Building a brand that resonates with the African market

Eric Waibochi

Eric Waibochi, Founder and Executive Creative Director, Smith Aegis.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Smith Aegis provides globally recognised quality services.
  • Mr Waibochi says it requires a lot of hard work to succeed in the business.

Having started a graphic design, social media and digital marketing company, Eric Waibochi realised that many clients needed a fully-fledged 360-degree marketing and public relations platform.

“My initial target was purely money, but I later noticed a huge demand for quality design, social media and digital marketing services, so I had to figure out how to support Small and Medium Entreprises (SMEs),” begins Mr Waibochi, the founder and executive creative director of Smith Aegis, a marketing, public relations agency.

Their strategy from the onset was to figure out the needs of the various brands and why they were not meeting them (needs) – were they expensive, or were they getting the wrong services? They had to do deep market research on his targeted clientele base, their current needs and tailor Smith Aegis services quickly for that.

“Our work was and is still driven by two things, creativity and quality,” Eric says.

Mr Waibochi adds that his biggest obstacle to landing big contracts was the age factor. He would occasionally find himself in boardrooms competing with much older players and he ended up losing business deals on the presumption that younger entrepreneurs cannot handle big assignments.

“It is quite undermining because being young doesn’t mean one cannot handle big assignments. I had to figure it out because I couldn’t afford to lose deals based on that perception,” Mr Waibochi recalls.

Despite being a crowded field that includes multinational marketing and PR agencies, Mr Waibochi doesn’t consider them as his competition because Smith Aegis has defined its target market, which is largely multinationals, large corporations and organisations.

“We have figured it out, curated our services and tailored them to specific clients’ needs as opposed to one shoe fits it all approach,” he explains, adding that landing international brands is hard because it requires patience and knowledge of how they operate.

He adds that one key challenge they face in the industry is price undercutting by other agencies, but two things have kept Smith Aegis abreast – creativity and quality of work.

“You can undercut, but as long as you are not speaking to client needs, target audience, doing it creatively and encompassing quality, it won’t make sense,” he says.

In 2020, Mr Waibochi signed a lease agreement, and paid a year’s rent space but could not occupy the office due to unfinished structural works.

“We sought legal redress but ended up losing the court case and money. I learned the art of being an ‘underdog’ and carrying out due diligence before committing myself to a business deal,” he says.

Over the years, Mr Waibochi has also learned to cope with losing clients to other agencies which he says is a norm, but says that Smith Aegis has one of the best client retention scores in the market.

Another of their lessons is on human resource management. He says managing people, especially a young workforce, does not come easy.

“I am a huge advocate of young guys, but they can be a solid headache due to their professional inexperience and work ethics,” Eric opines.

He advises that as an entrepreneur, one needs a good human capital manager and impeccable recruitment process because “bad hiring is bad business anywhere”.

“You also need seamless processes, establish systems and necessary policies underlying how things are supposed to be done.”

Mr Waibochi says that compared to other enterprises in the field, Smith Aegis has had tremendous growth because it provides globally recognised quality services.

“Our mantra is quality. We would rather be late on delivery but deliver on quality and with our 25 staff, we have served 300 plus core brands,” he adds.

And with corporate clients such as Britam, Casio Middle East and Africa, Letshego, Liquid Intelligence Technologies, Oraimo, Africa’s Business Heroes of Alibaba Foundation, Halo Trust, among others, Mr Waibochi says Smith Aegis is ready for the next growth frontier.

In an ecosystem that is evolving at lightning speed, he says the decision on which channel a brand should choose for advertisement depends on several factors – product, pricing point and target audience.

“We are building an AI platform for out-of-home media which is going to revolutionise out-of-home marketing in the advertising industry in Kenya and globally,” says the entrepreneur.

Mr Waibochi says he has also ventured into the real estate and hospitality industry, offering curative experiences and household detergent manufacturing.

“The reason for this is portfolio diversification in areas of my interest which I want to explore.”

The creative designer says that at the beginning, cashflow management was a headache, but he since figured out how Capex, Opex works.

“We do yearly budgets with preset major budgetary costs so whether we have a client or not, we are still in operation,” he notes.

He explains that at some stage of the business, he had to onboard debt partners, a mistake he regrets.

“It is an error I have learned from. When onboarding a partner, don’t just look at the money alone but consider him or her as a partner, friend, mentor, someone with access to resources and connections,” he says, adding that if it is all about money, then one should go for a bank loan facility.

He opines that at some point, you will probably outgrow them, and if their vision is not streamlined with the company’s, it ends up being a difficult conversation to have.

“It is either you have them as investors or with shares but no voting rights, and if they are to have voting rights, then make sure they are not just there for money. They should have interest in the business, added vision, bring connections and customers,” he advises.

And when parting ways, he suggests making the process simple with no conflict afterwords.

Mr Waibochi says that Smith Aegis is in the stages of setting up a guiding board of directors, comprising experts and businessmen in various fields. 

“This will help us grow to the next phase and we are looking for people with business connections and have the potential of becoming investors.”

The serial entrepreneur says that his vision is to build an agency that resonates and is ingrained with African market, context, people, different cultures and impermeable with the nuances of the cultures in Africa.

“Smith Aegis has grown and defined its niche, but we still get approached by SMEs with small budgets, and since we can’t drive away money, we have built a subsidiary called Farren Digital to handle digital marketing and related services for SMEs,” says Waibochi. 

Mr Waibochi concludes by saying that it requires a lot of hard work, and resilience to succeed in this business.

“Do proper research on the market you want to serve to know the pinpoints, needs, what customers are getting and enjoying, what they are not happy about and what they miss,” he adds.

This, he adds, calls for innovation in new products and services that will serve clients’ needs.