Ayeni Adekunle describes himself as a stammerer, a failed musician and a failed Microbiologist – believe him at your own peril.
That’s because this 5’ 11” Ondo State native with a penchant for short-sleeved white traditional robes is one of Nigeria’s foremost media entrepreneurs, growing renowned public relations and digital communications agency Black House Media Group from his home in 2006, to achieve a valuation of $1million in 6 years then surpassing that several times over thereafter.
The BHM Group now has a London office, morphing into a chain of businesses that manages strategic communications programs for companies with interests in entertainment, lifestyle and fashion, media, marketing and technology. Its clientele is just as varied, with brands like First Bank Nigeria, Verve, Hennessy, Nigerian Breweries and Interswitch, as well as foreign media behemoths Nickelodeon, BET and Comedy Central.
Adekunle has been vocal about his humble beginnings, which he considers his greatest preparation for the world of PR. Working as a reporter with Hip Hop World, Encomium, Thisday and The Punch newspapers, by 2006, Adekunle had a Microbiology degree he had no interest in using, and no money in his pockets; but he opened BHM.
“I started from nothing,” he notes. All I had was a table, a chair and some cheap, assembled contraption, which served as my computer.”
His first clients were artistes and record labels, who were unable to pay much, but BHM’s fortunes changed in 2009, the same year Adekunle started a newspaper called Nigerian Entertainment Today. Two major foreign conglomerates (which Adekunle declines to name) chose to work with BHM Group, to reach Nigerian audiences. “We had established a firm base with Nigeria’s entertainers and their fans, so these companies decided to utilise our skills to entrench their products in the consumer markets. It not only announced us as an organisation able to merge the Arts and Business sectors, but it also brought more companies, who had seen all we were able to achieve. The rest is history.”
A series of firsts
The rest is not necessarily history, but a strategic, ongoing domination of Nigeria’s PR and advertising sectors, as the BHM Group has gone on to a series of industry firsts: creating a unique PR mix to crush the prior divide between entertainment and corporates in Nigeria; building the country’s first PR mobile application and conceptualising the Nigerian Entertainment Conference since 2013, which is an annual convergence of stakeholders and practitioners in Nigeria’s entertainment sector for deliberations, master-classes and networking. The Group’s latest business venture is the launch of its digital agency called ID Africa.
For Adekunle, spreading his skills farther across the continent was a natural progression he anticipated. “As far back as at least 4 years ago, our website Nigerian Entertainment Today was being inundated with requests for PR management from brands, individuals and consumers across Africa, particularly West, Southern and East African countries.”
Adekunle cites increased Internet penetration and the resulting increase in the publishing and consumption of content online as factors that conspired to necessitate the emergence of ID Africa.
“The consumers know what they want, and even though the site said “Nigerian,” the readers wanted to see Kenyan, South African and even US news, and were vocal about it. Simultaneously, brands from these countries and other nations who had seen online and offline campaigns BHM worked on were emphatic they needed the same, so this was the environment which grew ID Africa from an idea to reality.”
“The internet means an artiste’s fans will be from all over the continent, and it will likely be that the telecoms or beverage brand they are an ambassador for is sold across the continent, so the boundaries are shifting, and so must our perception of PR , brand management and advertising,” he adds.
Warning – Africa is not a country
Despite globalisation resulting in a melding of the general tastes of audiences, Adekunle says his instincts made him undertake extensive research, before launching ID Africa.
“We will not be seeking to merely replicate successful campaigns in one country, or go to another country and toe the line, no. Africa is not a country, but a cohort of nations with diverse social, cultural and political influences and nuances. Therefore, ID Africa will be taking into consideration how each of these factors will make or mar each brief, each brand and each consumer demographic we are trying to tackle,” he explains.
“For example, a brief might mean ID Africa looks at target cities, even for the making an online campaign that would run solely on the Internet. We would do this because we know that mobile phones have killed off most cyber cafés in many Nigerian cities, so we expect the Nigerian consumer to most likely be consuming content from one of the over 83 million active phone lines Nigeria has. Studies show many young people in Ghana and South Africa still use Internet cafes, even though they have a mobile phone. In Cape Town in particular, there’s evidence that mobile phones and public access computers are not substitutes for one another. Juxtapose this with Senegal, where Google opened what it called Africa’s first cybercafé that works only with tablets in 2013 and you will see why ID Africa is excited to explore the digital opportunities that abound for consumers and brands alike.”
Without a doubt, for a man who is in fact a stammerer, Adekunle’s achievements and his increasingly strategic conquests in the PR landscape speak volumes – loud, and clear.