Christian Brain Okoli was nineteen when he decided to forgo his dreams of schooling abroad to found a media company in Enugu with close friends, Michael Ikechukwu and Anugo Osadebe. What was the inspiration? Okoli saw a gap in the advertising sector of the southeast. His mission was to help brands gain visibility and reach a wider audience through proper strategic communications. Today, those dreams are actualised in BlueAfric Media, a full-service advertising, PR, and marketing agency. Partnering with the same friends, Okoli is also cofounder of Blueprint Afric, an independent digital distribution network focused on telling the most interesting and inspiring stories from Africa.
I had a conversation with him to understand his drive and the vision with BlueAfric Media.
I researched you and there isn’t enough information about you out there. Let’s begin with your educational background
I left College of the Immaculate Conception in my SS1 and completed my secondary school education at Modern Ideal College, Abakpa. After that, I studied Business Administration at the Enugu State University of Technology, Enugu, and graduated in 2019. But I actually started BlueAfric media before university. BlueAfric media was founded by me and two of my friends, Michael Ikechukwu and Anugo Osadebe. We have an office in Abuja. In fact, at some point, our head office moved to Abuja because we started growing and we needed to branch out and cement ourselves in Nigeria’s media space and not just as an eastern company even though this is where our heart is. Michael runs our Abuja office.
And you are the CEO and chief operating officer?
Yeah. I am the chief operating officer. Technically, I am also the CEO but I don’t like using the title because it’s gotten me into trouble a few times.
What do you mean?
Nigeria is ageist in a way and so because I am young, and look young, I have found that it is difficult for prospective clients to put faith in me. Things are easier when I present as just the chief operating officer. We are playing in a very competitive industry; the appearance of experience connotes skill. It is difficult for people to trust the youngest or the youngest-looking man in the room.
How old were you when you founded the company?
We started in 2013 and incorporated the company in 2014. I was just out of secondary school at the time, then I was 19. My decision to stay back here and found the company did create conflict in my family, because I had gotten admission to a university abroad and I was forgoing it for this. My family could not see the sense in it.
How difficult were those early days?
When I made the decision to stay back in Nigeria and found this company, it meant that I also saw myself through the university. That’s where the hustle started. At some point, I was the light boy for photographers. Me and the others did a lot of things on the side to fund the company. Anugo was and still is a photographer then and whatever he made from clients, part of it went into building the company. Michael was a graphics and web designer. That was also when we built Blueprints which started as an internet newspaper. We started building multiple platforms: Wedding blogs, food blogs, lifestyle blogs, sports blogs. The revenues then went into building the company. It was very challenging but we pulled through.
What’s the vision for Blue Afric?
When we started BlueAfric media, our mission was to help brands gain marketing equity. At the time, it just seemed as though the east was ignorant of PR and communications strategies. We had to train people. We hosted the first digital plus conference in the southeast in 2015. We were teaching people how to use social media. It was that bad at that time; it was the first time some of the attendees were learning about Instagram. And our goal with BlueAfric and the east was to help brands structure their PR properly and develop captivating and engaging advertisements to help push their brands. Because, then, we would approach the brands here and talk to them about the need to have a logo and a webspace and they would say they don’t see the need for it. It was a struggle to gain converts and many thought it was expensive. But then, it wasn’t mainly about profit-making for us, we just needed them in our portfolio, we wanted the satisfaction of having helped one company look good and achieve a proper marketing structure. Later, this dream came to life as a few companies started trusting us, and allowed us to work with their media team.
What were some of these companies you started with?
We started with a company like The Wedding Showcase. TWS is one of the biggest wedding conferences that happen in the east. We also worked with the Enyi foundation. We worked with several small companies here in the southeast as our portfolio expanded.
What brands or companies are you working with now?
From 2019 to 2020, we worked as a consultant for the Enugu State government. The companies we are with now include Enugu SME, which is the most visible government agency in the southeast at the moment. We’ve done work for CBN. Other clients include Xend Finance, Enugu jobs, a couple of big real estate companies, ECOWAS, and multinational companies.
It clearly has been interesting running Blue Afric. Would you say there are challenges peculiar to running a media company from the southeast?
It’s hard work. There’s the perception that because you’re a company based in Enugu – the east, not in Lagos or Abuja, then you can’t be good. It then means that when pitching projects, I have to come over-prepared. At the end of the day, they might still not like you, and that is time and money wasted. The second challenge is finding talents in the east. We have to bring some of our staff from Lagos and cater for their accommodation. Others we have had to train while they are on a payroll. One of the guys in our production team was formerly a gateman. Now we are putting him through tertiary education. But our goal has always been to help build young people in the media space.
What accomplishment would give you the greatest sense of fulfillment with Blue Afric?
We want Blue Afric to become a leading pan-African media brand, but most importantly, we want to be recognised as a creative hub for nurturing young talents.