Adefeko: Trust is Vital for Business Survival, Growth

Adefeko: Trust is Vital for Business Survival, Growth

Lagos-based communication and media consultancy firm, AT3 Resources, last week marked its fifth anniversary of providing strategic public relations, events and media interventions to corporates, individuals and brands in Nigeria and across Africa. In this interview, the Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Mrs. Tosin Adefeko, speaks about the journey in the past five years and the plans for the company. Obinna Chima brings the excerpts:

Tell us a little about your background and how the brand name AT3 Resources came about?

My father was a banker – Dr. Femi Zakariya Adekanye, the founder of Commerce Bank Plc. He was a prominent man during his era. A past President of the Chartered Institute of Bankers, a teacher and an author. He wrote many banking books and every banker at some point studied with ‘The Elements of Banking’ which he wrote. My mother was also a banker with Union Bank for over 30 years.  It seemed like a natural career for me since I come from a family of accomplished bankers, so I went into the banking industry at a young age too…but it didn’t take me too long to realise that path was not for me. I hopped from bank to bank in the hope of finding ‘uhuru’ and it just never happened.  But I like to tell people that I learnt a lot from banking, my resilience and staying power, the ability to negotiate dispassionately, to serve, to initiate, build and sustain relationships; my business acumen, most of it I learnt from banking. They drill you to no end, very target driven environment, you snooze you lose, but to me, banking wasn’t what I wanted to do. I am very big on passion and doing what comes naturally to you. What would you do if no one was willing to pay you a dime? When people say ‘follow your passion,’ it should not be underestimated. In my banking days, once it’s time for MPR I had to go and sit with my bestie to explain exactly how those figures arrive at where they are. Figures just fly over my head. I only know how to count my money. Lol. Meanwhile, I was always the best at writing and speaking, I studied English and Literary Studies; even within the banks I worked every appraisal stated I was best at communicating. I wrote my university project on Advertising, the first place I went to look for work was at AIT. I lived in Lekki at the time and the trip to Alagbado was like going to the moon. I abandoned that and started work at an oil company in Victoria Island. That’s the only reason I didn’t become a journalist. This was before my banking career though. Anyway, when I turned 30, I had a light bulb moment and knew it was time to take a decision on my career. I didn’t want to wake up and be 40 in a life I hated. I was earning good money in banking and had risen through the ranks but I knew it was time to leave.

So, why did I come into the marketing communications industry and how did AT3 come about? Like I said earlier, I had my natural inclinations, abilities and passion. Instead of leaving banking and forcing myself into the Media and Communications industry without any training, I took two years off work with my first son in tow and went to pursue a Master’s Degree in Marketing Communications. That was fifteen years ago, when I got back, I had a minor stint at GTB just to stay afloat financially since I was off work for a while and by now was completely broke. It was there that I met Prince Nduka Obaigbena. Prince Obaigbena was one of my major clients at the branch where I headed commercial banking at Guaranty Trust Bank, Ikoyi. Remember banking wasn’t the plan, so within a few months I just walked away. When I left GTBank, upon that I was the toughest on him when I was managing his accounts, Nduka started looking for me. I remember his phone call vividly – ‘Madam, I hear you left the bank? So, I basically told him not to worry about me that I am looking for a media job, serendipitously he had just set up Arise Magazine and he literally just said to me, come and work for me! He it was who got me into the media industry, because he gave me an opportunity to run Arise Magazine. I was the Business Manager of the Magazine and we had several meetings promoting the magazine home and abroad, but the magazine didn’t quite achieve the success the TV station now enjoys. After Arise Magazine, I moved to NN24 who were also just starting at the time and needed a marketing manager.

NN24 was one of the most fantastic ideas of its time, but by my thinking it wasn’t run properly. Through this whole career navigation, I simply wanted to meet one man who was considered the most accomplished marketing practitioner, Dr. Biodun Shobanjo, the Chairman of Troyka Group. Whilst I was a student, I had encountered him once on a plane and thought I should try my luck, I shot my shot as they say …well that didn’t go too far. Lol. When I got a second chance, this time to interview with him I basically just genuinely shared my life’s ambition to be a comms practitioner because that’s all I knew how to do and he gave me the opportunity. That singular decision he made in his office that day changed my story. As you can imagine after all the years of toiling, trying to occupy a space in the world driven by purpose and passion I gave it my all. Even when cantankerous characters thought they could bring me down, I basically just focused on my focus… I had a specific goal, to learn, grow and contribute my quota. After five years with the Troyka Group, specifically as Chief Operating Officer of the Public Relations arm of the business, I decided to leave to set up AT3 Resources. This was a company I had registered many years prior but didn’t have the network and or experience to drive it; so to your question, the company name was derived from my children’s initials.

When I found a compelling reason to revive the company, I just had this small dream to consult for any company, brand or individual that needed support with framing their communications interventions. Bear in mind now I had worked with so many brands especially global brands. Many years I led brand building initiatives for Coca-Cola, P & G, Etisalat, Google, Microsoft, Sanofi, GSK, Skye bank, British Airways, Ford and many brands too numerous to mention. But I saw the gaps with service, I saw gaps with the ability to tell clients what was possible and what was not, for many it’s always a game of profit, trust me I like money too but I detest profit at the expense of service and reputation and I wanted to fill that gap in the industry. So, I tell my staff, we are never going to be everything to everyone, we must ensure we have common values, common goals before we take on a client. Because once we do, we must never fail them. It’s been a tough five years so if I must add no achievement would have been possible without the grace of God and the people that believed in us; when people ask me how we were able to do it, I tell them none of it would have been possible without people. 

What has been the journey in the past five years? 

Like I said earlier, we are a boutique communications agency. In the first five years, the strategy was deliberate, it had to be organic growth, regardless of whatever was happening around us, the plan was to grow organically. The vision was to become the reference point in strategic communications solutions and that could only be achieved with commitment and consistency in service. As we went along, we also continued to identify the pockets of needs and we started seeing that while we had our own plans, there was a bigger market to be served. In 2018, when I started AT3, I sent out three letters including one to a family friend who is a hotelier. Coincidentally one of his hotels was going through a management change at the time and we helped manage the announcement to prevent any brand attrition; we continued to serve various local brands on a project basis, we were signed up by Siemens as PR partner within our second year, even though that didn’t quite crystallise into much as they had some internal changes too; we continued to focus our efforts on the event side of the business, since project cycles were shorter and we had to stay afloat. I also started volunteering on platforms such as Women in Business (WIMBIZ) and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG). I always tell people that you have to give before you get and this was my own way of giving, time and expertise. At the point in which I joined the NESG, I actually told them that I have some free time and I requested to offer my time on planning their annual economic summits.

The first year I was a member of the communications committee but subsequently I was asked to chair their communications committee at the COC and JPC level. I did that for three consecutive years but I have now become too busy I have had to drop some of these commitments. It is time to refocus my time; as an entrepreneur, at every point in time there are different challenges that require full attention. You don’t want to wake up one day and you can’t pay salaries or there is no business. I remember our third year, that was the year of COVID-19 in 2020. We had a lot of events that were cancelled and we stayed for six months without jobs. But as God will have it, it was during that same COVID-19 year that we got our first big break. We had just concluded a project for a family and a member of that family who happens to work at Facebook recommended us to his colleagues who were then looking for agencies in Nigeria to pitch for their account. Several pitches, evaluations, interactions after we were selected as META’s communications partner for Anglophone West Africa. This is our third year on the business but beyond the gains of working on such an interesting brand, our practise was opened up to a whole new world of opportunities that went beyond even our own imagination.

How has it been managing people and what are the challenges you have face so far?

Managing people is one of the most difficult tasks in the world. In this short five years I have encountered a wide variety of characters. Bottomline for me is, we are here to serve and if we have accepted a client’s work, we have made a promise so we must deliver on that promise, it must get done. Disappointing people is absolutely not in my character. If I foresee a commitment not happening due to circumstances beyond my control, I would tell you ahead, but not everyone has that spirit in them. At AT3 we encourage creativity, curiosity, integrity, service excellence and the ability to only say what you can do and never promise what you cannot deliver. I preach to my staff every day, if you do not have these traits, you are not an AT3 person. This is because the moment you begin to fail people, they lose trust in you, the moment they lose trust in you, your brand is dead. So, any day an employee breaks this promise, then we can no longer be friends. Our talents that understand this know they are in a good place to work. We motivate, we encourage, we train. so that there won’t be reasons to disappoint our clients. We all still grapple with a dearth of skill in the PR industry. So, I guess we need measures to upscale talent in the industry. This is also one of the reasons we are putting together a one-week boot camp to enhance skills and support SMEs. 

What is your client base?

We work for a good mix of clients – they range from technology, to FMCGS, to banks and finance companies; we also help influential private clients manage their brands too, whilst also delivering top notch well curated special events. 

What is the plan for the next five years?

We recently invested in our own premises, which is just not a building but a story in itself; in that building brands will be built and revived, perceptions will be built and shaped, special events will be curated and staged. Our opening event was a testament to what we intend to do with that space. It was a movie! We stayed quiet for all these years to build now we are ready to take on the world. There is power in connection and the world is moving into an age of endless connection and endless possibilities. Who else needs to be there to help you on that journey, than we that understand the power of the mind, the power of decisions, the power of urgency and the power to listen to what your audiences are saying? We are properly primed to support you in your quest to connect!

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