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Sodiq Sheu: The Award-winning Ad Man on his love for art and his journey into the advertising world — #004
Growing up, I had a creative instinct and would try to create things with milk tins and paper... What really kicked off my interest and career in advertising was the internship I did at 141 worldwide
Hi, thank you for joining us for another issue of our interview with African Creatives. In this issue, I spoke with Sodiq Sheu OLASHILE, an art director and senior manager in one of Africa’s topmost advertising agencies located in Lagos, Nigeria. He shared how he got his first shot at interning at an advertising agency without any prior experience and how continuously sharing his work shaped his career trajectory in the advertising world.
If you are curious to know what drives the work he does, the major challenge he faces and how he navigates it, his favourite projects, how he spends his day, how he navigates rejections and creative blocks, the people that inspire him, and the people and brand he would love to work with, you should continue reading. You will definitely love and enjoy reading this!
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Tell us about yourself.
My name is Sodiq Sheu OLASHILE. I am an art director and senior manager at x3m Ideas, an Advertising Agency in Lagos, Nigeria. I grew up in Ifo somewhere in Ogun state living with my grandmother before leaving to stay with my uncle in Lagos.
How did your journey into design and the advertising world begin? What led you to design?
Growing up, I had a creative instinct and would try to create things with things like milk tins, papers and cardboard. Over time, I got interested in cartoons and would sit in front of the TV watching cartoons when I get back from school. I also started drawing these cartoons I was watching and till today can still draw Bugs Bunny without a reference because I drew it a lot while growing up.
With the kind of family and place I grew up, every child is encouraged to learn a skill/trade so I was asked to apprentice at a traditional Art and Sign Shop because of my interest in cartoons and drawing. In the beginning, I enjoyed it but after a while, I lost interest in learning because I dislike some of the characters of my boss at that time. Later, I had to leave my grandmother’s place to stay with my uncle. I just finished my junior secondary school examination and was about to move to senior secondary school where I had to choose whether to go to the science, art or commercial department when I move to Lagos. This was not an easy decision for me at the time because I did well in all the subjects, I had to pray about it and took the reaction of new neighbours and friends to my art and crafts, as a sign to study art. Along the line, I fell in love with Literature and Art in general.
When it was time to go to a higher institution, I chose Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, to study General Art for my ND before majoring in Painting for my HND. Interestingly, I didn't study Graphic Design or any Advertising related course.
What really kicked off my interest and career in advertising was the internship I did at 141 worldwide now Nitro 121 after my ND program. For the ND program I did, we are meant to have internships after the first and second years concurrently. For my first-year internship which took 4 months, I interned with Mr. Kunle Adeyemi, a printmaking artist because what I was really interested in were painting and art. Mr. Kunle learnt from Bruce Onobrakpeya so it was a big deal for me. When it was time for my second-year internship which would take a year, I already intended to return to Mr. Kunle to continue my internship but my uncle whom I was staying with worked in an advertising agency as a finance person, so he advised me to try out advertising. I didn’t know anything about it at the time, so he spoke with another uncle of mine who is younger to speak to me about it because he believed he will be able to relate better with me.
After these conversations with my uncle, I decided to try it out, so he gave me the addresses of some advertising agencies to try out. At this time, I didn't even know how to use a computer for anything other than to play games. I took my internship request letter to these agencies and was asked to drop them off with the receptionist. The only agency I met with the creative director was 141 worldwide now Nitro 121. I met with Mr. Suleman Momoh who was the creative director at the time and he asked me if I could design, I said no. He also asked me if I could use the computer, I said no, and some other questions I said no to and he was like, “Are you here to waste my time because you don't know anything about what we do and you want to intern with us?” and I responded that I was there to learn and grow. He then asked me if I could draw and I said yes. That was the only question I could say yes to. After responding with yes, he took me to Odemi’s table, gave me an A4 paper and asked me to draw two ladies on a magazine cover. Odemi Jemerigbe was the DCD then. While he was still looking for a pencil for me to use, I told him not to worry and started drawing with the pen I came with. To cut the long story short, while I was still drawing, other staff that came by the table were impressed by my drawing and started hyping me. After I finished drawing, I left and went back home. I got a call two days later to resume my internship at 141 worldwide.
This internship was the beginning of advertising for me. I got one very old desktop and started learning with it. Everybody around me was mostly using Adobe software at the time but I decided to open CorelDraw and went on YouTube to check for tutorials. The first thing I did on CorelDraw was to paint a very realistic tomato using the mesh fill tool. They were impressed with it and asked if I really didn’t know how to use it before. As someone who was a novice, I was learning everything and that made it possible for me to learn new things some professional staff didn't know then because they were busy and focused on getting work done with the tools they knew. During my whole internship, I didn't attend any brainstorming sessions or I did but didn’t know what it was about. I was focused on executing ideas and just designing and even began to help others when they needed to achieve some things with the software. It was a very great place for me to start and learn. At the end of my one-year internship, the creatives there contributed and bought me my first laptop as a parting gift for my contribution. It was a great experience.
Interestingly, I went back for my HND to major in painting and not graphic design even after the whole experience because I already made up my mind to study painting. While in school, I was still designing and in my free time would attend graphic design classes to learn. Also, during holidays, I would go back to 141 worldwide for holiday jobs because I had a good relationship with them. I had the intention to go back to 141 worldwide after I finish with my HND. My plan was to do advertising full time during the week and do my painting during the weekend, *laughs in advertising workload*.
What has the journey been like for you?
After I finished my NYSC in July of 2015 and went back to 141 worldwide to resume work because that was the plan, I was told they were doing some restructuring so they wouldn’t be able to employ me immediately and would have to wait till December before they could employ me full time. During that period, I was helping my uncle with his business during the day but at night, I would think of and create a spec Ad for a random brand which I would post on a Facebook group called Naija Ads. In the post, I would tag myself as the Ad director and Copywriter. I would get different reactions to my post ranging from insults to kind comments. I took the feedback and applied them to my next design and kept posting consistently. Over time, people knew me as the “Ad Me, Copy Me guy” because I always indicated that I did the Art direction and Copywriting.
After a while, I got to know I was supposed to have a resume and portfolio because I didn’t need one when I got my first opportunity. I designed a portfolio and branded myself and submitted my work in a disk with personalised letters to some agencies I could find (they probably ended up in the receptionist dustbin). Noah's Ark was one of the agencies I submitted my portfolio and after some days without getting any response from them, I sent a Facebook message to Mr. Bolaji Alausa who was the creative director at the time about not getting a response from the agency. He gave me his email address and asked me to send it to him, and after a week or so, I was asked to resume work at Noah’s Ark.
I think one of the things that really helped with getting the job was the work I always posted on the Naija Ads group. On several occasions, people would tag some of these creative agencies to hire me so I won't always have to be the Art director and Copywriter for all my posts. It was during my introduction at Noah's Ark that I realised that some people called me the “Ad Me, Copy Me guy”. I was put on the team that worked on Indomie, Hypo, and Airtel briefs. The very first brief I worked on was for Indomie. In less than a year at Noah’s Ark, I was part of the team that created an Ad that got on Luerzers Archive, something I didn't see as a big deal at the time but only got to realise later on how big it was. I worked at Noah Ark for 4 years and left at the beginning of 2020 and moved to X3M Ideas in February 2020 and have been there since then.
How will you describe what you do to a 5-year-old?
I provide solutions using images, shapes and words to communicate with people.
What is your day-to-day routine? What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up and prepare for work. On my way to work, I buy stuff like fruits and snacks for me and my colleagues to munch on during the day. I sometimes attend the status meeting to discuss updates and what needs to be done for the day. After that, I get to work to do my tasks while I monitor and check out what others are doing. I recently realised that I sometimes spend a lot of time assisting others with their work. I sometimes attend meetings with clients during the day and get back to work before closing for work in the evening and then head back home.
What do you enjoy most about what you do? What is the most satisfying thing about your job?
The joy I derive in seeing my work out there. Seeing my work manifest and give the effect I expected it to give and even get recognised in terms of awards or comments is very satisfying for me.
Recently, I find more joy in seeing junior colleagues under my guidance or inspired by me come up with beautiful ideas and create amazing works.
What is the best career investment you have made as a creative?
It has to be putting myself out there because that was what gave me the leverage I had early on in my career and this encouraged me to keep doing more. Irrespective of the comments I get, I keep putting my work out there. It has helped me greatly to get to where I am currently.
What challenges do you face in your day-to-day activities?
It has to be dealing with people. No matter how tough the work is, if you work with the right people, you will enjoy what you do and no matter how easy the work is, if you work with the wrong people, they will make it difficult. The people you work with such as clients, colleagues and seniors at work determine how easy or hard your work is, so I try to be the one who makes work easy for others.
How do you navigate the challenge of dealing with people?
One thing I have come to understand over the years is that you can't win every battle and it's not every battle you fight. Knowing when to push for something, when to let go and let people have their way or find a middle ground is very important.
What is your creative process when you get a brief?
People usually think that the process of answering a brief starts when they get the brief, but whatever solution to give to a brief comes from the repository of your experiences, what you’ve learned, what you’ve been through, and what you’ve felt or are feeling at the moment. Everything you are determines how you answer a brief.
To break it into a simple process, after getting the brief, I brainstorm and research to gather experiences about the brief. After this, I think of the best medium to solve the brief and what unique style would make it more interesting.
There’s no one way to solve a brief though. Its process can come in any format but who you are is the key ingredient to what you create.
What are the essential software you use for work daily?
I use Photoshop majorly now. I sometimes use CorelDraw when I need to work on a vector-based project. I also use Blender for 3D projects. And I’ll learn any software to achieve what I picture in my mind.
How did the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown impact you and the work you do as a creative?
The lockdown was eye-opening and led to the acceptance of virtual meetings as opposed to physical meetings. 80% of my meetings are now virtual and this came about as a result of the impact of the pandemic. It’s interesting that we don't have to travel to meet with clients but the other side of that is that we have more meetings to attend because of how easy it is to set them up virtually.
Being someone who is somewhat introverted, I really enjoyed the work from home when I was working alone. I got more freedom working and iterating in my own space as opposed to when I was at work but the downside to it was that I couldn't learn from watching people work and people couldn’t learn from me also. I missed the interaction I used to have with my colleagues at work.
How do you handle rejections and creative blocks when working as a creative?
Rejection is a normal thing in this field. The very first work I did at Noah's ark was rejected so I got a taste of that at the beginning. At some point, you get used to it and it doesn't hit you as hard as it used to when you started.
For creative blocks, one thing that I believe helps is making creativity a habit. Most people tend to only switch to their creative side only when they want to tackle creative briefs which often leads to creative block. How about being creative with the little things like the way you fold your clothes, arrange your desktop icons or name your folders? This makes it hard to get into creative blocks because it puts the brain in a constant state of creativity.
Another thing I find helpful is having a useful junk folder, that is, a folder where you save and store anything that catches your attention and makes you stop to look twice. Whether it's a video or image or technique you saw somewhere, find a way to save it. This folder can come in handy when you feel blocked by going through it.
Also, the kind of environment and people you have around you helps with dealing with creative blocks.
What is the task you don't enjoy doing but you have to do?
Meetings, I don't like meetings. They are usually time-consuming.
What are the top 3 favourite projects you have worked on?
For now, the first one would be the Hypo Surprise Campaign for Hypo. This was the project I had to learn 3D design for. I love the whole process I went about creating it. I also enjoy the fact that the project got a lot of local and international awards and also got featured on AdsOfTheWorld and Lurzer’s archive.
The second one is the Get Relief campaign I worked on for Algafen. I originally explored the idea as a Spec ad for Panaldo before recreating it as a proper Ad for Algafen.
The third one is the Water is Life Campaign for Nirvana because of the concept behind it and how I got to come about the concept.
What keeps you motivated to keep creating?
The experience and feedback from the things I have done before keep me motivated. The people and juniors that look up to me also keep me motivated to keep working.
How do you relax and have fun?
I love poetry so I listen a lot to spoken word poetry. I enjoy watching movies a lot. I sometimes go to the cinema. I love water so I enjoy going to the beach. I also enjoy going to Brymo's show when I have the opportunity.
Who are the creatives that inspire you?
At the beginning of my career, I was greatly inspired by someone I didn’t get the opportunity to meet with. That person is Debola Babatunde known as Underscore who died at the age of 30 due to sickle cell. He was a deputy creative director at Noah's Ark. I joined the year after he died so I didn’t get the opportunity to meet him but I read and saw a lot of the work he did. Seeing the things he did in such a short period of time inspires me a lot.
Chris Ogunlowo is someone who also inspires me.
The people at 141 Worldwide are a big part of my career because they encouraged, supported, and inspired me.
Who would you love to work with or collaborate with?
David Droga, the CEO of Accenture. He was formerly the CEO and Creative Director of Droga5. He is one of the greatest creatives alive in the 21st century.
I would also love to work with Chris Ogunlowo because I have not really worked with him directly.
What brands would you love to work with?
I would love to work with Burger King, I have ideas for them. I would also love to do something for Nike and Coca-Cola.
What would you be doing if you were not an art director?
I would be painting and writing poems.
What advice do you have for someone who is at the early stage of their creative journey?
The first thing I would say is that “It is going to be tough” because creativity and your emotions are connected. It is not an automated process. There are going to be ups and downs. Just keep going regardless of what the situation is. Don't give up because you're not getting the results you want to get yet. It can be frustrating but just keep working, improving and putting in the effort.
Also, find time to enjoy yourself because it can be consuming and you lose yourself in the whole process. Learn to take breaks too.
Whose story would you love to read about?
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