Okoli Christian Brain was nineteen when he decided to give up his dreams of studying abroad to start a media company in Enugu with close friends, Michael Ikechukwu and Anugo Osadebe. What was the inspiration? Okoli saw a gap in the Southeast advertising industry. His mission was to help brands gain visibility and reach a wider audience through appropriate strategic communication. Today, those dreams are coming true in BlueAfric Media, a full-service advertising, public relations and marketing agency. In partnership with the same friends, Okoli is also co-founder of Blueprint Afric, an independent digital distribution network focused on telling Africa’s most interesting and inspiring stories.
I had a conversation with him to understand his dynamism and his vision with BlueAfric Media.
I researched you and there is not enough information about you out there. Let’s start with your educational background
I left Immaculate Conception College in my SS1 and completed high school at Modern Ideal College, Abakpa. After that, I studied Business Administration at Enugu State University of Technology, Enugu and graduated in 2019. But I actually started BlueAfric Media before l ‘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 to grow and we needed to diversify and cement ourselves in the Nigerian media space and not just as an Eastern company even though it is is where our heart is. Michael leads our Abuja office.
And you’re the CEO and COO?
Yeah. I’m the chief operating officer. Technically, I’m also the CEO, but I don’t like using the title because it got me in trouble on several occasions.
What do you mean?
Nigeria is ageist in a way and so because I am young and look young I found it difficult for potential clients to trust me. Things are easier when I present myself as the simple chief operating officer. We play in a very competitive industry; the appearance of experience evokes competence. It’s hard for people to trust the youngest or the youngest looking man in the room.
HHow old were you when you founded the company?
We started in 2013 and incorporated the business in 2014. I was fresh out of high school at the time, then I was 19. My decision to stay here and find out that the company created conflict in my family, because I had been admitted to a university abroad and was giving it up for it. My family didn’t see the point.
How difficult were those first days?
When I made the decision to stay in Nigeria and found this company, it meant I saw myself through college too. This is where the commotion started. At one point, I was the light boy for photographers. Me and the others did a lot of things on the side to fund the business. Anugo was and still is a photographer at the time and everything he did with his clients was part of the creation of the company. Michael was a graphic and web designer. It was also when we built Maps which started as an Internet newspaper. We started creating several platforms: wedding blogs, food blogs, lifestyle blogs, sports blogs. The revenue then went into building the business. It was very difficult but we got through it.
What is Blue Afric’s vision?
When we launched BlueAfric media, our mission was to help brands gain marketing capital. At the time, it seemed that the East ignored public relations and communications strategies. People had to be trained. We held the first digital plus conference in the southeast in 2015. We were teaching people how to use social media. It was so bad then; it was the first time that some of the participants discovered Instagram. And our goal with BlueAfric and the East was to help brands properly structure their public relations and develop captivating and engaging advertisements to help them promote their brands. Because then we would approach the brands here and tell them about the need to have a logo and a web space and they would say they don’t see the need for it. It was a struggle to win converts and many thought it was expensive. But then it wasn’t primarily about profit for us, we just needed them in our portfolio, we wanted the satisfaction of helping a business look good and put in place a proper marketing structure. Later, this dream came true when a few companies started to trust us and allowed us to work with their media team.
What were some of those companies you started with?
We started with a company like The Wedding Showcase. TWS is one of the largest wedding conferences taking place in the East. We have also worked with the Enyi foundation. We have worked with several small businesses here in the Southeast as our portfolio has grown.
What brands or companies do you currently work with?
From 2019 to 2020, we worked as a consultant for the Enugu State Government. Companies we work with now include Enugu SME, which is currently the most visible government agency in the South East. We worked for CBN. Other clients include Xend Finance, Enugu jobs, some large real estate companies, ECOWAS and multinational corporations.
It has clearly been interesting to lead Blue Afric. Would you say there are any particular challenges to running a Southeastern media business?
This is a difficult work. There’s the perception that because you’re a business based in Enugu – the east, not Lagos or Abuja, then you can’t be good. This then means that when I launch projects, I have to be over-prepared. At the end of the day, they still might not like you, and that’s wasted time and money. The second challenge is to find talent in the East. We need to bring in some of our staff from Lagos and take care of their accommodation. Others we had to train while they were salaried. One of the guys on our production team used to be a gateman. Now we put it in higher education. But our goal has always been to help train 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 above all, we want to be recognized as a creative hub to nurture young talent.