Thursday, April 12, 2012



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
April 10, 2012

If you went to the University of Nairobi in the late 1960s and’ 70s, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Commerce , specialized in Marketing and died soon after, you would be shocked out of your depths if you resurrected today and attended one of the marketers’ functions.

The dead marketer would find marketing lingo has substantially changed. First, nobody would talk about commerce anymore as a degree. Most new graduates now talk about Business Management rather than commerce.

The four Ps as we used to parrot then are hardly heard of in marketing meetings these days. There is a thin line between Marketing, Sales, Advertising and Public Relations these days. Marketing strategies as we knew them in the 90s have become marketing solutions. The good old newspaper, radio and TV have become old fashioned old school for the modern marketer. In today’s marketplace, the BM or MBA graduate would rather talk about the new media or social media. The laptop, ipad or android handsets and their ever changing applications have replaced traditional media.

But even before this new phenomenon took root in Africa in the early 1990s, there were early bubbles in the USA about the new media and new thinking in marketing circles.

I remember way back in those days while in American Management schools, scholars of Business Management were already talking about Marketing Communications as the converging point for Marketing and Communications related disciplines. They were convinced that studying all these disciplines under one umbrella made more sense in one’s life.

Yet as early as 1993, most of us in this part of the world had never used a computer let alone seen a mobile phone. In fact I remember going through a computer crash programme in Nairobi because I was warned that my professors in the USA would not mark my assignments if I didn’t type them!

As early as 1993, there was a potent prophecy in the marketplace in the USA that the newspaper as we knew it would die in three years’ time. It would be replaced by an electronic newspaper, the size of a writing slate we used in primary schools to learn how to read and calculate simple arithmetical problems.

Electronic newspaper indeed came but 20 years down the line, it has never killed the street vendor’s business even though it has substantially dented his business.
What the technology has done is to eliminate the problems of transporting hard copies across the globe. Today, all newspapers, TV and radio contents are at our fingertips on our desks and in our bedrooms. However, this revolution has never changed the mindsets of traditional media houses like the Daily Nation, Newsweek, Time and the Tribune. They still find it necessary to transport their hard copies across borders.

At my university undergraduate studies, I never read B. Com or any of those subjects that would come in handy in my later life. In fact I never thought highly of those friends who studied commerce or any of those practical subjects that hardly dealt with the abstracts of the human mind. Creative writing was my first love. I was married to Literature and performing arts because at that time in my life, I was a believer in unraveling the mysteries of Shakespearean poetry or Chinua Achebe’s folklore. You gave me Ngugi’s the River Between, a Grain of Wheat, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, No Longer At Ease or Grace Ogot’s Land Without Thunder or Island of Tears and I was home and dry.

If you put me in the company of Okot P’ Bitek, Elimu Njau, Chris Wanjala, John Ruganda, David Rubadiri, Wole Soyinka or VS Naipul I would never complain. I knew I would be at the fountain of eternal knowledge. I knew they would take me through the trails of James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Eldridge Cleaver, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Arthur Miller, Ola Rotimi, Frederick Douglas, Bernard Shaw and George Orwell among other great writers of my youth.

The man I credit with interesting me in the world of Marketing was the late Prof. Frank Obuoja, a Nigerian who taught me Oral Media and Marketing fundamentals at a post graduate programme in Communications for National Development. When I finished the programme, my view of Marketing and Business Studies had drastically changed even though my calling still lay in teaching and broadcasting. And had it not been for my classmate called Thuo Thiong’o a.k.a. Big Foot who literally dragged me from a chance corner meeting on Kimathi Street into a board room of a Finance company, I would never have joined the world of marketing. Two days later, I had this big title of Marketing Manager without knowing what managing marketing was all about.

The funny thing about this first marketing job was that in spite of my protest being given the job I had no clue about, the directors of the company had confidence in me and assured me that I would excel in the job. What was so funny was that I had never developed any Marketing Strategic Plan in my life. I would learn everything on the job. My only qualification for the job was that I had already started becoming a national figure, thanks to my talk show programmes then on VOK.

I remember walking to the nearest bookshop the day Big Foot informed me that I would meet the directors of the company for a formal interview. I bought a book called Marketing Made Simple and read the whole of it over the weekend. However, on that weekend, my friend JD Chege, himself a B.Com graduate from the same university who had taken to acting, chose to visit me that Sunday afternoon in my Spring Valley apartment. On seeing me with Marketing Made Simple, JD burst out laughing at what I was doing with a book on Marketing. When I told him about my impending interview for a marketing position, he couldn’t believe me. He failed to understand why I would think of mastering what had taken him three years to learn at the university under some of the best academics of the time.

Yet on reflection, I realized years later that I had been practicing some basics of marketing before even someone called me a marketer. It started with my professor of Drama, John Ruganda tasking me with designing a programme for every play we would stage at the university. In this task, it was my responsibility as assistant producer to design the programme that was at least eight to sixteen pages. The content would comprise a synopsis of the play, the profile of actors and actresses and the show dates. Sometimes I would interview the show director and lead characters to be part of the programme content. It is this programme that I would use to source sponsorship from the corporate world such as East African Publishing House, British Airways, Ford Foundation and any other local entrepreneur that was keen on promoting cultural activities in Kenya.

When I started anchoring TV and Radio shows, I realized that it was my responsibility to scout for good guests on my programmes as well as looking for sponsors. In so doing, the image my shows had created had a lot to do with getting guests and sponsors. In fact through that show, I got a UNESCO scholarship to study Communications. Somebody of substance had watched me on air and seen my potential as a communications professional.

Years later after I was either in my third or fourth job as a marketer, the marketing fraternity had become an elite club that competed favourably with the Law Society of Kenya, the Advertisers fraternity and any other professional body that had the laid down codes of conduct for its members.

At the annual marketers’ dinners, dress code was standard procedure. Marketers would not turn up in any informal attire; least of all the same attire they had been sweating in the whole day.

Dinners at the Carnivore were memorable with company CEOs like Albert Ekirapa, Wilfred Kiboro, Peter Chadwick Roger Steadman, the late Hannington Awori, Chris Kirubi, Barat Thakrah and other corporate chiefs whiling the night away. It was mandatory on those nights to be accompanied by a spouse or better still the spouse to be. There were no bull or cow dancers on the floor.

That old school marketer is gone forever. The new generation has no dress code and no order. Somehow, the girls still do better. They still dress for the evening unlike their male counterparts that find it normal to turn up in cheap branded t-shirts at such functions.