[00:00:00] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Every July 16, World PR Day is celebrated all over the globe. Actually, this annual celebration has not always existed. The maiden edition was held in 2021. And the goal is to make people understand the public relations profession, that is, PR and know how well to leverage it.
Meanwhile, practitioners in the field believe that PR roles are largely misunderstood and probably underappreciated. Now, talking about being misunderstood, I will make a quick reference to one I can relate well to, the relationship between PR experts and journalists.
You see, there's this unavoidable relationship between them and it's quite complicated. Even though their roles are extremely interdependent. Several studies conducted worldwide have confirmed this. It's either journalists seeing PR reps as obstacles, who either get in the way of stories or PR reps getting frustrated when journalists ignored their work. As a journalist, I can totally relate with this. But also, I think that the PR industry needs the media to thrive.
Olugbeminiyi Idowu, aka Bemi, somewhat agrees with my sentiment.
[00:01:18] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: PR is one of the most underrated careers out there at the moment. I don't think people understand how impactful PR is and how powerful PR is. PR is the machine that forms how people think, it influences buying decisions, it influences where people go and live, where people go and work, how people engage with each other. PR is involved in every aspect of life. But the best thing about it is nine times out of ten, PR goes unseen. And I think that's a wonderful thing as well, because we can be invisible in the background, and could just let our work do the talking for us.
[00:01:51] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: You're listening to Expert and African, where we tell the stories of African tech specialists and their journey from newbie to expert. On this episode, we'll inspire you through Olugbeminiyi Idowu's story. He's a London-based African tech PR expert who is the brain behind Talking Drum Communications, a PR consultancy startup focused on African tech businesses.
We talk about his relatable beginning and how we found a passion for PR, including his exploits in the industry for the past 13 years.
Bemi, a name you would hear repeatedly for the rest of this podcast has an interesting backstory to it. In a nutshell, it was a coping strategy . After his secondary school study in Nigeria and two failed attempt at getting an undergraduate admission, Ibadan-born Bemi was relocated by his parents to the UK to get a university education. In the process of adjusting to the new environment, the English people he interacted with found it difficult to pronounce his first name. Admittedly, the name is quite a mouthful, but he couldn't stomach how it was constantly mispronounced. And this led him to find a middle ground with Bemi.
[00:03:08] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: For me, it was like a good middle ground between what my name is and what the people around me could say. So that then became my name for a very long time.
[00:03:16] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: In the early stages, that wasn't the only thing Bemi had to deal with. And there was only so much adapting and coping he could do.
[00:03:25] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: When I got here, one of the things that really used to annoy me in the early days is a lot of people around me knew absolutely nothing about Nigeria, nothing about Africa. The only thing I knew about Africa was that there are poor people there. Right? So, that was the only conversation people really wanted to have with me. And that really used to annoy me.
[00:03:40] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: This, got to him for different reasons, but it was only a matter of time before he took a stand.
[00:03:47] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: I went through a phase when I was trying to be like everybody else. I even went through a phase that I tell people I'm not Nigerian, I'm British. So for me trying to run away from that truth and that reality was just, it was silly. So when I decided to make peace for that idea, like, this is who I am, and this is what I am. I was then able to have a little bit more grounding in myself and engage with the world in a more authentic way.
[00:04:08] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: So the big question is how did Bemi find himself in PR? Loving one's personal space has always been Bemi's most unique trait while growing up. This made him play games that should have taken two or more children alone, but he felt he was enough company for himself.
[00:04:25] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: I grew up with loads of cousins. I have like 16 on one side and 15 on another side. And we all grew up together. But somehow I spent a lot of time by myself, playing alone. I just did my own thing, like table soccer. I'll play by myself and I'll be running commentary, it sounds very sad, but I enjoyed it. I used to create my own narrative around what was happening with all the games I was playing. I used to find ways to find what's interesting about different things in terms of storytelling and creating narratives and all sorts of ideas. I think those were the early days of my storytelling in many ways.
And I learned to just feel comfortable in what I like doing, what I enjoy doing I wasn't waiting for someone else to come and play with me before I did what I wanted to do. And I think those kind of storytelling skills and being able to just be my own person in my own space, those things really helped me as I went through life because you go through periods where you just need to be your own person and make your own decision. Not because you want people to come along with you. Not because you want people to be happy, whatever, but because you have a conviction within yourself that this is what I want to do for myself.
And I think that was the beginning of that part of me. And also, like I said, in terms of the storytelling, me just creating narratives around nothing. So when I got to university, when it came to writing, my imagination was very active. So I could see things, I could see patterns, I could see narratives.
[00:05:40] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Not only that, intrigued by his journalist father's lifestyle and his attraction to books, as a child, Bemi made a mental note that he would become a journalist in the future.
[00:05:51] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: My original plan was to be a journalist. So, in another life, I'll probably be doing what you guys are doing.
[00:05:58] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Heading in that direction, he studied journalism and creative writing at Kingston University, London, while hoping that this would boost his other dream of becoming a TV host. Like a lot of people in his graduating set, Bemi didn't anticipate what came after he graduated.
[00:06:16] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: When I graduated in 2008, I graduated around the same time. There was a big, um, global financial crisis, which meant there were no jobs anywhere, even people that were offered jobs, their jobs were rescinded and all that.
[00:06:27] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Badly hit by the situation that caused several rejected job applications and unsuccessful interviews, he happened on what has become his gold mine.
[00:06:37] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: So I randomly stumbled on an internship at a PR agency, somewhere in London. And they were looking for an intern to just got my help with admin.
[00:06:46] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: But this wasn't the silver lining he expected because it was an unpaid internship. However, he augmented it with an evening shift job that earned him stipends. While the company didn't turn out to be the best place he envisaged, Bemi admits that it wasn't bad for the first exposure to PR and he decided to explore it further. He had another stop as an intern in another company before he got his first full-time job at a charity organization. A few months later, he got another opportunity. But he needed to make a life-changing decision. By 2011, he entered the tech PR scene and it's been an upward climb since then.
[00:07:30] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: I thought in terms of my next career move, what was I going to do? Should I continue down my European PR path? Or should I start to explore what's happening on the other side?
[00:07:40] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: By the way, Bemi has worked in six firms doing PR in the last 13 years.
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[00:08:31] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: After eight years in the European PR space, Bemi got into Wimbart, an Africa-focused tech PR agency. Nearly two years after, in the middle of a pandemic, he took a very unexpected decision about his career.
[00:08:45] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: One of the things that became very clear to me is in life, sometimes you have to take risks. And if you don't take risks, you never know. It's almost like when you play in the raffle, you play the lottery. If you don't buy the ticket, you don't win the lottery. Right. You have to actually take that risk. And there's no guarantee that you'll win.
[00:09:00] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: After thorough planning and mentorship, Talking Drum Communications started taking shape in 2020 before an official launch in 2021. The name was inspired by the communication features and the intricate design of the popular West African percussion instrument, gangan. But it wasn't all rosy. However, Bemi constantly reminds himself that "impossible is not a fact, it is an opinion." One of his favourite quotes.
Within the first month, the startup got its first client and for Bemi, this was a major turning point, confirmation that he was doing something right.
Bemi believes that all the skills he developed during his childhood and polished during his time in school all eventually came together to be very handy in the tech space.
He mentions how his roles require him to make people understand and get excited about something that would ordinarily be considered boring.
[00:10:02] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: Going to university and studying creative writing as well, which was basically a degree that involved just reading and analyzing novels. So you got to analyze like plot lines and narrative structures and all these sorts of things. Bringing that into tech PR means I can use those skills the same way people create narratives in novels and story books and I can use that to tell stories about very boring things.
[00:10:28] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: He also considers having highly educated and supportive parents as one of his privileges. Standing out for him is using the knowledge he had gained from studying journalism and putting it to use in an online men's fashion magazine. Sharp Guy, which he ran for four years.
[00:10:46] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: It was weird for me because I was still working in PR at the time. But I used to get pressure releases from other PRs from across the world who wanted me to feature their product or their company on the platform. So for me, that experience gave me an opportunity to understand how the other end of this news creation cycle worked.
[00:11:07] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: If anything, Bemi's wealth of experience contributed to the confidence he had to go and start his own PR firm despite the uncertainties.
Talking about his favourite part of being a tech PR specialist, Bemi mentions how he's always excited about interacting with founders. One of Bemi's high points is having one of his first tech clients in Europe get acquired by a bigger company. For him, that gave him the certainty that if stories are told the right way, it could help startups achieve their long-term growth plan.
So this is for you if you are considering a career in PR,
[00:11:45] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: If you're not organized, then PR is gonna be very difficult for you. Whether you work in-house with a company or you work for an agency, you are constantly juggling multiple tasks. So if you are unable to organize your day to stay on top of your deadlines, or to make sure that you're able to deliver what is required of you, you are going to struggle. Because what you find is you are constantly gonna be firefighting.
[00:12:14] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: Bemi's recommendation is to develop excellent creative writing skills. He refers to it as an ability to create consistent stories from limited information. Depending on the industry you want to play in, data conceptualization is also an important technical skill to get.
He adds that the importance of constant commitment to personal development cannot be overemphasized. Bemi has an intense commitment to learning born out of fear of becoming irrelevant in a number of years. Hence, he constantly finds opportunities to acquire knowledge and be on the top of his game.
Bemi considers PR roles as demanding, although rewarding, even though at the early stage, it might not be as lucrative as you expect.
According to him, tech PR professionals' roles involve helping startups create a public perception that would help them secure what they want to achieve as a business. And this can come with a lot of pressure, which, if not properly managed, can hinder a person's chance of having a life outside work.
On an average day, Bemi is building a good business score for his clients, which varies depending on the present need. He makes sure deadlines are met.
He's either sending out press releases or reports, campaigns, pitching to the media, applying for awards, or hypothetically putting out a fire. Bemi unwinds by reading, watching football and scrolling endlessly through YouTube, watching sports commentaries and highlights, including reaction videos.
He's big on calendar scheduling and also uses Cello, a task manager software at work. He uses Google spreadsheet for progress tracking, WhatsApp for communication, Google Alerts to keep track of media coverage, and Slack and Zoom for communication.
He advises that as an intending PR professional...
[00:14:14] Olugbeminiyi Idowu: Get ready for a lot of NOs. NOs on a lot of things.
[00:14:18] Oluwanifemi Kolawole: ... but make sure things get better with every try. On his bucket list is travelling across every African country.
Thank you for listening to Expert and African Africa. This episode was proudly sponsored by the Techpoint Africa Business team. The script was adapted and narrated by Oluwanifemi Kolawole. Do you know anyone that fits the Expert and African profile? Please reach out with a recommendation through [email protected]
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