Nnamdi Ndu, Chief Executive Officer of Pitcher Awards isn’t a small fry in the creative industry in Africa. He is one of the few in the business who invests everything he’s got in the creative advertising. The founder of Pitcher Awards and other creative initiatives that hones raw talents in the integrated marketing communications spoke to our editor-in-chief, Goddie Ofose, on the level of the creativity in Nigeria and other issues. Excerpts…
How would you describe the creative industry in the last 6 months?
There is a greater sense that things are coming back to normal after the pandemic. However, the creative industry is not immune to the other crisis plaguing the world currently, mostly resulting from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We are seeing high inflation rates, soaring energy costs, currency devaluation and stock markets tumbling.
Take us back to the last Pitcher Awards? How was it in comparison to previous years?
Pitcher Awards is a passion project. It is something that I had wished for a long time that it existed. That was before I asked myself “if you don’t do it, who will?” I then accepted the challenge to make it happen. We had the fifth edition this year and it has been such a blessing to see it increasingly gain acceptance by the industry across Africa. We started with entries from just Ghana and Nigeria, but today, we see entries from several Africa countries. Pitcher Awards is open to works created or implemented in Africa. So, it has been the entry criteria that materials created anywhere in the world for purposes of implementation in Africa are free to enter, but we never saw that happen until this year, with entries from France, Singapore and UAE.
Since the festival commenced in Nigeria, what has been its impact in the industry with verifiable track records?
Pitcher Festival was set up from day one as a regional festival to showcase the creativity of Africa. In the first 2 editions, when we were still testing the waters, we only accepted entries from West Africa. It was in 2020 that we opened it up to the whole continent. The problems facing the industry in Nigeria are no different from those in other African countries. The feedback we are getting from everywhere is that finally, there is a truly African festival that is transparent, credible and judged by our friends and colleagues in Africa that we know and respect. So, we are not just promoting African stories, we are also promoting our people and showing that they are just as good as their peers elsewhere.
We are also big on youth events like the Future Creative Leaders Academy, which prepares university students for careers in marketing communications. It has also been a pathway for participation in the Cannes Lions Roger Hatchuel Student Academy and the Google Campus program in Mountainview, California. The Young Professionals Academy is a career acceleration program for professionals under 30, and provides the platform for competing in the Global Young Lions Competition.
The first post pandemic Cannes International festival was held in June. Kindly share your experiences of the event.
Everyone was pleasantly surprised to see so many people attend this festival. I knew it was going to be packed because months before the event, most of the hotels in the city were already fully booked for the festival period. You can always trust Cannes Lions to organize the best events, but even beyond that, people were just so happy to once again be able to meet friends and colleagues from all over the world in-person.
As the Cannes Lions representative in Nigeria, I was delighted that we were able to send a student in the name of Oyinkansola Epidi from Ajayi Crowther University to participate in the Roger Hatchuel Student Academy. She was the only student in her class from the whole of Africa. We also presented 6 teams to participate in the Global Young Lions Competition, the largest that we have had in recent times. Four of the teams participated online, while the teams from Noah’s Ark and Media Reach OMD were in Cannes in-person. We also had the honor to invite a Nigerian, for the 4th consecutive year, to join the Cannes Lions global jury.
So, generally, I can say we made a good showing at the year’s festival, and the experience was great. A few delegates attended, but we just hope that the economy improves, so that more Nigerian agencies can be better positioned to participate and send in entries.
Why has Africa not been able to have a united creativity festival in the continent?
That is the problem that the Pitcher Festival is solving. I must state that it has only been 2 years since we became a pan-African festival. So, we are still gathering momentum. Having said that, we see that Nigerians are taking ownership of Pitcher Awards is the same way as the Ghanaians, Kenyans and Senegalese. In the first year of the awards, the Agency of the Year went to Insel Communications Ghana, Noah’s Ark Nigeria held it for 2 years, and the following year, it went to King James of South Africa. This year Dentsu Kenya became the Agency of the Year. So, you can see why nobody will feel left out.
The industry recently launched the Advertising Industry Standard of Practice (AISOP) and now, changed from APCON to ARCON (Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria). What are your expectations?
I think the new name helps to focus on the regulatory role which is perhaps the primary function of the council. I have not studied the Advertising Industry Standard of Practice, so I cannot give an informed opinion at this time. Generally, I am for any idea that helps to make the industry more creative, more competitive and more prosperous. I want to caution though that if you’re not delivering value and you want to hide under a protective law, it never really works for long.
How would you rate Nigerian creative industry vis-s-vis South Africa, Kenya etc.?
These are the three vibrant African markets that are unrelenting in their efforts to create great campaigns. South Africa has been in that space for a long time, obviously, because of its longer connection with the West. However, both Kenya and Nigeria are proving themselves to be major creative powerhouses. For instance, at Pitcher Awards this Year, One Language by X3M Ideas was praised for the level of craftsmanship, which the jury president described as world class. Rainmaker by Noah’s Ark was praised for its authenticity in telling the African story. If you go to Kenya, campaigns like, Draw the Line Against Malaria, won big at Pitcher Awards. Ogilvy Africa, Kenya also won three gold lions this year in Cannes for Lesso Lesson.
So, I think the only challenge in Kenya and Nigeria is that we don’t have many agencies consistently producing work at this level. We have seen grand prix ideas from Caractere, Senegal and very impressive campaigns from CIRCUS! Mauritius. So, it’s a tough call to say this country or that country will produce the agency of the year in 2023. All the markets have the capability to produce the next big winner.
What is CHINI Africa’s next week?
Our mission is to equip, train and celebrate Africa’s creative industry. We started by partnering with global leaders to achieve these goals. We partnered with Lürzer’s Archive and Thames and Hudson to equip our community with industry books and reference materials. We partnered with Miami Ad School to provide world class training and we partnered with Cannes Lions to share the ultimate winning experience. Today, we have also developed our own brands, including CULTURECODE to offer in-depth training; and Pitcher Festival to celebrate the best of African creativity. Tomorrow, we will still be doing the same things in a bigger and better way.
2023 general election is approaching, what do you expect to see creativity-wise, and how can it be well executed?
The major political parties have already assembled their creative teams, and are waiting for the INEC whistle to blow. The big budget campaigns will be the ones that they have had more time to work and have distilled elements of their manifesto. These campaigns are likely going to have greater production values. But the true test of the creativity of their communications managers will show in their ability to respond quickly to attacks, jump on trends and defuse unfavorable tension.
Creative-wise, what does the remaining part of the year portend?
Politics will dominate the media spaces. However, the cycle for Pitcher Festival 2023 will begin in November with the opening of entries and registration for the Youth Academies.