The Story of Prima Garnet At 23 By Lolu Akinwunmi

imageOn the first of November 1991, my wife and I arrived 117a Aina George Street Ilupeju around 7.15 a.m., said a quick prayer there and she left me to go to work. It was strange and I felt very lonely. The building was not in any appreciable state and I was waiting for one or two people to join me so we could start doing some things. It was actually my first day at work in the place that would house Prima Garnet, and the building was far from ready; the last tenant had not used the place well.
About an hour later, Sola Olabanji joined me, and was resuming as our pioneer Deputy Creative Director. Because there was nothing to sit on, we begged Audu the meguard, and he gave us two rickety chairs. These would serve as our “furniture” until the place was ready and our furniture delivered, and until I brought in a couple of dining chairs from home. Sola and I really couldn’t do much because we had to wait for the landlord to complete whatever renovation he had promised. Of course he took his time, and daily we would impatiently watch his snail-slow artisans. We eventually took over and got the place ready for our January 6 1992 staff resumption. In between we conducted staff interviews, visited Mushin so many times to get materials for renovations etc.
January 6, 1992. A few young turks gathered in the modest board room for the very first staff meeting. Numbering about twelve, yours truly patiently shared the new agency’s raison d’être and vision with them, along with the key developmental plans and strategies. I also emphasised our commitment to integrity and conducting our business with the utmost probity and just conduct. The office itself was neat, corporate enough, but kind of sparse and quiet because no creative activities had taken place nor were in progress.
We quickly decided we were not going to wait for any client’s brief. Everyday Tunji Olugbodi and I did cold calls and even offered free creatives just so the potential clients would see what we were capable of doing. Sometimes it worked; most times it didn’t; plenty of warm reception, but lots of “sorry we are already working with agency xyz”. So we changed strategy and decided to create a rude awareness by developing a house ad with the headline, “We will take your briefs to town”, and showed a display of underwears, punning on the word brief! Did it work? We had to stop it after two flightings. Some loved it passionately and got in touch with us; others “eeuuuwwwed” and wondered why we would show “pants” especially in a Sunday paper (we chose the Concord and the Guardian centerspread on Sunday knowing readership was highest on those days). The ad got us the famous Crystal Bank account and many others; we became so busy we never had to go knocking on any doors again. Briefs just chased themselves in!
A lot has happened since then. In January 1993, we became the first agency to run a six-month campaign on CNN with our Crystal Bank TVC (CNN loved it so much that when Ted Turner visited Asia on a major trip, they sought our permission to run it free during the visit; they also gave us free spots for about two months). We did so many other exciting things. In between we got affiliated to Ogilvy worldwide and racked up three other international affiliations as the number of companies in our group grew from one to the 6 we have today. They are 141 Worldwide, Mediashare, Cutler Comms PR, Lampost, etc.
In between, our modest group has produced two AAAN (Association of Advertising Agencies of Nigeria) Presidents, the pioneer Secretary and pioneer CEO of the federal government rebranding project, the current APCON (Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria) Chairmanship, a delegate to the just-concluded National Conference etc. We also became the first agency to be invited to join the very prestigious Convention for Business Integrity. In addition, we became a part of the global agency family, then restructured with an own vision to spread into Africa as a truly pan African player, and taking on a new brand name of Prima Garnet Africa in line with our fierce regional vision. We have tried to promote Nigerian talents and remain perhaps the only agency group our size that has never hired a foreigner!
And it has not always been easy. We have experienced ups and downs, good and bad times. Most significantly, we have gone through a very tough fight for our very soul, against foreign invaders who felt they could casually take us over and destroy a God-given vision. And a few times during the process of writing this piece, I broke down and became very emotional every time the Lord brought to my mind things I went through in obeying Him and doing His will. I found myself touched by memories of acts of tyranny against us by those who couldn’t achieve their selfish desires. I also broke down when I remembered friends and especially very, very close former colleagues who at some point or the other changed attitude, spoke negative things, worked against our very interest and did unbelievable things in spite of great and intimate moments we had shared; the memories fill me with distress and melancholy, and a few times I felt my spirit was going to be crushed. We have been blessed with incredibly talented and loyal staff; sadly we have also had to experience the duplicity and treachery of a few. We will save the details for the book we have almost completed writing!
We couldn’t be where we are today without very loyal friends, shareholders and clients who have stood by us. We won’t mention the names today; we have created an honours roll for them and will reveal the list in due course. Many started as investors and clients, and became friends and are now family. Of course a few relationships became casualties as a result of what I will not mention today. God bless you all.
Today as we mark the 23rd anniversary of our flagship model and parent company Prima Garnet Africa, we profusely thank the Lord for the opportunity and the grace to forge ahead, and trust Him for the great years ahead. Amen.

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