Pulse People – Jack Owigar

Jack Owigar is a force of nature. In this interview, he takes us on the interesting, often hilarious journey of his career from a stint with software design to a full-on career in Marketing spanning many years. 

Tell me about your background:

Cool. I began this journey in 2012, I believe. I remember I got my first job on April 12, 2012. What I did on campus (university) was computer science. So a lot of coding, a lot of database management, networking, stuff like that. So, usually in Kenya what happens is after your fourth year, when you’re about to finish campus, you’re supposed to do a project. So in that project, I was meant to code, so I built a website because you’re supposed to build a website and take it to your supervisor and then you’re graded. During that process, I just realised I did not want to do this job ever again in my life. Coding was just not for me. I did not like it. You could spend 2 days looking at a line of code for an error. 

So when I cleared campus, I had a lot of guys who could basically mentor me and tell me what to do from their own experience in the industry (I’m the last born of 6 kids). So I have a brother who is very big in marketing. Because of my background, I was looking for IT-related jobs but knew I didn’t have the passion for it, per se. So my brother who is about 9 years older, told me about digital marketing and encouraged me to try it. I already had the IT background; all I needed was the marketing angle. Locally there were a few schools that offered these courses. So I began digital marketing, got a basic understanding of it, finished it and then got into CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing).

At this time, I was still not working. But one of my friends had begun working at a security firm. We used to be roommates in school. So he told me in one of our conversations, about an opportunity to supply drinks to working-class people, who didn’t have time to go to the supermarket to buy drinks. So I went to a company here that sells alcohol. I negotiated a discount, and then I set up a Facebook page called Seller Inc, and then my friend who worked at the security firm would get the orders and call and tell me where to go to deliver the drinks. So we started, and I started meeting a lot of people in the space. Something else happened that was important. My brother came across a gentleman called Shazad Khan. He was the head of digital sales at Nation Centre East Africa (for digital). At that time, he was looking for sales guys to get on his team. So he heard about me. My bro told me that someone called Shazad would reach out for my CV. First, someone called me and had an Indian accent. And I was like, who is this person calling me? He introduced himself and asked me to send my CV. I was like, yeah whatever. When he sent me his email, I saw the name of the company at the end of it, but I didn’t think anything of it. So I take my sweet time, eating lunch and just going about my day, not bothered about anything. Then my brother calls me and asks me if I’d sent my CV, and I said no. I thought it was a con, so I didn’t bother. And my brother says no. He’s the real thing. So I go to one of the cyber cafes in Nairobi that evening and sent my CV. Shazad calls me back and asks me to come in for an interview on a Friday. Note: Fridays were the peak days for my alcohol business. Seller Inc business, because everyone wants a drink for the weekend, and Happy Hour in Kenya is from 12 pm to 2. And Shazad fixes the meeting for 11:30 am. 

In my head I’m thinking, I’ll have alcohol in my bag and I’ll have to go for an interview. So I go to Nation Centre. It’s a very big building in the centre of Nairobi, and there’s a security door. At the door, the guard says I should open my bag for a security check. And I had a duffle bag. So they open the bag and see bottles and bottles of alcohol lol. I had to explain that I was there to see someone, but the booze is for delivery, and not for me. So I’m entering an interview room with bottles touching each other in my bag and making a bit of noise. It was quite an experience. 

Lol. Anyway, we had a very good chat, me and Shazad, I think for less than 15 minutes. And then he takes me to the next floor where he tells the HR Manager to kindly give me a contract on probation. I did not know anything about the brand at this point. He asked me questions about the brand and I got them all wrong. I don’t know why he had such faith in me. But anyway, that’s how I got into Sales. 

So I worked for Nation from 2012 up until around October 2014. From there, I began of course building my own client base, and one of the clients called Brighter Monday liked what I did for them. I used to be their account manager at Nation, and so I worked at Brighter Monday as the Display Sales Manager for 9 months, from October 2014 to around August 2015, and then Nation came back calling. So I went back to Nation as a Senior Sales Strategist, but I grew in the ranks and became Business Manager basically for the whole group. I was there for 3 years, and in that time I started training people in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania etc. So it gave me a lot of exposure.

Around 2018, my boss left. He moved to a company called Citizen TV to be the Commercial Director. We were not close, but we were cordial. We got along. I remained in the Nation for a while. And then he reached out to me around June 2018 and said “I’ve been meaning to call you” and I told him “I’ve been waiting for your call.” Lool. So we met at a cafe. I did not think that he would ever think to work with him. So he told me about the project. Citizen was very big on TV and Radio but very poor on digital. I also felt that I had stagnated and plateaued at Nation. So I wanted a new challenge to see if I’m really good at this. So I said yes, as long as I was reporting to him directly. So between June and August, I finalised at Nation and moved to Citizen TV as Senior Business Manager. I was there for 3 months. It gave me a lot of exposure around VODs, traditional media and video production. It also helped me sharpen my sales skills. In my former employment, the product mainly sold itself, but here, revenue from digital was nonexistent and we had to build from scratch. So the first year, we did 28 million Kenyan shillings against 2 million from the previous year. We started talking about how to increase the revenue, and our offering. 

I was there for 3 years, and finally, Pulse came calling. Now, the funny thing about Pulse is that my strategy was picked heavily from Pulse. I liked what Pulse did, I liked their content, and most of my strategy was designed around what I saw off Pulse. So when they came calling and I was doing my interview, I even had a plan for how to increase the revenue, content, etc. It was something I was already passionate about. So I went through the rigorous interview process with Moritz, Wamuyu, and other HODs, and luckily they were able to see that I was a good fit for the company, and I was able to take up the role. And I’ve been here since October. I was just telling someone recently that it’s weird that I always seem to move companies in October; I don’t know why. Lol. 

So what’s your current role at Pulse? 

I always say that my role at Pulse is to sell hope and make magic. It sounds like a joke but it’s true. Because you’re trying to convince a client that you hope the campaign works out the way you have planned for it to work, and at the same time clients want to see magic from what you execute. So you’re selling a dream, an idea, a concept. And also out of it you’re supposed to create magic whereby you generate emotion, awareness and engagement. So day to day, that’s what my job is. I’m Head of Marketing at Pulse Kenya, and in a nutshell, my job is to monetize all our assets and see what we can bring in for the brand. In addition to that, and for the marketing aspect, I’m constantly asking myself, how can I push the brand out there, and how can we leverage off of who we are to bring in more revenue, to bring in more partners who are like-minded, etc. So I’m constantly conversing with people and constantly in their faces, and networking and trying to push the Pulse name out there. So that’s what I do day-to-day, so I primarily work with ad agencies, I also work with what you call direct clients, pushing a lot of media sales, a lot of marketing sales, it has also helped me learn a lot about production, media management (which I did very little of, in my previous roles), but the team now in Kenya have been very helpful in guiding me. We’ve got a very strong team here. I keep on saying no man is an island, so it’s always good to ask. I always tell my team that inasmuch as I’ve been in this industry for up to 10 years, I always remain teachable, because you learn something every day. And I’m not an expert in all these other things, so I always try to remain humble, try to learn something. 

So that’s what I do daily. Most of the time, my day begins with looking through my email, checking through Slack, looking through my meetings planned for the day, looking through clientele, new product launches, new entrants to the market, also a bit of competitor analysis, who is doing what, are they competing with us, are they copying us, are we staying ahead of the curve, etc. We’re also in a very dynamic industry. I was once told “it doesn’t matter how big you are; it’s how fast you respond to the consumer that matters the most. So that’s what we decided to strive to do here in Kenya. 

In the first few months, it was a baptism of fire, if I’m being very very honest. But I like the challenge. At Pulse, it was everything I’ve always wanted to do. Every day it’s something interesting, something cool, trying out new formats, and I’m really enjoying it. Every day is a new challenge. And I like the fact that within every challenge we always find solutions. That makes you better as a person and as a leader. 

What’s your typical day like?

My typical day is madness lol. It’s constant madness. It’s an unstructured structure. So the things you can plan for are not very many. I’m dealing with people. It’s not like a factory; I’m dealing with different aspects of them, be it emotion, be it understanding, etc. So every day is a new challenge. It’s how you are able to navigate those challenges and also make everyone aware that you all have a common objective, and it’s better if we work together and have an understanding so that we all reach that goal that we all want to reach. So that’s how my typical day goes. It’s a lot of listening, understanding, giving solutions, of course, meetings and whatnot. And once in a while, a guy called Kelechi will call me up for a People interview (lool). 

What is your inspiration for showing up every day?

I think the thing is that this is my passion. I remember in early 2018, I was not at Pulse yet. I was at my former employer’s job, and I was at an event, and the event was a launch. I remember telling someone, “I want to do something that will impact people’s lives, something that I’ll look back on and say to myself, ‘Wow, I actually did that, I actually created a difference’. 

So in my previous roles, I didn’t feel I was having any impact on anyone’s life, not because of the companies themselves. I’m just speaking for me. I was churning out revenue, but when I would go back home, I could not say oh, I did that, or ‘that was me’. So when I came to Pulse, they are very heavy on content creation and telling stories, which is what I’ve always wanted to do, that was already a passion for me. Of course, there are days that I’m not at 100 per cent, granted, but I sit back and say ‘why am I here?’ and it’s to make a difference, using my passion for storytelling to make a difference in someone’s life, not only for me but also for my team. They look up to me to guide them. I keep telling my fellow HODs how we manage the team, will determine what kind of leaders they will be in the future, and even what kind of person they will be in the future. So I don’t look at myself as just one person, I look at myself as somebody who will be a benchmark or a reference point for somebody else in their career or in their lives. Because I have scenarios whereby, when I’m going through tough times, I have reference points, either my older siblings or my former bosses, or my current boss. For me first of all, it’s my passion for the job, and my reasons for doing this, which are my team, myself and for anybody else. 

I think I’m lucky enough to be doing the role I’ve always wanted. I’m sure if I was in a design role, chances are that I would burn out really quickly.

What do you do to unwind?

So there’s something I like to do every Sunday for 2 hours. I like to play football with my friends. What happened was when COVID happened in 2020, one of our friends found out he had a clot in his leg, and the doctor told him that he needed to change his lifestyle or risk a stroke. There were about 6 of us in total. So we bunched up and decided to play football. We all liked football, but also it was the middle of COVID, and there was not much else we could do together. We found a very nice 5-A-side pitch, and we started playing every Sunday. When we started, I had not played football for maybe 5 years. Now, we’re over 42 dudes that show up every Sunday; people have just told their friends and told their friends. It has become a very good reliever of stress. I don’t do the cliche things like read a book or go to the gym. So for me, what I look forward to is Sunday from 9 am to 11 am. So when the game is over at 11, I’m already looking forward to the next one. So if we lost a match, I’m like, next weekend, I’m going to get revenge. Lool. My job is very engrossing, from Monday to Saturday, so Sunday is what I call Jack Time. That’s the time that I go out and play ball, have fun with my friends, and meet up with family once in a while, but I think the constant is the 9 to 11 football time, where I can just unleash the kid inside me. You know, some people say that whenever you’re stressed, just remove your shoes and socks and walk on the grass, and you’ll get a relaxing feeling. I think the pitch is good for me because there, you can shout, you can scream, you can do all these things and just release tension and at the end of it all, you’re a lot more relaxed.