Despite the fast spreading impact of technology across various sectors, Temi Ophylia Ibekwe, founder and lead strategist, Phyllion & Partners Limited, a public relations and marketing agency, says little is being told about the story of the impact of technology in Nigeria among start-ups and established firms. In this interview with Obinna Emelike, she unveils what her female-led communication agency is doing to address the issue, need for tech PR, testimonials, challenges, among other industry issues.
Could you give a background to the Phyllion story and the latest innovations you are bringing on board?
Phyllion & Partners Limited started in May 2017 to provide public relations services and marketing solutions to businesses. We started off consulting for technology companies and SMEs as this was an area, we had accrued capacity in.
Also, knowing that a lot is happening in this sector without adequate coverage and exposure this formed our niche in the PR sector which is Technology Public Relations. However, we do have extensive capacity in other sectors, working with other brands in the agricultural, FMCG, and Fintech space. Phyllion as we preferred to be called was borne out of a passion to see businesses in Nigeria succeed through effective communication strategies that endear them to their target market and improve bottom line. We wanted more businesses that have not seen the need for effective communications and marketing to embrace it, see the benefit and results, which are measurable after some time. Since we started, we have worked with various organisations small, medium and large some of which include Hewlett Packard Enterprise Nigeria, Edgebase Technologies, Connect Nigeria, Amo Farm Sieberer Hatchery Ltd, The Nest Innovation Park (a Technology Hub) Kaptain Foods Ltd. among others.
In Nigeria, there are still very few female-led communication agencies and the acceptance of the benefits of the profession is still largely low. Apart from my desire to see more women led agencies in Nigeria, I wanted to start something that was locally relevant but also globally competitive in terms of our creative solutions and ideas. In 2014 when a team mate and I won the local competition that earned us a spot in the Cannes Lion Festival of Creativity as Nigeria’s representatives in the Cannes Young Lions Competition PR category, I realized there was a huge gap between what was being practiced globally, the ideas and execution and what was obtainable in Nigeria.
We had prepared a very mind-blowing presentation which was actually given a commendation by the jury, but which was termed more study related than practical hence didn’t make it to the first, second or third place in the global competition. Our counterparts who won, presented ideas that fused art & design, music and drama as a public relations tactic which realistically speaking would attract and engage the audience better in respect to the brief given which was a campaign against child trafficking. We learned our lesson quickly, but I left there determined to change the narrative out of Nigeria on communication practice. This is why one of our key differentiators is creativity.
What were the teething challenges you faced and how were you able to surmount them?
Oh, there were quite a number which were similar to the challenges of running any business here. However, one unique to my segment was the stereotyping of young agencies as inadequate. There were a couple of firms who were unwilling to give us a chance despite our submission of a solid proposal with ideas that were glaring, practical and set up to succeed. Most large Nigerian companies believe the older an agency is the higher their potential to deliver. While this may be true in some cases where experience counts, it is not entirely correct. Young agencies bring a fresh vibe, energy and creative ideas, which the audience will love, and will take the company out of its comfort zones. I must mention that more organisations are starting to see the benefit and are willing to give young agencies the opportunity to transform their engagement strategies for effective results.
From your testimonials, you have handled several big brands in just two years, how did you achieve such feat and do you have any foreign partner?
Laughs, wouldn’t that just be great? No, we do not have any foreign partner for now. Although this is a norm in our industry for companies to have international affiliation with foreign brands who are usually stronger with a wider network, we are yet to consider that. Our focus now is growing the right culture, which we find is always evolving, put the proper structure and system in place so that we can better serve our clients.
Tech PR appears to be a new arm of PR, can you give details on what birth it and what it’s all about?
Technology and its impact is fast spreading across various industries and sectors, we are now having a bit of tech in almost everything, product or services. There have been many innovations in technology out of Nigeria and Africa, many of which have been deployed to aid businesses within Nigeria. However, there is little being told about the story of the impact of technology in Nigeria among start-ups and established firms. This is why we have a mission to creatively engage the sector, help them build awareness, engage their target audiences and key stakeholders, investors for optimum growth within the sector and the business environment in general.
At present, how is the reception of PR by companies here and what can be done to woo more corporate organisations to embrace PR?
I am glad you touched on this issue that is dear to my heart and one which always comes up in the corridors of the profession. The work of Public Relations is very intangible, they are services and not actual product that you can touch. This perhaps has been the most single challenge affecting its receptivity with business leaders. You want to see what the media exposure and speaking opportunities for your executive management brings exactly in returns to the company.
Although PR efforts can be measured by various methods, the effect can only be seen after some time by which a company’s reputation has been etched positively in the mind of its market and they deliver on their brand promise consistently. However, more business leaders need to acknowledge the benefit of public relations and be receptive enough to allow the work take effect over time. Public Relations is as important as any other aspect of business such as research, product development and we will continue to put in the work to ensure that more business leaders come to see the value in PR.
It seems advertising is doing far better than PR, why is it so?
Advertising has not overtaken PR, the former is a paid form of brand storytelling, while the latter uses organic forms and real life experiences to share brand stories. One is often fictional in execution while the other thrives on originality. So, you tell me, which one will overtake the other? This brings us back to the intangibility of PR and tangibility of advertising which you can judge by numbers; billboards, jingle airplays, advert copies and more. This makes Advertising spend easier to justify or measure hence more receptivity and acceptance for marketing than its counterpart PR.
However, the digital space is changing all of that where the organic PR activity can be shared to a wider audience through promoted posts and its impact can be measured by the number of engagements it garners in terms of likes, shares, comments. Although this method still falls short in telling the true impact of a PR activity, it reduces the “power” advertising will have over PR, especially digitally.
What are the challenges facing young entrepreneurs in Nigeria, can you share some personal ones with us?
Hmm I can share a handful of them such as, in Nigeria “Age isn’t just a number” the millennial factor, you still find more people who will take older generation businesses more seriously than a young one simply because it is being led by a generation termed “unserious”. However, many of the young entrepreneurs are breaking the norms and doing our nation proud with brilliant ideas and success stories so this I believe is changing.
The issue of favourable environment to do business can be very daunting and dissuasive if one isn’t resilient. No doubt, these issues bothering around infrastructure are work in progress for Nigeria but as a young entrepreneur navigating those issues can be very tasking and cash consuming but as I mentioned, resilience will make one finds a way and growth will become inevitable.
How has the economic realities impacted PR business today and how are PR firms coping?
I believe we are no longer in recession, many will agree with me that things are no longer as tedious as they were 3 or 4 years ago in the business sector. However, in times of recession, companies must always look inward to see avenues for alternate revenues. Position their resources to do more, tap into their idle capacities. I do not believe that we need to recede in time of recession, otherwise you will be forced to get into the conversation around downsizing and right-sizing.
My approach is always to tap into new areas, build and develop more capacities, utilize the resources we originally were not optimally using and focus on improving our bottom line. In all of this, it is also necessary to watch your recurrent cost, drive them down without compromising the quality of service, focus on our essential services and outsource whatever service that would be capital intensive. That way we keep our cash flow healthy and pay for service as we use.