November 14, 2023
As part of our My Media Life series, the World Media Group’s Chief Executive, Belinda Barker chats with Obinna Iwuji, Content Partnerships Manager at Wavemaker, and the ‘Rising Star’ winner at this year’s World Media Awards. Obinna is also a podcast host and a member of the Black Young Professionals network. Below are extracts from their conversation – you can watch the full interview in the video above or listen to the podcast here.
What was your route into media?
I went to school for economics and statistics, so had a very data-focused background. I was working in government in education policy as a data analyst in America when Covid hit and my visa was running out. I didn’t have a job when I came back, I’d just broken up with my girlfriend and I was in quite a lot of debt.
I was looking at my skills and what I’d done. I’d worked with a hospital in Nigeria creating their website. They wanted to push a campaign to talk about nutrition to get people eating better so they wouldn’t have to go to the hospital as much. I said to the founder of the clinic, “I’ve made some content for you guys, how do you reach your average person?” And they said, “I don’t know – you’re going to have to figure it out for us.” That introduced me to the world of audience generation and digital marketing. I was focused on how to get a message out and reach general audiences.
When I was looking for a job, to show my skills as a data analyst, I did some online courses and started doing LinkedIn campaigns. Just by luck, a recruiter reached out to me saying they loved what I’d done. I talked to them a bit about the things I’d done in the past and my future ambitions, and they said they thought Wavemaker would be a great fit for me. I studied a bit about Wavemaker to make sure it actually was a great fit, and then said, yes, I’ll go for it!
I think the main reason I went for it is because I’ve understood for a long time, the power of media, even though perhaps I didn’t understand the right words. I was always interested in how I could be a part of that conversation and better influence culture to people like me; to change our story a bit.
We have this podcast on Wavemaker Roots called ‘Media and Colour’, and it’s about educating people like me that this is an industry, this is a real thing, you can make money, you can do good work, and it’s available to you. You don’t just have to go down the doctor or lawyer path; you can do this too.
Can you explain what your role as Content Partnerships Manager involves?
Let’s say we have a brand, a book company, that wants to push a new series of books they’re launching. My job would be to find publishers and partners who own an audience that they are trying to target and create a strategy to meld the two together to create a successful campaign using content.
Content is a big word – it can mean a lot of things. CNN is a content partner – they write a lot of bespoke articles for us. It can also mean documentary series; it can mean a podcast. Content is very varied as we all know. It’s about finding the right content to fit the campaign and the aims of the brand I’m working with.
What’s your favourite part of the role?
For me, the best part is when you get to talk to the different partners and see the repository of what they have. My mum loves CNN – I grew up on CNN, so the opportunity now to work with them as a partner is crazy. You get to see behind the scenes. They took us to their studio and I got to say, “And this is CNN,” inside the studio. And The Economist – my whole Uni life was based around the Economist – so to be able to work with them as a partner, trying to make strategies for brands and creating branded content, is amazing. I was once a pure consumer; now I’m behind the scenes – I think that’s the best part for me.
What do you think your secret talent is?
When I first joined Wavemaker, I was in the analytics team. One day I was walking down the corridor and I was smiling for no reason. This person came up to me and asked, ”Why are you smiling? What’s so good about life?”
We ended up having a conversation and, lo and behold, this person was the partner for Content and Partnerships in Wavemaker. I told her about my longer-term ambitions within media, and she said, “I think you’d be a great person for the partnerships team. Let me show you some of our work.” I ended up joining the team.
So, in terms of a superpower, I think, it’s giving out charisma or energy. I always felt very insecure about saying that as a strong point because it seems like all flash, no depth. But I’m learning that it’s actually quite hard to find people who add energy. A lot of people suck energy. I make it a point in my life to give as much energy as I can to the people around me. I think that’s been the thing that’s really pushed me to where I am. And it’s the reason I end up being at the root of a lot of projects, because I’m able to give a lot of energy to them.
How much exposure do you have to other areas of the business?
I started working with Wavemaker Roots, which is our employee resource group and community around cultural inclusion in advertising. It’s here that I got exposed to the vast majority of media because when you work in analytics, you’re quite siloed.
When I started doing projects within Roots, I got exposed to the planning team. I got exposed to AV because we’re doing projects alongside them. I got exposed to content. I got exposed to strategy. I had to, in order for my work within Roots to make a lot of sense. You see how everything is very interlinked. I have to talk to the investment team to better understand what partners are viable to work with for an ERG strategy when I’m doing a campaign. I have to talk to planners because I need to think about how to distribute the budget that I have in order to touch the platforms in the best way possible. I have to talk to content and creative to get an idea of the big picture and what we’re trying to do.
Now, even though, my main role is Content Partnerships, I end up doing a lot of planning. I end up doing a lot of display. I end up doing a lot of different things. You end up becoming quite the multi-disciplinarian and that’s been a big blessing for me.
Where do you get your daily news from?
When I’m thinking about advertising, I look at this blog called Activation Ideas, run by a gentleman who used to work in Ogilvy. That’s where I get a lot of my inspiration. On a personal level, it’s CNN and The Economist. I also watch The Daily Show based in America – they add a bit of comedy to your news, so that helps it to be a lot more digestible. I’ve got BBC alerts on my phone as well.
I try my best not to absorb too much news all at once, just because it’s not always the most positive thing. There are times when I’ll scour the internet seeking lighter news – a puppy saved by a lake for example – and I get that sort of news more from social media.
How do you switch off from work?
I’m not sure if I’m the best model for this. I’m a reader; I read a lot of books. But the best way for me to relax and clear my head is usually making something. I taught myself how to code a long time ago and that’s what pushed me into data. A lot of my time is spent coding stuff and making stuff. Right now, I’m obsessed with generative art, which allows you to essentially code to create art using formulas and maths within nature.
I also do poetry and I perform a lot. So that also helps me to calm down. It sounds like work, but something about switching my head to that sort of thing calms me down and it makes me use a different sort of energy. It’s a way of reflecting; getting outside of your body.
Finally, who or what inspires you?
I have two things that I think inspire me the most. One, is just where me and my family have been. When my mum came to the UK, she was a dishwasher; my dad was a cab driver. We’ve been able to create something more than what we had.
I’m not saying the story has been completely smooth. The place where I grew up in Kilburn has been completely knocked down; it’s gone. In a way, that’s a blessing because it wasn’t the best of places, but it made me reflect and say, look how far we’ve come! I moved schools, and the difference between the school where I grew up, to where I moved, in Wembley – the kids were on their 12 times tables and I hadn’t done my two times table yet! That was the gap in education that existed. We able to overcome that and be where we are today. I’m just grateful; that in itself is an inspiration, regardless of where I go from now.
The other point that inspires me has been the amount of recent news – like you see Chimamanda now – part of a cultural Zeitgeist. There’s a Zimbabwean education advocate, who’s been pushing the narrative for education within Africa. Trevor Noah’s making it as a strong South African comedian that I really appreciate. John Boyega – there are just so many people like me who are doing things in life that I never thought of someone like us being able to do. And we’re there. Just knowing that it’s possible to change your narrative in such a dynamic way, to me that’s quite inspiring.