Agency 106, which manages talents like Ireti Doyle, Blossom Chukwujekwu, Linda Ejiofor and Adesua Etomi, is run by Isioma Osaje, a graduate of medicine and surgery from Igbinedion University. She talks to Joy Ehonwa about her career, her talent management journey, and the Nigerian film industry.
CN: Tell us a little about your educational and professional background.
I have a degree in medicine and surgery from Igbinedion University in Okada, Edo State. Before that, I attended Corona School for my nursery, primary and secondary school education. Professionally, my first couple of jobs were as an intern radio presenter at Rhythm FM Benin City, and as an Assistant Editor with Hip Hop World Magazine, owned by Smooth Promotions. I also worked with The Headies’ scripting and creative teams while I worked for Smooth Promotions. I worked as PR Associate for Zebra Stripes Networks when I moved on from The Headies before deciding to go the talent management route. Somewhere in between all of these, I worked as a writer (fiction/non-fiction) and I wrote for blogs and magazines like 360 Nobs, TooXclusive and Ynaija. Right now I work in talent management and film production under my agency – Agency 106. My first film, which was produced in a collaboration known as the JAF Alliance, was released in Nigerian cinemas on February 17, 2017. My management clients as at the time of this interview include Blossom Chukwujekwu, Adesua Etomi, Linda Ejiofor and Iretiola Doyle. I also do agency work for a handful of Nollywood actors, but an agency relationship is a bit of a revolving door.
CN: What does your company do and what solutions does it provide?
Agency 106 Talents & Co. Limited essentially does three things. We provide talent management services, we work as agents and the newest arm of the company is a film/TV production consultancy.
CN: How did your talent management career begin?
I started managing when I was in University. In my fourth year, I knew that my future didn’t lie in medicine and so I started to actively seek out the things I was great at. I think I worked with my first two clients in 2012/13. An interesting fact people don’t know is that Linda Ejiofor was my first ever client and the second was a musician- Niyola. Of course, I was not as knowledgeable then as I am now. I took a break to decide what I wanted and at the end of 2013, the dream for Agency 106 was born and in February 2014, I entered into my first official management relationship with Blossom Chukwujekwu. Adesua Etomi followed in January 2016. Linda Ejiofor and I decided to give management another go in May 2016 and then after a brief stint as Iretiola Doyle’s agent, we entered into a management relationship, I think this was in June/July.
CN: Did you have to do a course for this, or did you learn the ropes on the job?
The thing is I have had two management stints. The first I stumbled into a little unprepared and the second which is the phase I’m in now – this phase with Agency 106. I knew that I had great organisation skills, I knew I liked to orchestrate from behind the scenes and I knew I had a passion for film. When I got the calling/affirmation that my destiny lay in management, specifically with Blossom Chukwujekwu after I watched his film Finding Mercy which closed the Afriff 2013, I began a ferocious journey to learn everything I could about talent management. The internet was a great resource; I read and continue to read resources on talent management and the film business. Added to what I had picked up when I managed Linda and Niyola, my knowledge and skill base improved greatly. I knew that this time, it was what I “needed” to do, and I wanted to be successful at it. Not like I wasn’t successful before, but my perception changed. Now I know that a successful manager is a manager whose talents are successful. It’s my greatest joy when I can help an actor along their journey to greatness. Interesting enough, one of the things that drove me to be a successful talent manager is something someone said to me. They meant it as an insult, but it turned out to be the biggest motivation in the first year of my business. It was dug at me reading Hollywood blogs and thinking that could apply here. Now my only motivation is doing right by the actors who trust me with their careers.
CN: Why do your clients choose you, what’s Agency 106’s competitive edge?
I’ve chosen all my clients. A couple might think they chose me, mostly because they believed in me and saw that I appeared to know what I was doing. But to be honest, I already knew I wanted to manage them and I simply helped them arrive at the decision that Isioma was the person to help them on their journey. Agency 106’s competitive edge is its people. The team and its clients. We do not do half measures. As a manager, I take my job very seriously and all my actors take theirs even more seriously. We believe in having an excellent spirit. The icing on the cake is the grace of God over our lives. My vision is clear and hasn’t wavered since I received it from God. This vision is in everything I do when it comes to Agency 106. I’m very dependent on God leading my journey and so are my clients. The thing I tell everyone I eventually manage is, I’ve prayed about it and I’d like you to do the same. I tell them I can make you a million promises, but the only one that matters is that I will fight for you with everything I have. I will ensure that the only thing you have to do is wake up and act because I believe in your talent and I want to help you achieve everything you’ve been destined to achieve. My process with taking on a new client can be a little long and I can tell you first hand that several people have gotten discouraged by how long it takes Isioma to commit, but I am here and thriving only because God has deemed it so, and I will not move unless God expressly says Isioma this person is your client. Of course believing in your talent is the first step, but the deciding factor is God telling me that our journeys are linked. Now something else I’d like people to understand that is that you meet people at different points in your journey and the stars have to align. It’s really nothing personal and I always wish the best for anyone who doesn’t find a home at my agency.
CN: What do you consider to be the best career decision you have ever made?
Every client I’ve signed on has been an amazing career decision. I see it this way: Blossom Chukwujekwu is the rock that I built this business on, Adesua Etomi is the rocket ship that has propelled me. Linda Ejiofor is the affirmation that I was on course and Iretiola Doyle is the confirmation of my vision. I talk a lot about my clients, and that may not be conventional but understand that Isioma Osaje would not be here if each of these people had not trusted her with their careers. Each of these guys are incredible actor. It’s my hope and prayer that anyone else who joins this family is blessed and becomes a blessing to us all.
CN: Who is your professional role model?
Professionally I’m influenced by Moses Babatope of FilmHouse/Filmone and Chinaza Onuzo of InkBlot Productions. These two men are the first two people I go to with business matters, questions, and ideas. They’ve lent themselves immensely to grooming me. Their wisdom and faith and being available to listen and help me out at all times, make them amazing mentors and humans. Moses and Naz are integral to my journey. I’m blessed to know them. From a distance, because I’ve never met him, there is Femi Oguns. He is a UK based manager/producer. He manages John Boyega and owns the Identity Group. I stalk everything Femi does professionally and his career as a manager and now a producer inspires me to no end.
CN: What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Nothing really. I enjoy what I do.
CN: Which books have impacted your life?
I’m a bibliophile, I read any and everything, but at the start of the year, I read Smart Money Woman by Arese Ugwu. It was a Christmas present from Mrs Doyle, and that book has changed my life. Everything I’ve done financially in 2017 is a tribute to Arese’s book. It’s powerful and I recommend it to everyone I meet or care about.
CN: What is your long-term vision for Agency 106?
When I started Agency 106, I told God I wanted it to be home to Nollywood’s top acting talent. Well, looking at my client roster, I cannot complain. Long term, I would like to transfer knowledge. I’d like to teach people everything I know about talent management. I’ve spent the first couple of years building this business and now I’m ready to take it from a one-woman firm to a collection of talent managers and agents. So long term, Agency 106 will transition from a boutique agency to an agency that represents diverse talent working across Africa. Hollywood has a sea of managers and agents, Nollywood has maybe a handful. The fact is we cannot grow without structure and a manager/agent is an integral part of the structure of a film industry.