even if you are in show business, whatever you dish out should be something appealing. You also need to work at demography. The age bracket of your target audience determines what you like, what they don’t like and what you offer.
What inspired you to teach and mentor some of the younger generation of Nigerian comedians, because some people get selfish after they make all the money? As a mentor, you have developed a lot of younger people, how do you want to advice other people to do the same?
Ali Baba: I have a guiding philosophy that, if your success does not make other people successful, you have failed. God would have used somebody else. There is also a proverb that says “If you fail to praise God, He can raise stones, something that does not even have life, to praise Him.” The talent was given to me and God knew that I would use it to benefit the people. For me, in bringing these guys up, I was expressing myself through them. At that time, when I go to an event and I am given one hour, it is not for me to prove to you that I am good.
What I will need to do is to let somebody else share that platform. I have to let you know that these people are good as well. It is also the reason why I started the Spontaneity Contest which helps younger comedians see what they can do to improve themselves. It is important for us to carry on with the younger generation. I think it is very selfish when you are in a business and you just want to drown others. It does not grow that business at all. What grows a business is when a lot more people come in. It drives up quality, it drives up competition and then the value chain begins to increase.