Solape Akinpelu shares thought-provoking lessons on her journey into Corporate Communications

In truth, it’s easier ideating for a pack of cereals than a bank or an insurance firm. It’s a totally different kettle of fish but I sailed through – Solape Akinpelu

Corporate Communications has become such a relevant department in companies, in view of the idea that it determines whether companies thrive or fail. Corporate communication is the sum of an organisation’s internal as well as external communication. It impacts employee productivity, innovation, brand awareness and more.

It used to be that the advertising industry thrived without competition. But demographic dividends like millennials, largely ignore adverts since they don’t want to be sold to. Instead, they want to educate themselves and make informed buying decisions. So, it is safe to say that a far more effective way to attract your audience’s attention is with useful content that educates them.

In Nigeria, it is no use saying that corporate communications is indispensable and has people behind the scene; educating audiences and winning markets. Solape Akinpelu is one of such people.

She is currently the Head, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Meristem, a position she has held for over five years. She is a Marketing and Communications professional with over eight years of consummate marketing experience.

We had a conversation with her for Share of Voice, and this is how it went:

Solape’s journey post-2012

I would say it has been an exciting nine years of steady growth and constant fails. I still have a lot to learn actually, and I unapologetically overuse question marks (and emojis). I’m constantly asking why? why not? what next? Who’s next? I simply struggle with full-stops. There’s no QED here.

In all, I’ve learnt to walk my own journey, to find my pace and to perch where I find the most liberating joy. 

I started out as a purchase requisitioner at Tetra Pak West Africa in 2011. My role was pretty much in the finance department where I had to appraise need requests, source and compare invoices, forward to relevant managers and follow through on such payments. Did you note how simple that role sounded right? I learnt negotiations, persistence, the soft-skills of following up and following through on that simple role. I then proceeded to O2 Academy of Ozone Mbanefo where I learnt practical Branding and Strategy skills. I graduated as the best copywriter at the academy and got drafted to Bluebird Communications.

Bluebird Communications was an agency girthed in financial brands. I was never ready for that. I would later realise that financial brands were perceived as tough and some writers avert them. In truth, it is easier ideating for a pack of cereals than a bank or an insurance firm. It’s a totally different kettle of fish but I sailed through.

I then proceeded to SO&U where I worked on the Glo and Conoil Brands before doing the MBGN wave to agencies. 

From SO&U, I joined Meristem where I pioneered the current Brands and Marketing Communication department. It was a unit of one that grew into what is today. 

The specifics of Solape’s challenges and successes

As I’ve highlighted, I fell into financial brands. I chose marketing but financial brands chose me. It was initially difficult especially as I started as a creative writer, but as I grew under the watch of great men like Ejiro Edenya, Kunle Shittu, Ozone Mbanefo and the likes, it got easier. 

Graham Robertson of Beloved Brands and Jim Marous of Financial brands became my virtual mentors. I hung on their publications so much and realised financial branding is actually beautiful. People are more likely to pay particular attention to their money first before considering other things, and, money is a big emotion in itself, right? If it’s more of magic than logic, financial branding is the easiest then. Eventually, I eased into crafting and telling great stories.

What are you doing differently to navigate this period and what are the values you uphold as you make changes to your work and lifestyle? 

In the words of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, ‘there are decades where nothing happens and there are weeks when decades happen’. The time machine has shot us like a cannonball into the future and things we didn’t conceive possible in decades are unfolding right before our eyes in weeks. Like many people, I was just doing the motions and fire-fighting but I have been able to settle into a fine work routine now.

For instance, just the other day, I swapped Google Maps with Google calendar on my home screen to allow me to schedule better. However, I sense a lot of burning out, out there. People are constantly zooming in and out all day, all weekend, so much the lines are blurry. I have observed this is quite high especially amongst us women who, by design, are the primary caregivers. Combining the new reality with all the heavy-lifting is by no means a child’s play. No one ever died from asking for a little help. Remember yourself through the virtual adjustments, sisters.

Her interests in gender and equality conversations – and the muse

In my years of weaving stories for brands across sectors which often requires a lot of research and data, I have constantly seen women naturally, without asking, choose the rear seats at this thing called life. In the creative industry, STEM, finance, politics, governance, go look at the numbers. Newsflash! We are quick to say it’s us against them but the stats say otherwise, in a good number of cases, our biases are against ourselves, it’s us against us!

According to UNDP stats, 91% of men and 86% of women show at least one clear bias against gender equality. In most cases, these biases are deteriorating but that is not the news. The news is that Nigeria is one of the top 5 countries with the highest bias alongside Pakistan, Qatar, Zimbabwe and Jordan. 

We must find creative ways to approach harmful ideas and bias that leads to gender discrimination. When half of humanity does not have access as the other half, society loses altogether. 

Is COVID-19 upturning her goals? 

Not the least. If you follow my conversations on social platforms, I’d said several times that it’s not cancelled. Don’t be distracted, people are switching up, businesses are birthing, we are being pushed to throw away objects or boxes and embrace solutionism.

Almost every problem has a technological fix. Look closer. It was just 3 months ago, we were crowding halls having meetings that could have happened on Zoom.

 We gave her a magic wand…

I will wish away the fluff and pretty PowerPoint presentations that stop at being pretty. I am a big fan of aesthetically pleasing presentations, but please give me a great idea and roll up those sleeves to do the work.

Fancy suits, dreadlocks or marketing jargon will not keep the brand loved or the cash register ringing. More than ever, consumers are extremely impatient and informed at the same time, linear solutions will not work again.  

Nigeria’s Marketing Industry, the one dot in a global space

Will we pay attention to excellence discarding all forms of sentiments? 

‘AI ma take over’ and what Solape thinks

AI? I’d say give me Big Data first. Truth is tech was made for humans to blend the physical world with the digital. AI, VR, AR will not take over where data has not evidenced so. Human truths first, then technology.

How will it be for you, post-pandemic? One word. 

Can I cheat and make that 3 words? Still, I rise!

You can also read our previous Share of Voice conversations with Asher Adeniyi (Gigijobs), Stanley Okpara (SO&U), Jennifer Oyelade (Transquisite Consulting Talent Hub), Samuel Ajiboye (Alpha and Jam), Adenike Fagbemi (Nixxhash Communications), Bayo Adedeji (Wakanow) as well as  Olajumoke Bolu-Kujero (Jumia).

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