Ayeni Adekunle: On a Mission to Redefine PR

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Ayeni-Adekunle

Blackhouse Media is undoubtedly Nigeria’s leading marketing communications company. Operating under the business philosophy of always putting “People Before Profit”, the multiple award winning public relations firm has in 12 years become a model PR firm to other marketing communications outfits, writes Ojo Maduekwe

The founder/CEO of BlackHouse Media (BHM), Ayeni Adekunle, in a 2016 interview to mark 10 years of the media and public relations firm, said part of his vision for the agency in the next decade was to grow the company into “the first local agency to become a global agency”.

To partly drive this vision and as a continuation of the anniversary celebration, BHM published a free 138 page book titled ‘BHM Guide to PR’ for industry professionals.

Two years after that statement, BHM has gone on to record some impressive achievements. In 2017, the firm was named thePR Agency of the Year and Best Agency to Work by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (NIPR) Lagos Chapter. Recently, BHM was crowned the ‘PR Agency of the Year’ 2018 at the Brandcom Festival on Friday, May 24th, 2019 at the Shell Hall, Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos, which had in attendance some of the best and brightest minds in Nigeria’s Marketing Communications industry, cutting across advertising, digital and media; including some of the biggest brands in Nigeria.

Organised by Brand Communicator – a brand and marketing communications magazine, and also the organiser of the Women in Marketing and Communications Conference/Awards (WIMCA) – the BrandCom Festival and Awards was established to recognise and celebrate excellence in Nigeria’s rapidly growing Marketing Communications industry.

Reacting to the award on Instagram, Ayeni thanked BHM staff, the agency’s clients, friends, media partners and advisers, and dedicated the award to “everyone who’s in our corner, those about to cross over, and to everyone working day and night, making huge sacrifices and strides to help us build a great company.” Acknowledging that BHM still had a long journey ahead of it, Ayeni said he however believed the firm was on the right path.

A part of an official statement released by the agency to announce the award read: “With a vision and mission to provide the best possible corporate and marketing communications to the best brands on earth and becoming Africa’s leading media and public relations agency, BHM has continued to innovate and push the bounds of norm in Public Relations…”

The 12 years old agency has worked with clients in Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Milan, Paris, Las Vegas, Ghana, Barcelona, etc. Some of these clients include MTN Nigeria Communications Plc., Nigerian Breweries Plc., Multichoice, Viacom, Kroll, Italian Luxury Company – Alter Ego Project Group and the biggest music awards on the continent MTV Africa Music Awards (MAMAs). Some other past clients include Moet Hennessy, Interswitch Transnational (Interswitch, Verve and Quickteller), First Bank Plc, Campari, American Honey, Famous Grouse, Skyy Vodka. Other clients include Viacom, Quilox and The Headies.

No doubt, BHM has one of the most impressive lineup of clients for any PR firm in Nigeria. This is not an easy achievement, considering that Nigeria’s marketing communications industry is one of the most difficult to set up shop. Often, agencies have to deal with clients who do not understand, let alone appreciate the relevance of the industry. So for a firm that is barely more than a decade to have such distinguished clientele is an achievement; a fact that was reiterated recently during a conversation that I had with an industry player.

Last week, I played catch up with a friend, mentor and the founder of Arden & Newton, Perez Tigidam, someone whom I admire for the strides he is making in the marketing communications industry. Perez also runs ‘The Nerve Africa’, an Africa focused growth information and digital news service, which is organising the maiden Global Africa Forum on Communications slated for August 21st and 23rd, 2019 at the Kigali Convention Center in Rwanda.

Perez and I both share a mutual respect and admiration for Ayeni, and so as we discussed the down and upside in the industry, it was only natural that Ayeni and BHM would come up. You cannot be a PR firm, boast an impressive clientele like BHM and not be the centre of attraction in a conversation on the industry. Amongst industry observers, BHM is seen as a model and reference point for both small and large marketing communications firms in Nigeria.

“I hear people say that the reason why BHM is this successful is that in some of the companies that BHM consults for, you have contacts who are friends with Ayeni, thus he gets the big jobs. Knowing that it took Ayeni years of building and paying his dues to attain this level, I sometimes object to the fact that he clinches these big accounts merely on the basis of friendship. Speaking about friendship, you don’t build capacity for over a decade and not make friends along the way, these old friends believe in your competence and capacity more than anyone else. If friendship is the final hammer that hits the nail on an account pitch, then all well and good, I’m up for that so long as it’s not trivialised,” Perez said.

There are several industry firsts that accords BHM this status of a model PR firm, initiatives such as the annual Nigeria PR Report dedicated exclusively to chronicling data on trends, perceptions, challenges and prospects within the industry; the Nigerian Twitter Map which tracks trending conversations on Twitter and recommends profiles of the most prominent voices on various topics; and the Nigerian Entertainment Conference (NEC) that discusses trending topics around the entertainment industry and its future.

However, beyond the ‘man-know-man’ and the trendsetting initiatives is a philosophy at the heart of BHM; the idea of putting “People Before Profit” that has ensured the firm not only groom the best professionals in the industry but be involved in some of the most creative and talked about successful PR campaign ideas, such as the MTN Nigeria Communications Plc ‘Man In The Box’ in 2018, which was executed as a part of a multi-agency creative effort.

A July 2018 BusinessDay feature attributed BHM’s success to its staff of young, passionate professionals “who deliver unbeatable results for clients, investors, stakeholders and audiences.” According to the article, to reward them, “BlackHouse Media adopts what it calls the policy of 3C’s of Capacity, Convenience, Compensation which puts its people before profit, integrity before image and unlimited possibilities before general platitudes.”

When you walk into BHM’s office, the “People Before Profit” philosophy is boldly engraved as signage and can be seen at the reception. My first visit to the firm was for a meeting with Ayeni; it ended up being a crash course on his aspirations for the company, which has a staff strength of 50 plus young people. Departments under the BHM Group is comprised of Corporate & Legal, Talent & Material Management, and Finance, that ensures a smooth daily execution of the firm’s vision. The office ambience oozes creativity, and the friendliness amongst the staff fosters a culture of cooperation. Witnessing this made it easy to understand how BHM’s successes are intricately tied to its philosophy.

Under the BHM Group are standalone brands, namely, BHM, ID Africa, Plaqad, Neusroom, 234Star, NET, Orin, NET Shop, and NEC. The smooth fusion of these unique brands (comprising digital content trading and influencer marketing, entertainment, mobile music streaming, digital communications, e-commerce, news, fashion and lifestyle, events) into one giant functioning and successful group of companies is due to the “People Before Profit” philosophy.

As an outsider trying to understand how BHM has attained this level of success in just 12 years, all you’re likely going to see are the unique brands that make up the company, the impressive client list and the “hefty” retainer fees that comes with it, but brands like BHM are the embodiment of the philosophies that drive them. Yes they may attain success because of the quality of their products and services, but much more as a result of the management of their company using time-tested business principles such as the “People Before Profit” that is at the core of BHM, and has seen it become a model to other PR firms.