In this exclusive interview, Dr. Felix King Eiremiokhae, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Oracle Experience, reveals how he started the firm with zero kobo, sold his wedding ring N30, 000 to execute his first brief, and how Wande Coal almost spoiled a big show for him. He also speaks on the iconic campaigns that have changed the narratives in the industry like the 70-feet Star bottle, The Three Wise Men, Eyo among other creative masterstrokes that set the theme for Oracle’s 15th anniversary – ‘uncommon wins’. Excerpts…
How did you come into experiential marketing?
This is how it all started, will I say by accident or by divine direction. I actually was not going to the space of experiential, I took my younger brother to a company, and there was a company that came into Nigeria then from South Africa called DMC (Direct Marketing Communication). That was 1998. And my brother had a contact, because they were recruiting.
I think that day I was free, so I took my brother there and we met this white South African guy, Collin Smith. During that conversation he had with my brother and from the way I was just contributing to the entire conversation on human engagement, the South African said good, you are the person I have been looking for. I have been here for the past one month I’ve not seen one single person who really understands what I am trying to do. So why don’t you come and join me’.
I said ‘I cannot join you’ because at that time I was quite active in the entertainment industry. He had confidence in my ability to make things work for him and we started. So I recruited every single person into that company, and helped him to set up the company. This is a company that came into Nigeria with just $10000. And we started and we were able to make success out of DMC and DMC, of course, metamorphosed into a company we all know as EXP.
And EXP at that particular time was the biggest experiential agency in Nigeria. And like they say in every good thing there is always a time to pause and say it was really nice being together. Then, we have to move on; so, that gave birth to Oracle Experience.
At what point did you think of starting an agency as an entrepreneur, knowing very well that the environment was not that clement, and what gave birth to the name, Oracle?
I think I will take it more as what life taught me and the lesson that I got starting Oracle Experience. So, while working atESPand also as a Manager in EXP, I was just like an everyday guy. You can see me carrying cartons on my head or pushing the truck or even cleaning the premises. We did it dedicatedly and put everything into it. But with all the commitment to make the company work, I didn’t forget the company was not even a Nigerian company, but a South African company. One day in 2000, we went to one of our clients; his name is Julius Agenmonmen, Unilever, Nigeria,to do a report and other stuff. We had a meeting too.
That day there were some things we were supposed to call the company driver to come and pick = cartons, products and all that stuff. I and my colleague then, Rufus, just started carrying all the cartons. The man called us aside and asked, “Are you guys shareholders in this company?” And I said, “No, we are just workers”. He said, “Good; and you guys are so committed and dedicated?” I answered,“Yes”. The man said, “Not now, but just have it at the back of your mind that one day you are going to do this for yourselves. I’m sure when you do this for yourselves you are going to be very successful”.
I said alright. So, somebody from a distance saw what we were doing. That is why when I see the way some people work and their attitude, I just laugh. Whatever you do today you are doing it for yourself. Sometimes people do not have that kind of mindset; tomorrow is always very important. So, that was how the idea of Oracle Experience berthed. So, we left there with that kind of mindset. We started the Oracle Experience dream. The company was registered in 2004, but we didn’t start operations until 2006.
That takes us to the traditional oracle, when people go to the oracle they want to see the future, what the future holds. The oracle and the palmist will look and say this is what we see. Because they have seen it, they provide the solution. We are a solution provider to the clients. So we decided to create that oracle. When we provide the solution to the question you seek, then, we take it and create experience out of it. So that was how we came about the name Oracle.
As an entrepreneur, what are the things that you wanted to achieve when you started but could not be achieved?
Well, I think when I take my mind back to the year 2016 all these come with a lot of mixed feelings. A situation whereby you look at things and you look back and look at what is happening now it shows me just one thing that ‘there’s God somewhere’. That if you believe in him and walk in his light and direction that things will always be okay. Starting business in Nigeria has not been easy. People look at your successes, but they do not know that before the successes there were lots of losses, there were lots of failures and there were lots of tribulations and lots of hope-losing moments.
We started with nothing, with absolutely nothing, zero. I can still remember the day I left EXP back then. I had just 80,000 naira in my account, a little boy just born and unpaid house rent of almost 250,000 naira. And you have just 80k and you decided because you want to be very principled to take a walk.
Because you want to be principled you take a walk. Sometimes, you will need all the craze in the world to do that kind of a thing. But again God doesn’t make a mistake because I strongly believe that there is God. God talks to us in different ways. God allows these things to happen to us because he is the only one that understands when the end is coming. That’s why sometimes when people ask why should this happen, I tell them that there is a reason for everythingthat happens. For you to move to the next phase of your life, you must undergo quite a lot of things. It is natural. Jesus Christ underwent quite a lot of things.
At the time Jesus was baptised if he had wanted to start to perform miracles he would have done that. But God is God; He didn’t do that. He went into the wilderness where he really suffered and endured the pains; after that came his breakthrough. Those are the things that happened. It was very tough. We started with Nestle. I just started pushing proposals and was able to do some presentations at Nestle. You know there are people who would want to destabilise you and all that. But there was this one lady who in the course of the presentation saw something or God just touched her. She said there was something in what these guys are doing. This very lovely lady somehow decided to give us an opportunity.
At that stage the ‘bosses’ didn’t want that to happen.But the lady was somebody of integrity; integrity in the sense that she told the board that if Oracle can’t do the work, then, she was not going to do it because that would mean she has taken ourideas to somebody else to use. She said her conscience would not allow that. So, they gave me the opportunity, a 4million naira job.
To us that 4million naira was like the world to us. We were very excited to start that job. There was a very big crisis for us because it was unusual in the industry; nobody gives you money to do the job, you have to finance the job first. So raising money to do the job was a very big issue. And of course, when you are struggling nobody gives you money, that’s the reality. We ended up selling some few things we could sell and we still could not have enough money. Thank God my brother just came back then. So we went to the mallams that normally buy jewelry and all that. To cut a long story short, I was able to raise 30,000 naira to balance operation money. I hada wedding ring worth N150, 000, but the mallam could offer 30k.I sold it. I was very happy because I have the money to do what I was supposed to do. Till today, I take that as the sacrifice we had to make then and we did it. It was great, the company loved it, and everybody wanted to work with us. From Nestle we went to Procter & Gamble, then to Nigeria Brewery and from there to Friesland to Samsung, DSTV and then to Coca-Cola.
Your most challenging campaign in the last 15 years
I will rather look at the campaign that I believe is the most challenging and with a sense of fulfillment – the campaign that gives us a second chance. You know having a second chance is always very difficult; nobody would want to give you a second chance. We had a big launch we were doing for Nestle Maggi and we were still just catching up and somebody gave us a second chance to do that and we were going to work with Wande Coal.
So, we agreed on a fee which we were going to pay. The idea was that we would pay 70percent and the balance of 30per cent would be paid when the performance is concluded. We raised the 70percent and we paid him, while I was still making plans to raise the balance of 30per cent. When the show came up and it was time for Wande Coal to perform, he refused to perform,insisting that I must pay him his balance before he would perform.
But we never had this conversation. All I know is that I will pay the balance after the show. The MD and all directors of Nestle were already seated, and that guy refused to perform. You know how bad that would be. I was just there and didn’t even have the money. You know God would always show up at such times. So, I started making series of calls. To the glory of God, one woman sent cash of 300k. Somebody took ‘okada’ to the woman and came back to the Water Parks venue of the event with the money. He ran to the backstage and handed the cash of N300.000 to Wande Coal before he started to perform. At that stage, I was already destabilized; I didn’t have a large structure and because I was destabilized, coordinating other aspects to ensure the MC and the microphones were in place was difficult. It was a big mess. And for once failure stared at me in the face. Later, I went to meet the client with the mind of apologising for whatever happened. We were thankful because we were given me the opportunity. It was not the client’s fault that things went the way they went. But again, I still have to thankher. To my surprise, she gave me another chance. So, for me, that is one of the programmes I can never really forget.
How did you arrive at the theme of the 15th anniversary?
Yes, it has been 15 years of uncommon wins. We started from nowhere, with zero kobo, and at the end of the day, we were able to push ourselves to be the biggest agency with Nigeria Brewery, the biggest agency with P&G, the biggest agency with Nestle, the biggest agency with Friesland, the biggest agency with Coca-Cola, the biggest agency with DSTV, the biggest agency with Visa. It’s not ordinary, right! These are very uncommon. People will now sit back and ask what and how possible. We have worked with P&G for the past 15 years and that’s very uncommon. We have worked with Nigeria Brewery for the past 13 years, that’s very uncommon. So people can’t really understand. What some people try to do was to say no, no, no. We must bring down this guy. They wrote petitions to Atlanta that we must do this, we must do that. Is it because they cannot last two or three years with a client, but somebody has lasted 15 years, then, jealousy must come in?
Behind every success comes jealousy. The time people are spending in the industry to know who is doing what, just use that time to focus on your own company. What are you doing right, what are you not doing right? That’s the problem they always have. So, once they can’t match you in terms of delivery, then, the next thing is we must destroy him at all cost. We must write petitions, we must kidnap him, we must do this, and we must do that. It’s an uncommon win.
The kindof crazy things we have done is unbelievable. We have to appeal to all the sensory organs and build a process that people can go through, it’s very uncommon. When we were going to build the Tiger Wall, people said 20 feet or 40feet is going to be very difficult to achieve. But we did 70feet which was really unbelievable. If you go to Amsterdam today and look at the Heineken Magazine, most of the pictures that come from Nigeria are all the great works we have done. The Club Ultimate, we built an amazing ship at the ocean arena for people to do a big party. These are very uncommon things, not what you see every day. When we brought the Hot balloon flying across the campuses, it wasuncommon, very uncommon things.
When you have 1,500,000 people spread across the country working simultaneously day-in-day out, it is not common. When you have an operation which you have to spend an average of 100million naira every week,it is very uncommon. People can’t really understand; who is this guy that left his village with a Ghana-Must-Go bag and came to Lagos.But when God is in action ‘He shows the foolish people that their thinking will always be along their foolish ways’. That’s why sometimes you see that a little baby is wiser than an adult in some cases.
What would you say the Oracle is all about, what is your biggest strength in terms of creating experience?
Basically, what we do is creating experiences. If you ask how we create the experience? That is another thing. People look at us as an ad agency, experiential and integrated marketing. Yes, that is what we do. Right now, with what has happened we have introduced a little bit virtual and hybrid operations into what we do. Basically, that’s who we are. We are not a distant agency; so, I do anything that creates experience for people. We do more with sponsorship, events and integrated marketing. Integrated marketing, as it were, is where you do your marketing, retails and all that.
In terms of what you have today, what is your greatest strength, is it staff or technology?
Our greatest asset in Oracle is the people. That’s our greatest asset. We have one of the best people in the industry, that’s what people can’t really understand. There are people who have been with us for the past 15 years, and we are all here together. So, that’s our biggest asset. If you don’t have the right people you can never have the right strategy, the right ideas, right creative and all those things.