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Meet Tofunmi Akinseye, PR guru leaving indelible mark in movie blockbusters

Meet Tofunmi Akinseye: PR guru leaving indelible mark in Hollywood, Nollywood blockbusters

From orchestrating the West African premieres of mega-hits like ‘Black Panther’ with over 65 million impressions and 21 million reach and “Avatar” to steering Nollywood sensations like Odunlade Adekola’s box office smash ‘Orisa,’ Tofunmi Akinseye, CEO of Savvy Media Africa, has a track record that speaks volumes.
Her latest triumph in ‘Black Book,’ a cinematic marvel with a budget of $1 million that skyrocketed to No.1 on Netflix Nigeria and claimed the 4th spot worldwide has put her in the spotlight.
In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, Akinseye speaks on how her brand has consistently pursued excellence and displayed an in-depth understanding of the movie industry in the context of media.

What informed the name ‘Savvy Media Africa’ and how long have you founded the agency?

Savvy Media Africa began its journey a decade ago, while I was still in the University, as a print magazine publication, originally known as Savvy Magazine. We started with a simple yet powerful idea: to shine a spotlight on the incredible talents across Africa.
Our magazine covers have been graced by some of the most notable and beloved celebrities on the continent. We’ve had the privilege of featuring artists like Patoranking, Yemi Alade, Kunle Afolayan, Seyi Shay, Niniola, Annie Idibia, and many more. These incredible individuals represent the rich tapestry of African talent.

I chose the name “Savvy” because it perfectly captured our mission. We aimed to celebrate the excellence and creativity of Africans in various fields. Savvy, to us, meant being in the know, and understanding the pulse of the continent’s artistic and cultural achievements.
As we continued on this journey, our vision expanded, and so did our services. We evolved into Savvy Media Africa to encompass a broader range of media-related offerings. Our goal remains the same: to connect these remarkable talents with their audience, acting as a bridge between them.
In essence, Savvy Media Africa is more than just a brand; it’s a celebration of African excellence, a platform for voices that deserve to be heard, and a testament to the power of media to inspire, inform, and entertain. It’s been an incredible journey, and we’re excited to see where it takes us next.

Read also: Businessday’s CEO Forum: Interview with Godwin Obaseki

What inspired you to set up Savvy Media Africa?

The inspiration behind Savvy Media Africa stemmed from the incredible young talents I encountered. Their remarkable achievements despite humble beginnings and limited resources were awe-inspiring. It became clear that a platform was needed to spotlight these stories, along with narratives of those who achieved against the odds—hence the celebrity featured in the magazine. After narrating countless tales of African youth, it felt like the right time to extend our storytelling expertise to brands. This evolution led us to become a PR company, dedicated to crafting brand messages and ensuring they reach their target audience effectively.”

You have left an indelible mark on Big Hollywood and Nollywood movie premieres. From orchestrating the West African premieres of mega-hits like “Black Panther” with over 65 million impressions and 21 million reach and “Avatar” to steering Nollywood sensations like Odunlade Adekola’s box office smash “Orisa,” Tofunmi’s track record speaks volumes. How were you able to achieve this feat?

Passion has been the heartbeat of my journey from the early days of Savvy Media when resources were scarce. As our vision expanded, the pursuit of excellence became paramount to stand tall in a competitive landscape. When we delved into PR, our first client, Filmhouse Cinemas & FilmOne Group, took a chance on me after a recommendation. I seized the opportunity, ensuring they not only returned but also had compelling reasons to do so. It’s been an enriching two years, and I’m profoundly grateful for the trust bestowed upon me.
Handling premieres for both Hollywood and Nollywood blockbusters is a testament to my unyielding pursuit of excellence and an in-depth understanding of the movie industry in the context of media. Identifying key stakeholders, effectively communicating the essence of the movie, and aligning it with the client’s vision streamlined project execution. This ensured extensive coverage across traditional and digital media, generating fervent anticipation among the target audience and ultimately driving viewership.”

Read also: The Black Book review: Chapters in Effiong’s directorial debut

Do you have an educational background or acquired academic degrees in PR and media relations? Any humble beginnings you would like to share with us that have shaped you into becoming what you are today?

Education may have led me to economics and education studies at the University of Ibadan, but my true passion always lay in the realms of writing and public speaking. I can vividly recall crafting my first storybook in primary school with the guiding hand of my father. This creative spark ignited a journey that saw me engage in spirited debates during secondary school, clinch the coveted position of head girl, and eventually dive into magazine publication in my third year at the university. It was a pivotal shift, as I sought a deeper sense of fulfillment in this newfound path.

Upon graduation, I stepped into the dynamic world of MTN, a telecom giant, as a copywriter. Over time, I gravitated towards broader content roles, collaborating with diverse teams including corporate communications. This stint provided invaluable hands-on experience in corporate communications, allowing me to craft compelling press releases while also nurturing my own media venture. The years spent at MTN, alongside running my media business, opened doors to a wide network. Working with prominent celebrities on various campaigns and engaging with media houses further enriched my professional landscape.

When the moment arrived to devote myself entirely to my media business, these experiences became my bedrock. Along the way, I pursued certifications in the Principles of Public Relations and Working with Media from the University of Colorado Boulder. I’ve always had an insatiable appetite for learning, and this hunger has been my guiding light in navigating this exciting journey.

Your latest triumph is the “Black Book,” a cinematic marvel with a budget of $1 million that skyrocketed to No.1 on Netflix Nigeria and claimed the 4th spot worldwide. What role did you play in making this movie a reality?

When our client, FilmOne NG, took charge of distributing the movie on Netflix, they entrusted us with the task of organizing a private movie screening for this exciting film. Without hesitation, we sprang into action, meticulously identifying niche media platforms alongside traditional and digital outlets. Our mission was to provide these platforms with a firsthand experience of the movie, enabling them to share it with their eager audiences.

We orchestrated live updates through influential digital platforms on social media, ensuring that a select group of these influencers was invited to the premiere. Post-event, we engaged in strategic post-leverage activities that further amplified the film’s reach across various media houses. The premiere itself boasted an impressive media list, extending our reach across both traditional and digital media channels.

Read also: The Black Book hits 17m views, tops in 69 countries

What were some of the challenges you and your team faced in publicizing the Black Book?

Indeed, we received the brief for the private screening on rather short notice. However, thanks to our well-established relationships with key stakeholders in the movie industry and the press, this challenge was but a minor hurdle. We swiftly reached out to our trusted network, sharing an enticing synopsis of the movie, and sparking anticipation and excitement among the target audience.
The result? A truly unforgettable evening that left all attendees with smiles on their faces and a deep appreciation for the film. It’s all about leveraging those connections and turning tight timelines into opportunities for success.

Black Book has become the most talked about movie in Nigeria currently. Did you envisage it would get this huge success with the movie?

After experiencing ‘Black Book’ on the big screen, it was crystal clear that this film was going to strike a chord with Nigerian audiences hungry for fresh, innovative storytelling. It offered something different, a thrilling, action-packed narrative that resonated with the everyday Nigerian experience.
From the impeccable casting choices to the gripping storyline, seamless cinematography, and stellar performances, ‘Black Book’ was a breath of fresh air in the Nollywood landscape. It was evident that a tremendous amount of effort and dedication went into crafting this cinematic masterpiece, and the results speak for themselves.
What truly stood out was the film’s ability to seamlessly blend modern technology with a localized, relatable storyline, making it an absolute delight for its target audience. ‘Black Book’ has not only raised the bar but is now reaping the well-deserved rewards of its exceptional storytelling and execution.

Your PR is focused on Films and banks. Was it deliberate focus on these key sectors or it just happened by chance?

At the heart of our PR brand lies a dedication to crafting unforgettable moments, spinning captivating stories, and safeguarding reputations. Our niche, however, thrives in the world of events and movie premieres. The reason behind this focus is the phenomenal growth we’ve witnessed in the movie industry, with numerous films hitting the screens regularly. It’s also a testament to the trust our valued client, Filmone Ng, has placed in us as they’ve chosen us to handle many of their high-profile premieres. For this trust, we remain immensely grateful.
Beyond the silver screen, we’ve ventured into diverse sectors. For instance, we’ve had the privilege of collaborating with brands like Bolt, ensuring that their reputation remains pristine in the eyes of their stakeholders. We’ve also made our mark in the lifestyle sector, partnering with platforms such as Lagos Cocktail Week, to name a few.
Our approach is comprehensive, encompassing a 360-degree marketing strategy tailored to each campaign’s unique journey within the target audience. This multifaceted approach is how we ensure our clients shine brightly and leave a lasting impression on their audience.

Can you take us through the journey you passed through in building your brand, including challenges and opportunities?

Embarking on a career in media has been a decade-long journey marked by its fair share of struggles, invaluable lessons, and formidable challenges. Starting a publishing company from scratch, and then nurturing and sustaining it in a fiercely competitive market with limited resources, demanded a relentless spirit, unwavering passion, and a thick skin.
In this industry, numbers are key. Building a substantial audience across various platforms proved to be one of the most demanding tasks. It hinges heavily on content production and distribution, often without immediate returns. A decade ago, media was a tough sell for investors, primarily focused on profit. There wasn’t always a clear path to success. It’s only in recent times, with the rise of social media, that media has gained more traction and appeal.

Staying steadfast to achieve 14 editions of the magazine, and diversifying into other facets of media, required a venture built on sheer passion and unyielding resilience. The financial burden, especially for a woman unwilling to compromise on certain principles, presented perhaps the most arduous challenge. However, it’s a journey I now find deeply fulfilling, one that’s beginning to yield hard-earned rewards.
As for opportunities, the trajectory of my journey isn’t far removed from my personal quest to become a media mogul. Landing my first job at MTN was a direct result of having something tangible to show — copies of the magazine at the time of my interview. The incredible personalities I’ve connected with and the networks I’ve built over the years, along with the impactful stories of young Africans I’ve shared, all contribute to a profoundly rewarding journey.”

Read also: The Black Book: Why South Americans love the film more than Africans

Were there times when clients became sceptical of your ability to deliver services simply because you are a woman? When this happens, what is often your response and how do you prove beyond reasonable doubt that you can deliver on the job?

Being a female entrepreneur in a predominantly male-driven environment, like Nigeria, isn’t primarily about facing scepticism, but rather contending with a certain perception. There’s a tendency to not take women in entrepreneurship as seriously, as if the pursuit of wealth is somehow gender-specific. The real challenge lies in this skewed perspective.
It’s not a matter of lacking value. Women have consistently demonstrated their immense contributions. However, the notion that women should simply relax and be provided for often hampers the ability to be seen as serious contenders. I’ve had instances with male clients who downplay my pursuit of financial independence, preferring to focus on what they can offer me on a more personal level.
In my view, both men and women need to shift their perspectives on women in business. We should be seen as individuals capable of competing and claiming a significant stake at the table. Women who are prepared to earn their seats, who don’t want handouts, and who firmly believe that their gender doesn’t negate their innate capacity to amass wealth. Encounters with such stereotypes don’t surprise me anymore. Instead, they fuel my determination to work until my track record speaks for itself. At this stage, the conversation carries a different weight.

You have achieved a lot as a young lady and built a client base that is quite admirable. How were you able to defy stereotypes to build a PR empire as a young lady?

Stereotypes are an intrinsic aspect of human nature. People tend to hold unfounded beliefs about things and individuals they don’t fully understand. Sometimes, these notions stem from personal experiences or limited information.
Throughout my career, I’ve encountered stereotypes that go beyond gender, including classism and judgments based on personal values and boundaries. However, I’ve never allowed these stereotypes to hold me back. I’ve always had a strong sense of self and a clear focus.
My energy isn’t spent on trying to change people’s perceptions of me. Instead, I concentrate on the opportunity to serve, build a loyal clientele, and earn my client’s trust by consistently delivering exceptional service and client satisfaction. When your value speaks louder than stereotypes, those stereotypes become insignificant.

What specifically differentiates Savvy Media Africa from other PR firms offering brand development, public relations, and marketing?

My time at MTN in the marketing department was incredibly enriching. I had the privilege of collaborating with various cross-functional teams, delving into go-to-market strategy, sales and distribution, brand and communications, corporate communications, sponsorship, and the youth segment, among others. This diverse exposure greatly expanded my understanding of a customer’s journey map. While PR and marketing serve distinct functions, they share many common tools. Elements like demographics, channels, new media, influencer marketing, social media, etc are pivotal for both PR professionals and marketers. Our profound grasp of every facet of marketing empowers us to approach PR with a unique perspective, leveraging a 360-degree marketing approach in our campaigns.
One of our key differentiators lies in our customer-centric approach. We prioritize timeliness and work closely with our clients to ensure we’re not just meeting but exceeding their goals.

Any plans to diversify into other things in the near future?

Without a doubt, storytelling has always been my driving force. I see myself making an impact in the film industry, harnessing the power of narratives to shape culture and provoke new ways of thinking. It’s a realm I’m genuinely excited to explore, as I believe stories have an unmatched ability to mould our perceptions and drive change.
But my ambitions extend beyond just the silver screen. I harbour a deep-seated desire to contribute to governance and politics and to serve in capacities that can truly influence our society. This multifaceted journey, weaving through media, storytelling, and politics, is where I find my purpose. It’s a path filled with boundless opportunities to make a lasting impact; one I’m eagerly embarking upon.

Where do you see Savvy Media Africa in the next 10 years?

In the coming decade, I envision Savvy Media Africa as not just a brand but a household name, deeply ingrained in the fabric of our media landscape. Our team will have grown exponentially, a powerhouse of creative minds relentlessly challenging the status quo with disruptive ideas and innovative thinking.
Our mission goes beyond just media; it’s about changing the very culture of Africa through groundbreaking media solutions. I foresee us expanding our capacity, fully realizing the vision of becoming the go-to destination for creative media excellence. We’ll continue to shape narratives, amplify voices, and pioneer new ways of storytelling that captivate, inspire, and provoke change. The future is incredibly exciting, and I can hardly wait to see it unfold.