In April 2021, Wunderman Thompson launched the Catalyst Academy to support and develop the next generation of talent. Built to develop future marketers and equip them with the experience and skills to thrive in a competitive industry, the industry-defining programme aims to bring together talent from different backgrounds to build brilliant experiences for consumers.
This spin off of the Uprising series will highlight some of the ambitious, creative, collaborative and curious Catalyst Fellows who have now become full-time employees at Wunderman Thompson after their 18-month rotation through the business, as they share how they’re using their skills to inspire change in their new roles.
The first edition is by Feranmi Akintola, who has settled into a role as a strategist at Wunderman Thompson London, after completing rotations in Prism sports and entertainment, global client development, EMEA commercial and UK new business and marketing. Feranmi explores how his diverse cultural upbringing has influenced his personality, and his aspirations for the industry.
Tell us a little bit of background
I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and spent my early formative years there. I’d say this has played a large part in making me the outgoing and confident person I am, because even as a toddler it’s difficult to be an introvert in such a hectic environment. You either make yourself heard or you’re ignored. I still feel like I’m adjusting to that more understated British way of doing things (even though I moved to Hertfordshire 18 years ago).
Getting started in the industry
Nigerians have a tendency to pronounce titles onto their kids. For much of my childhood I was (lovingly) called Pastor Feranmi as I loved talking passionately in front of an audience. That being said, music was my first love and was heavily influenced by growing up around the rich sounds of gospel music. My obsession led me to study Music Production and Enterprise at uni, a choice which went against the grain of traditional Nigerian career paths (doctor, engineer, lawyer etc). Even so, while my love for the spiritual power of music remains, my degree showed me the ugly side of an industry that wasn’t right for me. Trying to get into advertising afterwards was a choice I made because it spoke to my other obsession: People, and why we do the things we do. For all the intelligence we believe we have as a species, we are still driven by primal desires.
My late teens were defined by the 2016 EU referendum in the UK, and the election of Donald Trump in the US. I think many of us were shocked to wake up to these results which shattered our perception of public opinion. But while the results were unexpected to us, part of me couldn’t help but feeling that the winning sides had tapped into something about human nature. There was something about our collective unconscious that they understood, something they used to achieve the results – these huge political upsets. Since then, it’s been my personal mission to understand those parts of the human psyche. Advertising for me was the route in. I applied to Wunderman Thompson’s Catalyst Academy in the summer after graduating and haven’t looked back since.
I got into advertising partly to produce work that gets talked about, and I’m pushing myself to get there as soon as I can. Though, I often remind myself that I’m still very much in the learning phase of my career. I don’t want to take that for granted. I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to explore my aforementioned curiosity about human beings. It’s my aim to take what I’m learning and use it to create emotionally arresting work. Hopefully one day people will be able to trace one or two major cultural shifts to work I’ve been involved in.
Our industry is ‘always on’, so trying to keep on top of everything can be a challenge, especially with how quickly the wider world moves too. Having said that, it’s difficult to overstate how useful email newsletters are. Just a simple round up of the important stuff suits my time well.
The state of the industry
Like many industries, advertising has been figuring out its role in the fight against climate change. As the industry that helped sell many of the products that have been damaging our planet, it’s our responsibility to help sort things out. This is actually quite exciting. We stand at the edge of a monumental change in the way we live, which means that planners such as myself are in the position to guide human behaviour as we adapt to these circumstances. I’m not very fatalistic when it comes to the climate because I have every faith that we can and will win this fight. I just hope that our industry grabs the opportunity with both hands.
Passions and inspirations
I’ve already talked a little about my love of music, but I still love to listen to and produce it. It’s my most important creative outlet. Unfortunately, I also have a keen interest in politics. It’s infuriating and has caused me enough stress to power a small municipality but there’s something so addictive about watching people use power or more realistically, try to hold on to it. To decompress, I often watch interior design videos on YouTube. It may seem a bit leftfield, but there’s something about listening to someone explain the best ways to light a room that puts me very much at ease.