The Challenge with Financial PR in Nigeria, and Other Touching Issues -Ekine, Absolute PR
Absolute PR, prides itself as one of the industry’s lean but nimble team of consultants with specialties cutting across corporate / Financial communication, strategic advisory and Brand PR among others. The shop recently marked a decade of operation. In this discussion with BrandCrunch, Akonte Ekine, CEO, Absolute PR reminiscences on the beginning, the journey forward amidst some other knotty industry issues. Excerpts
In the beginning
Having transverse a couple of full-service creative agencies and specialist PR shops, Akonte Ekine berthed the port of DDB Lagos. He was charged with the responsibility of managing the LG electronics, a mostly PR led business. Running the PR Unit of DDB Lagos according to him, “was exciting and challenging”, and also proved a great learning opportunity.
As such, the LG PR campaign executed in Nigeria was rated alongside other LG markets – Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and DDB PR team led by Akonte stood shoulder high than others. “We won international awards as DDB Lagos. With support from the DDB Management and LG people, We had a successful time working on the brand that when LG PR is discussed in Middle East & Africa (MEA) region, campaigns by DDB Lagos is always the standard reference point”, Akonte said.
Kudos to the chairman of DDB Lagos, Mr. Enyi Odigbo, whom Akonte confessed he learnt enormous lessons from. “A leader should know when to pull the plugs and re-strategise”. DDB, according to him at this point was restrategising and changing focus in terms of its relationship with LG business. “I had the option to tag along and move to DDB Client Service (core advertising)”, Akonte buoyed by his strings of achievements on the LG PR thought it better to quit when the ovation is loudest.
“I resigned. And with an associate and a colleague of mine created the name Absolute PR, and locked it up somewhere”. So this gives him the reason to take the plunge and start something somehow. It’s time to explore.
So how do you explore in the murky waters?
No client, no office. “The only thing we had was the grace of God and as my wife used to say, a white plastic table and chair”. She created the office sticker and pasted it on the door and said: “this is your office”. This created a mixed feeling within the fledgling entrepreneur, a moment you have almost everything at your beck and call and the next, you are without a job, and the roof over your head is also threatened! In the midst of these, on the 6th of June, he lost the car he purposely bought for the hustles to robbers, this was on the eve of a very promising business pitch for the Starcomm Telecom PR business.
Saved by the Whiskers
Akonte was saved by the whiskers as he was kidnapped along with the car but was later released. “I was locked in the boot of the car for over 8 hours eventually, (maybe touched by God), my assailants dropped me off at the middle of the night on Apapa- Oshodi Expressway. Very risky a place, I was almost naked, like a mad man, no slippers, nothing”.
“All I could remember was there was going to be a presentation the next day”, but his mind kept rioting each time he remembers what they told him. “They said we should kill you”. Who’s the enemy, he queried his mind for yet a long time?
The Conspiracy Theory
“The painful thing then”, he said, was that, “I was trying to build something and what is supposed to be our first opportunity at something concrete was going up in flames”. He got home at the middle of the night with the help of the Police, woke up the next day, made it to the presentation hoping mother luck will smile him having literally passed through hell both in preparation and especially the abduction attempt.
The budding entrepreneur was jolted out of his skin when he was confronted by a senior practitioner who was also pitching the same business. “We went to that presentation, saw this big Head of a relatively successful PR agency, we greeted and his response was, ‘So you left’”
If the prevailing “dog eats dog” industry stereotype couple with the recent mishap destabilize me, I was further dazed as this “Chief” there and then, demanded a refund of N50,000, a supposed part-payment from the sum of N100,000 fee agreed for consulting for his company on a certain business. All these lend themselves to a conspiracy theory designed to keep us from moving forward, Akonte retorted.
However, this fanned his resolve to build a business that will challenge the status quo and “that’s what it has been” ever since.
“What we’ve been trying to do, we don’t really depend on people for anything except just opportunity. No matter how small that opportunity is, give it to us, we would put in our best. So that’s how we started”.
The Major break
Having missed out on the Starcomms business, Absolute PR’s major launch pad became the ION film festival of 2009, Akonte remembers vividly. ION International Film Festival coming in from Turkey would become our first and most sincere client, I have ever seen in my career. Right from the onset, they were very trustworthy. At the end of the project which lasted about 9months, the creative director, Soldaadd Grognett sent us a letter of commendation, to say the team “delivered to the global standard the festival was used to”, he disclosed.
Apart from winning awards on account of LG PR and other things Akonte has done in his career up until that time, “the ION testament became another confirmation that I took the right decision to practice public relations”, he noted.
Underscoring the plethora of challenges, administrative, manpower, infrastructures and finance among others, Akonte said, “Since when I made the decision to be a part of the PR industry in Nigeria but working with globally acclaimed standards and ethics, it’s been one good story, one bad story and so on until it got out of there some weeks back that so it’s actually 10years we’ve been on this journey. And the mission being, trying to “dent a part of the earth” like Steve Jobs used to say in the height of his career.
“I can say fairly we’ve been trying our best to be better at what we are when we started. Surely we’re not where we think we should be but we’re very hopeful and very grateful to God”.
For Akonte, there are fundamental skills required in public relations. Therefore, Absolute PR is mostly in its natural habitat when the subject is Strategic Public Relations. We started out based on my background in business. We’ve done Aviation PR. We offer services in tech and Telecoms PR. Financial Relations is another of our offerings. Inside financial Relations, there is Investor Relations there is also stakeholders’ engagement. The tools and methodologies are vast, different but may not be mutually exclusive. In terms of the general field of PR, we have also created a unit that services FMCG Clients.
Absolute PR: The Emerging Market Agency
“We can boldly claim we’re an Emerging market agency”. He knows of a certain that businesses coming into Nigeria need agencies that are sound in the psychodynamics of the audience they want to reach, on the one hand. Absolute PR on the other, has equipped itself to know what to do and say at the right time and who to talk to, to get the right feedback to achieve the goals and desires of the client. “So the specialization itself means that we continually evolve through pieces of training and manpower development programmes, to meet the expectations of the clients across our wide range of practice”.
At Absolute PR, we are wired to use the most current, relevant and most feasible platforms required based on the strategy developed to deliver the client’s message to the appropriate audience”
The Germaine Question
Ultimately, who are we talking to? Asks Akonte. “It’s human beings and talking to a human being who has two ears but has tons of multiple platforms you can use to reach him. So what do we use to reach him beyond the media? It could be people like him, it could be a community. In those days in DDB, there is what we call communities of the believers. As an agency at the end of the day, the primary goal is to we have a community of believers we can relate with, can we create communities of believers, can we add values, can we influence the community of believers, can we have converts into that fold, can we expand it? So at the end of the day, everybody must smiles. If I work with you and you are not smiling then we’re actually not delivering.
Financial PR & its peculiar challenge
There is presumed to be a challenge with this genre of PR. But Akonte relates it to what is happening in Nigeria. “Things are evolving, there is inconsistency, times are changing. It’s still very much active probably what is happening now is that there are few agencies that are dealing appropriately with institutions that require those services”.
He reasoned there is a situation where the competition between the agency PR experts and financial institution in-house PR specialists that believe in their competence more than it used to be available (in-house) also there is that part where there is a clash of knowledge, ego and the “Nigerian” factor.
In those days there is a process to everything, you cannot list a company without doing certain things, these are documented, laid down theories and principles that must happen before you’re listed it hasn’t changed rather there are some additions. In all these, he pointed out that communication experts must be engaged to take their roles. Who leads the conversation is a question begging for answers in this conversation? “I think the society is learning more, there are improvements in some areas, yet the prevalent clash of ego most of the times, makes a mess of the process”, he noted.
For instance, he pointed out that advertising has been given too much edge in financial communication conversations. Using some banks’ “ego-tripping missions to nowhere” in some national dailies as an example, he said:
“on a daily basis, you’ll see between 5-8 pages of full-colour adverts belonging to different banks laying back to back. The purpose beats everyone! If you do a thorough analysis of this, and I stand to be corrected, through empirical evidence that these ads, have added any significant value to the brands in question compared to the outlays, is doubtful”.
75/80% of the messages they put out on those pages of the newspaper are not seen as readers often flip past those pages. Half of that money deployed to proper communication targeted at stakeholders, you’ll most likely make more impact, he contends. Akonte is not just saying media relations, but simple events in certain areas such as minimal sponsorship, schools activities for students to tell their parents about the bank that sponsored their inter-house sports, it will deliver value, that’s PR . “Why I will not say they shouldn’t spend it but I think Strategic PR would have done a lot more for the different brands”
Anniversary Shout out to the People, Clients
Having survived 10years of trying to put out a narrative and how to do business to the best way possible depending primarily on God, intellect, skills, Akonte says it’s “still all about the people”. “I must thank everybody that have passed through Absolute PR we have been privileged to have some great guys. The most important thing is that we’re in our own small space trying to add values to people and businesses”. As he declares, “One of the things we try to do in the business, is to encourage people to be better”
On the corporate side, Unilever, Dano, Total, Eterna, Onward Paper Mill, Ecobank, Spectranet, Moneygram, United Way, SAP, NIBSS, Reload Multivitamin, SCL to mention but a few kept challenging the agency to be better. “The agency remains grateful to the people on this side of the divide”. Some of them have been with the agency since inception and have publicly commended the team on some occasions; “it shows there are some things we are doing right”, Akonte acknowledged.
The agency, Absolute PR is determined to rev up on its core values of integrity, honesty, excellence, professionalism and return on ideas. Training and manpower development for its workforce also takes pride of place in the agency’s agenda to emerge an indispensable ally to its discerning clients and prospects across board.