Bernard Kafui Sokpe: "I always look at the long-term & focus on my passion."
It’s a typical poor visibility day in East Legon and everywhere else in Accra as I climbed up the short steps leading to the entrance of Vida Cafe East Legon. The usual Portuguese greeting was thrown at me like flipped pancake hitting a skillet , as I walked towards the coffee & sandwich counter. It was easy recognising Benard Sokpe thanks to his current artist-drawn profile photo on Twitter.
At first glance, his soft eyes and almost shy but friendly smile makes it difficult to connect the same guy you think you ‘know’ on Twitter. That was how I first ‘met' Benard Sokpe aka MistaMeister. One of my followers retweeted a tweet he shared after being published in one of the local newspapers. I clicked on his bio and scrolled through his timeline. Oh herh! Several highly sarcastic, savage & witty tweets jumped out at me with a few racy ones. Twitter boys i thought to myself *eyes rolled* and i followed. He followed back.
We chose the back booth in the corner of the cafe to have our chat. The waiter brought his cappuccino and brown baguette and my Early Grey tea which was calming as usual.
So Benard, share a bit about your early school days
I was a student at PRESEC and as a student who had chosen to study Visual Arts I was often teased by my peers. Back then, much respect wasn’t shown to students who chose the arts specifically Visual Arts. There was the perception that such students hadn’t earned the right grades to study the sciences or more ‘important’ subjects. It also seemed hard for people to accept that a student can actually without duress or external influence, choose to study Visual Arts. Sometimes as we sat beneath the pottery shed moulding and working on clay, our peers would pass by and sneer, “you people dierr you no come school.” But I loved the arts. I have loved drawing ever since I was little. My Mom would often call me to draw create portraits of relatives who came to visit. One time we went to a village and she asked me to draw the village scenery and some of the old ladies. This part of me has been a major influence in my work as a graphic designer over the years.
I continued on to KNUST to study Communication Design - a rebrand from Graphic Design. Even in KNUST, it was common to have other students tease you about your course selection. But I knew that nothing makes me more happy or driven than what I am passionate about.
What would you say led you into planning of events?
Back in KNUST, I had four friends and together we came up with INSOMNIA ENTERTAINMENT where we would keep people awake with parties on campus. I then met Beryl Agyekum CEO of Echo House back then in school and showed interest in being part of her publishing team for her student magazine. It was a regular magazine featuring stories on student strikes, department activities etc. After the first edition, that’s when I joined as an editor and came up with an idea to organise a party on campus and to have the content of the party published in the magazine. We hyped the party and the party was a hit! The magazine also increased in popularity. The second edition completely run out as students who came to the party rushed to get copies just to see themselves on the pages. Soon, it became a thing for students organising events to have Echo House be a sponsor for their events to be published in the magazine. We earned money by covering these events. This was back in 2009-2010. I became a general manager in my 3rd and 4th year where I was handling almost everything from content, team management and graphic designing.
I remember one time how we helped a rundown bar in Kumasi called TimeOut to rise out of the ashes to become a hit bar. We rebranded it by changing the lights, signage, created fliers and renamed the bar to Insomnia and hyped it on campus. It was a hit as well. Most of the students thought I had bought a club and patronised it even more. I loved the whole vibe of entertainment event planning.
As a Graphic Designer, did you work freelance after school or you got a job in an agency?
Thanks to the work i did at Echo House, my work got noticed by a new agency in town and I soon found myself as a their in-house graphic designer. It was a very different environment for me. My workflow involves painstaking time to get the concept right but at the agency, it was working on demand with briefs being pushed at you with a very short delivery time. Highly intense. Whilst there, I tried my hands at several things; copy writing, social media, documentaries, radio and tv ads concepts etc. One day a friend recommended that I apply to a social media manager vacancy position at Vodafone because she saw how good I also was at creating content for social media for clients.
That’s how come I ended up at Vodafone .
How different was it working in a corporate environment as compared to an agency ?
At the agency i was able to explore my different interests and do different things which were still connected to my passion. My time at Vodafone, I believe shaped me into how I am today. It was more of a defined structure style of working, i understood more about diversity, how to work with agencies as a client and have a richer understanding of organisational structure. I started work there just when the company was focused on rebranding and creating customer loyalty. It was interesting how in the corporate environment, I had to deal with approvals for creative work through several channels. You know social media must always be on point with content and must move fast as well. I took things in my hands and created all kinds of content, increase the Facebook page likes, shared fun content for the target audience. I just wanted to be in that environment. Not knowing all that I was doing was noticed by Uche Ofodile. At the Vodafone Hero Awards, I was picked as one of the heroes to my utter shock. I picked up several marketing awards which really boosted my confidence. I started running training internally and being more visible in the company.
So Mr. Eazi. What’s the story here?
Mr. Eazi and I were actually studying at KNUST in the same year. He was a friend then who was very entrepreneurial as a student. He was also at the same time organising entertainment events for Nigerian students on campus around the same time we had INSOMNIA just that ours was targeted at Ghanaian students. He was very good at it. He brought Sarkodie to one of his events. I used to wonder how he managed to combine his Engineering course with his side gigs. He owned most of the sharwarma spots on campus and was running a taxi business as well. He was 17 doing crazy entrepreneurial gigs. So Eazi and I decide to collaborate together on some events. It was during this time that I realised that he was good at mimicking other artistes. He asked for studio time one time and recorded his first song called My Life.
After school he was still on campus running his businesses. Eazi hyped himself and his music in the early times by sending emails to bloggers and other websites. He also did his Masters at the Telecomm University and I wondered how he combined that with his work but he would come stay with me in Accra and make time to study.
I told him he could do more with his music and I could push it for him. After listening to Bankulize , I was like ‘herh! this is dope!’ I sent it to Ms. Naa to push it for airtime.
Around that time, he had started a startup called Obiwezy with another Nigerian which he pitched to investors for funding.
He had a falling out with his partner and he diverted into creating PhoneTrader.Edge which partnered with Airtel. So i would help him with his music whilst he focused on the startup. And things picked up from there.
What’s your career path now?
Currently, I am a brand consultant for several companies. After Vodafone, I took a job at Tigo, Tonaton, FIDO and Hubtel. I made a decision to stick to branding because I knew that’s where I needed to be. I looked at the long-term and decided to stick to what I loved to do. I was making revenue from working as Mr. Eazi’s brand manager and also from my day job at Hubtel also as their brand manager during their rebranding from SMSGH. The work of a brand person is to produce an experience worth more than a given budget. If you give me 1000 cedis, I would give you an experience worth 10,000 cedis but it will be a 10,000 cedis value release over a long term period. Dealing with people’s emotions isn’t a short-cut solution, it’s a long-term investment. It’s actually difficult marrying branding and numbers. The people who deal in numbers are more interested in immediate yields. As a company you have to work hard and aim at being a lovemark Brand. An example of a love mark brand is Coca-Cola and Arsenal. Irrespective of how things turn out, people will still defend the product. At Hubtel, I launched the #RethinkSeries to build brand loyalty but after two sessions management cancelled it due to budget limitations or perhaps not enough commitment towards building the lovemark brand.
After Hubtel, I decided to settle down and to venture out on my own to consult for brands. I am actually more focused and even less stressed now as a consultant having different projects to work on. That’s what makes it exciting!
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