Tosin Adefeko is a corporate executive and entrepreneur with over 25 years multi-sectoral experience in Nigeria. She has led and delivered outstanding business results in financial services, print/broadcast media and marketing communications industries.
She is Founder/CEO, AT3 Resources Limited, an award-winning specialised consultancy focused on enhancing the productivity of key clientele which include global corporates like META (Facebook), local conglomerates like NIBSS and influential private clients using strategic communications. The multi-disciplinary consultants at AT3 Resources are the go-to specialists for public relations, media interventions and special events.
Her unique background straddles multinational and growing local commercial business contexts. Apart from her business development and relationship management expertise derived from frontline roles in major industries, she has built very strong networks in the public and private sector, engaging at board level whilst serving in key operational capacities. She increasingly derives personal fulfillment working on impactful social investment projects with a number of not -for-profit organisations.
She is very passionate about gender inclusion/equality and female empowerment; as a member of Women in Management & Business, (WIMBIZ), she actively serves on a number of committees and has chaired the communications committee of the annual conference for three consecutive years including the milestone 20th anniversary. Concurrently, she has also served for three years as Chair, Communications of the Central Organising Committee for the Nigerian Economic Summit Group’s (NESG) annual summit.
Over the last decade, Tosin has dedicated her work life to helping brands thrive in this ‘Always On’ world. Her work on Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Guinness, Microsoft, Etisalat, British Airways, Ford, Radisson Blu and many others too numerous to mention hasn’t gone unnoticed. She was recently listed as one of the ‘Top 50 women in marketing communications’ by Brand Communicator magazine.
Tosin is a member of the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations, Chartered Institute of Public Relations UK and an Associate Member Institute of Directors.
Tosin describes herself as dogged, focused and resolute in pursuance of her goals.
Take us down memory lane on your formative years and influences
My formative years are usually one of the most difficult years for me to talk about. No, it was not a case of being exposed to poverty or anything like that …as a matter of fact, my dad was one of the most accomplished bankers, authors, teachers of his time. Dr. Femi Adekanye, Former Chairman of the defunct Commerce Bank Plc, Past President, Chartered Institute of Bankers, Agbaakin of Offa – was my dad. He died over 10 years ago but I can never forget him, he was the hardest working, kindest, considerate, intellectual person I knew. So, I grew up in a privileged home with the attendant opulence, but I and my siblings from my mom were easily the saddest kids due to the fact that our parents separated from a very early age, I was 3. My dad made the cardinal mistake of thinking another woman could take care of his precious children. That turned out to be one of his greatest regrets in life. So, from a very early age I was exposed to deprivation, duplicity, pretense, over-religiosity laced with deceit and avarice…since everyone wanted a piece of the pie and had to use whatever means to get it. We had a massive, beautiful house with an Olympic sized pool and a lawn tennis court, but because of the people in it, we didn’t have a home. However, I always tell people, there is nothing that happens to you…that didn’t also happen for you. You asked what influenced where I am today. It was still these same experiences that shaped the adult I have become. I can smell shady people from afar and I certainly walk away from situations before they get murky. I do not suffer fools gladly. On a positive note, because my dad was an author, he would make me proof-read all his books from a very young age, I loved to read, write, follow current affairs; we both loved to argue and discuss world issues, the TV was permanently on the news – can I tell you that till today, I barely watch anything else but the news? So, I developed a knack for words very early. In fact, old age is catching up with me or maybe I just don’t read as much because in my younger years, I honestly was an encyclopedia, struggle with any word and I would tell you the meaning instantly. But these days, it’s like my son is correcting my English and I’m like…really?
All these were shaped by happier times with my dad. I talk about him a lot – I never lived with my mom till I was a youth corper, so our relationship basically started in adulthood but listening to her stories alone, I know I took my doggedness and stubbornness from her. The woman is resilient and fierce! People that see me now say in our local parlance ‘Omo Ekun lekun Jo.’ Directly interpreted as, the child of a lion must resemble a lion. She rose from the dirt life through at her and made lemonade out of the worst lemons – she was a banker for 3 decades herself but now in her 70s, yet she can still sell snow to an eskimo.
That’s a small lens into my background; I have taken the good from both sides, but I fought hard to lose the bad. Afterall, I had seen the mistakes made so why make them again? My children have the best of my time because I fight to ensure no one can pull a wool over my face whilst they suffer any form of abuse. My financial independence is of utmost importance to me, so I strive and work like my life depends on it, and yes, it does depend on it.
Tell us about founding AT3 Resources Limited
I wish I could tell you I had great plans to set up the best public relations company in Nigeria, but it would be a lie, it’s pure serendipity. Let me trace my trajectory a little. I already described my harrowing early life, I graduated at 19 but was never really clear headed what I wanted to do, so I basically, I just explored, travelled and whatever. By my mid-twenties, I joined the banking industry, you would think because both my parents were bankers that would be an obvious choice. I worked in five banks and grew till I was leading commercial and retail banking portfolios. But I was still so sure that profession wasn’t for me. Again, refer to my early interests, so just before I turned 30, I decided to proceed for a master’s degree in Marketing Communications in England. Upon my return, I worked with Arise Magazine and NN24 as I set out to garner experience within the media space which I believed was more in tune with my natural inclinations. I love to talk, read and write. In the meantime, I studied and read about the players in that industry and narrowed down one person -The doyen of Marketing, Dr Biodun Shobanjo. Imagine me just changing careers at 31, I didn’t look for the small guns, I went for the jugular. I just needed an opportunity to work in any of his companies. I interviewed at the advertising arm once; they didn’t recruit me, then I got another opportunity to interview for a role in the PR arm of the business, this time, I got lucky.
I pitched my life ambitions to Dr, Shobanjo and he must have seen some genuineness of purpose and the rest as they say is history. So, I joined the Troyka group – Heading the Client Service department of The Quadrant Company and rising through the ranks till I became the Chief Operating Officer of what had become QuadrantMSL, a member of the Publicis Group. This role exposed me to the opportunity to advice some of the largest global and local institutions and brands across a broad spectrum of sectors – Technology, Finance, FMCG, The Big Pharmas just name it. By the way, the role also then gave me an opportunity to work directly with Biodun Shobanjo on his personal initiatives; this I think was the greatest privilege of a lifetime. AT3 Resources is a product of this privilege. I learnt so much from the system, but I saw gaps, I saw opportunities and just decided after many years of serving that it was time to go out on my own.
How did you get to be META’s choice of PR company to work with?
This one is my God story! Okay, so after setting up AT3, coming from the corporate background, I already shared I felt good and ready to take on any brand…mind you, I had consulted many years for Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and the likes. But as a new company with no name recognition, no structures, trust me, I was not looking for META. I was basically minding my business and had done so for over two years. In fact, we focused more at AT3 on the events side of the business at the time, it was shorter project cycles, and we were doing great financially, till I got a message from a random person on LinkedIn who told me he was on a project I just worked on for IIF and had recommended my company to his workplace since they needed a PR Firm. He happened to work at Facebook. I jocularly told my few staff at the time that is it our tiny firm that Facebook would give their account to manage? Listen, several months of interactions, pitches, meetings, calls and evaluations, I got a message that we had been selected as PR partner for META West Africa. It was surreal! What worked for us was authenticity…we didn’t try to pretend…they knew we were a small agency, but they saw we had the experience and expertise and could scale. This is our third year on the account, and I cannot begin to tell you the gains from this singular relationship.
What role can PR play in an organisation or individual’s life? Why can it not be overlooked?
First and foremost, what is Public Relations? Without deferring to textbook definitions, it is basically about maintaining a favourable public outlook, it’s about engaging, connecting, interacting, relating. By default, we all have to do a bit of all this as long as we exist. So, I always say whether you speak or not, you have a reputation. In the same vein, we all have a relationship with brands, some of us only eat at certain places, wear certain things, some people only want to be seen in certain gatherings, speak on certain panels. Where we come in is basically to help you with framing, with defining the process of achieving your objectives. We can help define/control your messaging, we help with communications planning, strategy and ideation. We help with research and understanding consumer patterns and behaviour.
As a corporate or enterprise, you have stakeholders, you have a brand – a brand is a tool of trust, so you have put in place every other thing to ensure you meet your consumers at their point of need, but you do not have a strategy for communications? Not just because I’m a practitioner, but my honest answer to that question is, public relations is life, overlook it at your own peril.
Since then, what has changed? How have these changes improved your business relationships?
Our business has grown in leaps and bounds and given us global acclaim. There are campaigns we run out of Nigeria here that have become a blueprint for usage in other regions. Our clients have always respected us, because one thing I have always been particular about is not to try to be everything to everyone. So we are very selective about the kind of work we take on, we must be sure we can deliver optimally, that is more important to us as an organisation. But with META in our stable, of course we do get more referrals and more attention. It’s been an interesting and impactful journey.
Why would a client return and remain in business with their service provider? What tips can you give on this?
I think first and foremost, it is important to understand what the organisation’s pain points are. After all, there is only a business discussion because a solution is required. So, first and foremost, what is the problem? That must be established. Secondly, you as service provider, do you have the skill set, competence, capacity to solve the problem? I have never quite understood posturing because the chicken will still come home to roost, and you will be caught out.
Thirdly, when the client reposes confidence in you by giving you his business, you must be willing to give your all to it, otherwise please don’t take it. I have a phrase I use all the time…’We die here’ not because I want to die now, it’s just because I have made a promise and that promise must be kept! So, for me, I never have issues with client retention anyway unless something else beyond what meets the eye is responsible. All our clients since we commenced operations are still with us.
What is your sustaining factor at AT3?
Our creativity, our curiosity, our culture, our passion, our people, our service and excellence. There will be no AT3 without all of this.
You recently turned 5. Tell us about this feat, what should clients look out for going forward?
When I started AT3, I was working from my dining table for a year and half as a lone ranger. The best I would do was call some ex-colleagues to help on some projects I could not handle on my own and I had a runner to help with media work. Now in a space of 5 years, we have worked on countless brand campaigns, corporate campaigns, major events; we collaborated with Brand Africa last year to celebrate African brands in Nigeria, we have won several industry awards, including a Sabre Certificate of excellence for our work on Public Education with META. We recently invested in our own premises in preparation for our growth plans of the next five years. We remain humble but very prepared to take on the world.
In what ways are you passionate about gender inclusion and women empowerment?
Gender inclusion and women empowerment matters are very dear to my heart. I think it is now an established fact that women bring a lot to every table beyond the boxes we were put in times past. There are measurable benefits of having diverse voices in every room so for me, I always encourage ladies I encounter to put themselves up for every opportunity possible. Diversity enriches the quality of decision making. The past few years I lent some of my time to WIMBIZ where I chaired the communications sub-committee for many years.
In what practical ways are you dogged, focused and resolute in pursuance of your goals?
Well, if I were to go by how people describe me, this would be an easy question. They say “Tosin no dey carry last” Anyway here is the thing – I am the ultimate goal setter, and unless I don’t add it to my goal list then it’s not priority but once I do…hmm it will take a natural disaster to stop me in my tracks. I am also the ultimate timekeeper. I have friends that don’t like to plan with me because they know we will fight if they try to derail the plans, I’m also the ultimate promise keeper, honestly couldn’t be bothered about making promises I can’t keep, I will rather tell you upfront what is possible and what is not. These, I hear are my most positive traits.
What are your personal and professional challenges?
This question I don’t really know how to respond because I honestly encounter challenges on the daily, maybe hourly even. But as they say, we move! Challenges are a part of life; I just carry on.
What have you learnt from your experience as a corporate executive and entrepreneur with over 25 years multi-sectoral experience in Nigeria?
Do your best work or don’t do it at all. All you have is your reputation – it can make or mar you.
Doing your type of work, you must have had some horrid experiences. Share one unforgettable one with us and lessons learnt.
I think it will have to be my most recent experience where my company was sued unjustifiably. Well, I’m sure the courts will resolve the issues as they should, but I just found that experience extremely disconcerting. Like why?
What day remains unforgettable to you?
It will have to be the day my dad died. He had been ill, and I dropped everything I was doing to care for him, we knew the end was imminent, it was nonetheless devastating. I recently stumbled on a mail he wrote describing me a long time ago, he said “Don’t tell Dayo o (Older brother), but I rate you as number one among all of you.” Interestingly, I showed Dayo decades later, you can only imagine his response. He gets the ‘joke’ though. So, every time. I wish daddy was still here.
People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their future.