CEO, BrandWorld TV and publisher of Ice magazine, Clara Chinwe Okoro is also a fashion label owner. Although she studied Guidance and Counselling in the university, her creativity and flair for broadcasting spurred her into the world of branding and advertising, where she has made a success for herself. VANESSA OKWARA recently engaged the delectable beauty in an interview where she talked about her exploits in the world of advertising, and other issues
Tell us a bit about your background.
I’m from Imo State. My father is late; I’m the eldest of a family of six. We are three boys and three girls. I live in Lagos currently and I work as a media personality and own a media company called BrandWorld Media.
I recently floated a fashion and lifestyle label called ‘My Beautiful Africa’. I graduated from the University of Lagos, where I studied Guidance and Counselling. I was recently made the Publicity Secretary of Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria, FADAN.
What was your University major?
I was meant to take English as my main course in school but I decided on Guidance and Counselling, which had a lot to do with Psychology, a course I was really interested in. But in the course of my studies, I also took a lot of courses from Mass Communication.
This was an advice given to me by my English lecturer who had told me I had the quality of being a broadcaster and made sure that I took his classes alongside my other major courses.
When you were young, what did you really want to be?
Funny enough, I had always wanted to be in the mass media as a communicator. I always knew I was a communicator of sorts. I wanted to reach out to people with information.
How did you come into branding and advertising?
I’ve always loved advertising even while in the university. I was fascinated with the concept that somebody could sit down and in 30 seconds to one minute, tell me stories that could capture my imagination.
It was interesting and intriguing to me. I thought that anyone that could do that was a sort of genius. So I felt that was an area I loved. I find it incredibly stimulating that, through platforms like that, I could actually explore the imaginative tendencies that I had and still make a living out of it.
How did you break through that sector of the economy despite not having the relevant certificate in advertising?
I had started off initially as an art dealer when I left school. After my Youth Service, which I did at the then Gulf Oil, which later evolved into Chevron, I registered a business with a colleague of mine who is now resident in the USA. We started trading in artwork. Like I said earlier, I’m totally inclined towards the arts.
I organised art exhibitions for my artist friends and I also began to make clothes as well. In the long run, I felt maybe it would not be sustainable for me since I hadn’t built a real network of people in terms of my clothing business.
So, I dropped the clothing aspect. It was at that period that I met a friend of mine, Dr. Ken Onyeali, he is the MD/CEO of Mediacom, one of Nigeria’s biggest independent media and he told me he saw I had a flair for communication. He said if we could team up together, we could design a program that would cover the marketing communications industry in Nigeria.
It was bourgeoning then and it was huge and people were not being stimulated enough to understand how marketing communications would invariably be a big part of their lives on a daily basis.
Both of us came together and formed a company. It was a merger; we had it registered and did all the paper work. We started with a program which we called Advertising World. We started it off live on NTA Channel 10. We used to do live recording and people called in on the telephone. It was truly interesting and before we knew it, we were front runners.
We were opening people’s eyes in Nigeria that there was a lot involved in marketing communications. Then the advertising industry began to grow stronger and advertising agencies understood that if you could get your communications right, there will be an upscale in your sales.
The program began to gain momentum. We moved from NTA Channel 10 and we started doing it as a pre-produced program for AIT and we berthed at Channels television and we were at Channels for almost 12 years running.
Aside your love for advertising, how did you initially cope with coming into broadcasting without any prior training?
I guess that is what it means to be gifted or talented in a particular area. I now did what is called ‘on the job training’. While at it, I did a lot travelling.
I travelled extensively, globally and I mastered the art of what it was to be able to communicate effectively and brands began to understand what benefit my program offered them in terms of telling their stories beyond the 50 seconds commercial adverts.
So I felt it was a calling that was wired in my DNA; that this was what I was called to do in life. Funny enough, it opened up the industry in such a massive way that I had to stand aside to let the industry take its place.
What has being a brand broadcaster done for you as a person?
It has made me a global citizen. I have understood the power of brands, that they are the engine room of the world. If you take the brands away, the economies of the world will collapse. These brand names have equity attached to them. So what it did for me was to open my eyes globally that without brands, the world will probably not exist.
So has it brought in the cash for you?
Well, it worked and was convenient for me. I was earning an income and I was running it sustainably and making a living out of it. Towards the time when we couldn’t afford to be on Channels television anymore, I had to look for an exit strategy and also look for another form of business to make a sustainable income for me.
Aside television, what else was Brand- World doing?
Like I said, it is a media company. So, I extended it by a magazine, and we called it ‘ICE’. It was basically for young people and the brands that targeted them. We understudied this and we said if we can publish a magazine showing how young people are co-opted into becoming people that utilise these brands and the stories behind this, we might be able to sustain a magazine and we have been able to do that.
The magazine is not sold in the market. It is sustained by the adverts we run in it and we give it away at events. Also, in 2014, I floated a brand called ‘My Beautiful Africa’, as a fashion and lifestyle label. I have always preached during the time I was running the program, that Africa should begin to look at her own brands because that will sustain the continent in the long run.
What the picture looks like now is that other continents keep pouring their brands into our continent and we are the ones consuming their brands and they are making the money. When we start to build our brands, we can export and start making money.
Would you say you have achieved success? As far as I’m concerned, I’m extremely fulfilled in what I’ve done and I’ve succeeded in it. Now it’s the new business, ‘My Beautiful Africa’ label that I’m committed to pushing out as one of the major brands that will come out of this continent. In doing that, it is also a wakeup call to others to realise that we need to go out of our comfort zones and begin to utilise our creative ability to build brands.
It is an Afrocentric fashion label that I want every major store globally to have so that when people wear it, they are wearing a bit of Africa. The clothes are mostly African kaftans reflecting our landscapes.
How would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as a creative entrepreneur. I get my inspiration from the scenery when I go to the beach, travel, when I write, watch movies; I live 24 hours in my imaginations.
What people, can’t see, you are seeing. If you are lucky enough, you can get a business out of it and that is where I’m better. A lot of people don’t know how to align their creative ability with a business.
When you can marry both, you can be the best that you can be. The business has been good. I have a strong presence online. I’m one of those who keyed in very strongly to the digital evolution.
I knew the power of using the digital to grow my brand. Even outside the country, we get orders and we ship and we get people making inquiries. And because I made it into a lifestyle thing, people keyed into it. So owning a piece of it is like owning a piece of Africa.
What is your fashion style?
I will call it classic in that it is timeless. I don’t like things that are ‘in fashion’. I like to build identity. The outfits I make, you can wear it in five to 10 years and it will still be very fashionable.
What is your passion?
Creativity drives me. It is what is wired in my DNA. I keep telling people that the day I leave this planet, it will be realised that it was creativity that brought me and it was creativity that took me out. That is why I have so much respect for icons like Richard Branson and Oprah Winfrey. I realise that in being creative, we will change the world.
When you go out in public and people recognise you, how does that make you feel?
I am absolutely myself. This is because I didn’t go to build a personality outside the person I was on TV. I was the same person in and out. I didn’t buy into the celebrity culture thing.
What’s the most embarrassing thing a fan has ever done to you?
I will call it stalking. There were two occasions it happened to me and I was absolutely terrified. In the course of my career, I had these two individuals that kept stalking me. I had to get the police involved at s o m e point. I t was like harassment. In the long run, I just felt it was part of the hazards of the job.
What are the craziest rumours you have heard about yourself?
I really don’t like to dwell on this because my private life is extremely private to me. I make no apologies about it. I don’t like to record my private life in the public domain. So a lot of people have jumped to conclusions, made all sorts of insinuations about my personal life. Sometimes it is amusing, sometimes, it is annoying. It’s still my private life so I don’t owe them explanations.
But if you don’t want people to know about your private life, how will people know the real Clara?
My thinking is that there is no way you can know everything about an individual in and out even when you are married.
Let them speculate; it is better that way, but you know who you are. In the long run, if it’s not going to affect my income; I can let it pass. If it’s going to be a huge damage to my person, then I can take an injunction in court and make you do a retraction on that.
There have been a lot of speculations on whether you are married or not. Can you tell us your true marital status?
That is why I said no, it’s my private life.
How do you handle advances from men if they don’t know your marital status?
They don’t have a right to know about my private life. This is because I’m an individual; I don’t go asking them what their marital status is because it is of little consequence to me. I feel a woman can’t lay her life bare in public. Even if you do, set the limits, there are still people who will want to cross the line.
So that is why I say it is personal to me. If I’m transacting a business that requires me to give my marital status, I will give out that information at that point and not because the public want it for their salacious purposes.
It’s a personal thing how I handle advances from men, I know how I do it. Do you know why I say this? It’s because I’ve been misquoted a lot in the interviews I’ve granted in the past. When people read it, they misconstrue it, they probably think you have an agenda and I don’t.
So personally, I never want to go to that area anymore. I’ve been misquoted badly about that area of my life.
What is your beauty routine?
I don’t do chemicals because of our African weather. My skin is extremely sensitive. So I use a lot of baby products because they are very mild. Most of what I use is organic based products. I’m a very natural person in the sense that I would rather have natural things inside of me than use chemicals in any way. How old are you? I’m in my 40s. How do you relax? I meditate a lot, just like you have people who do yoga or are Buddhists. It’s an anchoring point for some of us creative people. I’m catholic, so I do mine in the Christian way. Music also relaxes me. The kind of music I like cuts across all genres from different continents. I do R&B and rap. I also like the Igbo songs from my area.
Do you believe in love at first sight?
Yes, I do
Have you experience it?
Yes, severally, one has lasted almost up until now. It lasted for a while and then flickered out afterwards.
Are you a romantic person?
I’m a 70 per cent romantic person, 30 per sent pragmatic. Like they say, you look for a silver lining in everything.
What kind of qualities do you admire in a man?
He has to be extremely broad-minded. I don’t like men that are petty. If a man is insecure and petty minded, then he is not for me. He has to be broad-minded and unselfish. It would be somebody who is content with his world.
What has life taught you?
That we are here for a very short time; its better you leave the luggage behind and look for the best you can leave behind in the world and create an impact.
If you are fingered for a political position in future, would you accept?
Politics to serve yes, not for selfish gain, but it has to pay me for my time. In the long run, it’s the bigger picture that counts. It is important to set up structures that would be sustainable for my people and eventually make something out of their lives and that way, I ’ m richer.