By Tobi Awodipe
Nene Bejide is the founder and principal consultant at Blanche Aigle Communications, a fast-rising Public Relations agency in Nigeria that focuses on redefining Public Relations and Brand Communications through empowerment marketing for tech companies, lifestyle and corporate brands. A strong player in the media industry for over six years, communication has always been a strong point for Nene who was once an OAP with a strong background in Social Work. Nene’s level of understanding of the communications industry comes with an innate desire to ensure that brands can perfectly connect with their target audience using an informed approach and techniques that ensure positive results. A certified Brand Communications Expert and journalist, she is also a member of NIPR. Passionate about human development, entrepreneurship and giving back to the society, especially young women, she is the co-founder of Igniting Giants Africa, a youth development non-profit organization that strives to empower and uplift youths. She also sits on the board of Handzeon Africa Limited, a Business Development Consultancy Company that empowers entrepreneurs on Business Skills. In this interview, she talks about building her brand from scratch, running a non-profit and tips for surviving in business.
You are combining social work with PR and Communications, what informed this bold move?
It is a bold move, however, I can’t really have one without the other because my goals and objectives are to have a full-circle and complete loop. My background is in Social Work and my passion is in PR and Communications. I realized that although Public Relations and Communication are good for the clients, even better is appreciation and involvement in social work to benefit the communities. Community relations is an important aspect of Public Relations and it involves social work (community or individual) this makes it easy for me to channel my background in social work into creating healthy relationships between the community and the organization, it also made it easier for me to see social problems and provide solutions that would be beneficial to society and also show the good interest of my clients.
As CEO of a budding PR firm, what does communication means to you?
Communication for me is being able to pass across a message effectively and efficiently using the best media. It is the ability to have people react positively to a message you passed across. Funny enough, this is how I discovered my passion for communication. Growing up, I always imagined how brands were able to influence our decisions, being on top of our mind one way or the other and why some didn’t have that much impact.
What motivated you to start your own company instead of seeking paid employment after school?
I worked very briefly in an oil and gas servicing company after getting my degree, but my heart was always in public relations. I realised I was interested in how other brands and individuals were being viewed and perceived. Besides, I want to do my own thing and enjoy what I’m doing. Although I tried looking for a job, I didn’t really find a public relations company in Lagos that was passionate about CSR and community relations and infusing both with public relations as much as I do, so I decided to start something small. I enrolled for NIPR to get my certification in Public Relations and, six months after I resigned from my job, I enrolled in a brand communication school to study Marketing strategy and copy writing.
How did you get the required funding to start, seeing that you started from scratch?
(laughing) I literally started from the scratch! I quickly realized that I have to make sacrifices and not expect something big from the start. I needed to prove myself by getting a foot in the door and funding came as I got more clients. I started this business with nothing other than my idea and sheer will, and that’s what has kept me going. Luckily, my first client was a friend who needed marketing strategy and digital PR for his business and I took off from there. It wasn’t so easy, but the good side about starting with nothing is that it helps you master a lot of skills, build your mental strength and give you a better understanding of things. It also shapes and molds your business ethics and values. You understand the industry more and focus more on growing.
What role does your company play in growing startups and SMEs presently?
Looking at how much MSMEs is contributing to the GDP of the country, how can I not want to play a part? In July of this year, a study said MSMEs contribute 54% percent of the country’s GDP. We have developed plans and packages to provide communication solutions for MSMEs and startups in Nigeria that covers all the needs for startups, creating the visibility, media strategy, top of mind awareness, reach and in the long run the conversion that they need. More importantly, we guide new players on a good business communication plan because to have a business idea is one thing and to understand how to run the said business is another. Most startups fail in the first year or two because of varying factors. So, we provide critical survival information and know-how to startups in order to help them weather the storms and make the right decisions as well as market survey that enables them to get competitive advantage.
Having worked as an OAP and in journalism, how does this help you as a communication entrepreneur?
Working as an OAP helped build my oral skills and communication skills, made me more objective and gave me the ability to relate to people on any level and improved my confidence. Journalism built my story telling, listening, and writing skills. So basically, they strengthened me as a PR practitioner.
You run a non-profit, Igniting Giants Africa, what is it about?
IGA as I call it, is a youth development NGO with a focus on youth development, leadership and drug abuse. Over the years, we have organized workshops and events around our focus, from drug abuse campaigns, leadership workshop, and currently, we are having a workshop tagged “Emerging Career Opportunities” for students in government secondary schools. The goal is to expose these students to a new career path and also fight gender bias towards some occupations. This would give them the ability to create their own career paths or find a career in their hobby. The world is changing from when just doctors, engineers, lawyers, accountants and the likes were the only recognised professions, now we have programmers, graphic designers, influencers and so on doing well in their own right.
You mentioned that you are passionate about human development, entrepreneurship and giving back. Tell us how you are going about these?
I believe in the saying that we are gods and we know not, I believe that there are a lot of things we could do as humans if we make conscious efforts to be better people than we were yesterday, and this involves learning and re-learning. Yes, people say we learn everyday as long as you are alive, however, there is nothing more satisfying than to intentionally improve ourselves. Entrepreneurship, because the world population is increasing every second, there is a continuous need to come up with numerous business ideas to improve existing ones, thereby creating job opportunities for the next generation, just like big brands of today did some 50 -150 years ago. I always look for an opportunity to understand the needs and challenges in communities around me to give back, as well as facilitate, partner and encourage others to do same. Co-founding IGA has helped me achieve these goals and objectives of giving back and adding tremendous values to others. I volunteer time and resources to charity organizations, community development projects, and others.
Are there any women in business that inspire you?
I will say Mo Abudu. She is one of the few women who has built a business starting from scratch. She eventually started hosting her own talk show to owning one of the biggest female owned indigenous lifestyle, infotainment and entertainment TV stations. She has created a platform for a lot of young OAPs and actors, not to talk of the behind-the-scene crew (cameramen, script-writers, producers, etc.). I would say she is a frontrunner and should be celebrated for her achievements. She is one person I know that clearly shows women and young women that success is truly a metamorphosis from the caterpillar to the butterfly, and if you believe it, you can do it.
Have there been any moment(s) of challenges that made you want to throw in the towel?
A lot of times but just for a few minutes, it doesn’t last more than a thought, because I know there is nothing else I want to do more than this. This is what I love and enjoy doing, it completes me. So, for every time, I feel like giving up, I know that I don’t have anywhere to fall back to and I keep going. Most times, the joy I get when I am working on a project keeps the adrenaline flowing. Times when I feel like giving up, are times when things are not going as planned, but then I see it as a challenge, and challenges are so interesting for me because they help me become a better person by adding knowledge and experience.
Failing and challenges are part of business growth and success stories. So, the idea is to learn, dust-off, and keep going.
What are some key lessons you have learnt so far?
I have learnt to trust the process, and what that is saying is that I have learnt to be patient and knowing when to take action. I used to have very high expectation of things, and then I get really sad when things don’t work well. One thing entrepreneurship has taught me is to learn to always give my best and limit my expectations.
Having spent six years in communications and passed the one-year mark in entrepreneurship, what would you tell other women-owned businesses on surviving in this field?
Like most entrepreneurs know, the first year in business is bitter-sweet. Don’t be afraid to change things or strategy if they are not working, it doesn’t mean you failed. It actually means that you are determined to be successful. This means you should be open-minded but have a goal and focus. Also, evaluation is key. Sometimes we keep working and working but we don’t have time to evaluate our efforts. As an entrepreneur, you need to take time to evaluate and assess the effectiveness of your plans. This enables you to see what’s working, what needs to be improved on and what you need to let go. For me, I use my company’s anniversary to critically evaluate the decisions I’ve made throughout the year. I also do periodic project evaluations as needed. Secondly, chase value and not money, more often than not, when people chase money they tend not to have values. Creating value is the real cash but that’s a secret a lot of people don’t understand. A lot of people are looking for quick gratification and end up missing their way. Successful business people often start with creating products and services with values rather than creating a business to make money. Money comes with value added business.
If you had the opportunity to influence a change for Nigerian women, what would that be?
We live in a fast-paced world where so many things are going on at the same time and women are more than ever trying to joggle so many things at the same time. Given the chance to influence a change for Nigerian women, it’d be to enable them dedicate time and resources to educate themselves, their children and as many other children as they can. I know you’ve probably heard it so many times, but the truth is that knowledge is key. We need to focus on bringing up well-educated and well-mannered young Nigerians to lead our country in the future. You can only give what you have. When a woman is educated and well informed, she’d appreciate the importance of educating the youth. By education, I don’t mean formal education alone. It could be informal, mentoring and so on.
How do you relax?
Relaxing for me is being indoor. I guess because my job involves spending a great deal of time outdoors. I really enjoy and appreciate being at home relaxing. I also like reading memoirs, fictions, non-fictions and taking long walks.
Last words for women looking up to you?
First, I would say believe in yourself. Educate, appreciate, enrich yourself with positive and productive things. Be focused and determined. Expect failure and mistakes, but see them as lessons and stepping stones. Do not give up on your passion and goals. Be ready to learn and teach. Always know that you can achieve anything you really put your mind to.
Which leads me to say you have to be intentional about your actions, which means you have to plan every step that you take, you have to think before you act, this will help you make the right decision and take the right step. Don’t be distracted by the noise around you, find that inner voice and focus on it. I understand that there are lots of distractions around us, from social media to peer pressure etc. do not let any of those things bother you, find your path and people will follow.
Don’t be afraid to think big, you can be everything you want to be and more. This is not just a statement, it’s a mantra I live by. Before merging social work and public relations, I always thought I won’t be able to do it until I stopped limiting myself mentally. Today, I’m setting and achieving goals that are impacting the lives of thousands of Nigerian youths, and I have also built a public relations company that provide solutions for corporate organizations, lifestyle, technology companies, entertainment, individuals, startups and SMES. Imagine if I limited myself, I won’t be here today. In all, be consistent, don’t be in a hurry to give up, enjoy and love the process and the most important thing is to take the lessons out of it.