Power has changed hands: A letter from RED as we march into 2017

by Chude Jideonwo

I was speaking to a team of young entrepreneurs at the weekend.

“You don’t win by dismissing your audience as stupid,” I told them. “You win by understanding what drives your audience and why they are the way they are; by respecting them, and then by engaging them. That’s the way you win business. ‘The customer is always right’ is not just a maxim for shop attendants dealing with errant customers, it is a business strategy imperative.”

It turns out that’s precisely the way you win almost everywhere else – especially in World Politics 2016.

The truth? Politicians have become arrogant, entitled, and disconnected from the mass audience they should be paying attention to.

The assumption is that the mass is stupid: too stupid to understand, a waste of time to explain to. So they are ignored, while a cornucopia of elite makes decisions that are antithetical to the popular aspiration. The mass sees this, the mass doesn’t appreciate it. The mass thus strikes back in free and fair democracies.

The result is #Brexit, the result is Donald Trump, and then the result comes home, on our continent to Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, president-elect just this month of the Republic of Ghana.

Citizens and consumers across the world have finally figured out that the power they have is not just a tool to register protest, it is a tool to actually overturn outcomes, to destroy establishments, create new orders and maintain the equilibrium of people power.

At our subsidiary StateCraft Inc (www.statecraftinc.com), we have practical experience in this idea – that people should not be afraid of their governments. If there is any fear, the governments should be afraid of their people.

That power should, and must, return to the people. And even if it leads in the short term to disappointment, over time as they continue to exercise that power, they will refine systems enough to work for them, and their priorities.

Where some see chaos, we see a new order. One that follows a new world, where people are more powerful than corporations, communities more important than systems, and the individual’s voice as the determinant of a society’s future.

That has led to our leading communication for two successful presidential campaigns back to back in Africa: Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, Akufo-Addo in 2016. Back to back victories that have resolutely established StateCraft as the Africa’s leading governance communication company.

And in doing that, we stayed true to our basic competence: understanding the streets, and then using that to affect major outcomes at the top of the pyramid.

Our letter to 2016 made it very clear: our true mission at RED (www.redgroupafrica.com) is social engineering. That mission is to deploy the media as an active tool to inspire young Africans to take action; action that transforms society into one that works for the mass – every time.

StateCraft has become the forerunner for this exciting mission, and the one that has solidified our reputation – and for which we are grateful – across the globe as the authentic gateway to Africa’s youth.

But it, of course, is only one of our many successful brands. It is the same spirit that power’s YNaija.com, where internally we call it ‘the media partner for everyday Nigerians’ – spotlighting the voices, issues and ideas that matter for and to young Nigerians. It has, this year, regained its crucial position as the most influential voice for an elite youth audience. It is the same spirit that led us to silence our fears and redirect The Future Awards Africa in the way that drives impact best – launching a bold country-to-country strategy that ensures we are able to take advantage of each nation’s unique cultural imperatives to direct youth energy towards its nation-building necessities.

Look, this hasn’t been a smooth year for us. It certainly looks like it is – it always looks like it is! – thanks to the power of the RED brand and grace from the heavens. But it wasn’t at all.

We struggled pointedly through the recession that hit Nigeria’s economy at the beginning of the year. And with a team that one can only pray for, we managed to tighten our belts and strengthen our resolve through the most difficult year in our lives since we began to run this full-time as a serious business in 2010.

But guess how we found our feet?

First, God. Because we are resolute at our firm about our belief in divinity and the imperative of heaven’s direction in the affairs of man (demonstrated practically through our communication company, Church Culture to be launched in April, and the already-popular The Church Blog on YNaija.com).

And then, for those who seek business lessons: a return to our core – what some would call our ‘core ideology’ – inspiring Africa’s youth to action through media for change.

We guided YNaija.com gently back to its roots of social engineering, we re-doubled the focus of our TV content on those roots, and we returned The Future Awards Africa (awards.thefutureafrica.com), after a 4-month review process ignited by our Global Board of Advisors, to that same mission – hosting a tsunami-size success of an 11th edition. The Future Project (www.thefutureafrica.com) has ended the year by training over 21,000 young people working with our partners including Microsoft.

And it is in doing that that we have ended up with our best year yet: driving revenues at Red Media Africa (www.redmediaafrica.com) beyond anything we have ever seen as a group, acquiring clients in a climate where others have barely survived including global brands Facebook and Uber and Nigerian giants, Nigerian Breweries and Union Bank; selling three new shows in addition to Rubbin’ Minds, and set to launch our new offices, with full operations, in another West African country.

What a year.

What. A. Year.

And it’s all because we regained our clear sense of mission, we were forced by adversity and crisis to find our real, true voice; along the way discovering the discipline to stick maniacally to that core – because the future that we see is bright, the fundamentals of the market are strong, and our faith in the young Africans who are our primary mission is as strong as ever.

Strong in Nigeria. Strong in Ghana. And, as we will prove over the next 9 of our 10-year roadmap, strong across the breadth of Sub-Saharan Africa.

Ladies and gentlemen, the RED movement marches on.

*Jideonwo is editor-in-chief of Y!/YNaija.com and managing partner of the parent group, RED

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