In the past year, the Nigerian startup scene has seen its fair share of unsavoury incidents. While it has often drawn condemnation from the public, one thing that stands out is the poor communication that follows these incidents. Many times, I have asked myself, "Who runs their communication channels?"
Public relations agencies are vital for businesses of all sizes and despite the tenuous relationship between journalists and PR practitioners, it is hard to argue against their value. As Africa's startup scene has grown, PR agencies have also come up, helping these startups tell their stories. One such agency is TechPR founded in 2019 by Adegoke Oyeniyi and now headed by Felicia Omari Ochelle.
The roots of what would later become TechPR began a few years before it officially opened its doors. Like many creatives, Oyeniyi had friends and family commenting on the quality of his work. Consequently, he did a lot of creative writing but soon got bored. Nevertheless, his dissatisfaction had more to do with the genre of writing than with writing. It took being turned down for a role he wanted before he figured out he would rather do business writing.
A new media company was considering setting up shop in Nigeria and was hiring an entertainment writer but during the interview, they asked his opinions on certain issues. Oyeniyi shared his thoughts on what they could do to get the best results for the business.
"There were these guys [who] came into the country. They wanted to set up an entertainment outfit and hire an entertainment writer. So we had an interview and I noticed that apart from regular interview questions, they would also say, 'We're new to the country. This is what we want to do. What's your advice?' And I noticed that when I spoke, they took down my thoughts and suggestions."
He would end up giving them a lot of tips for running a media business in Nigeria. Even though he was not hired, he considers it the best rejection of his life as it gave him much-needed clarity.
"That was the best rejection of my life like someone was telling me who I was."
This experience got him thinking. Narrating how he had often spotted business opportunities from a young age, he added that it began to make sense after the interview. After taking stock of his experiences before that point, he decided to combine his knowledge of business and writing, eventually landing a role at Ventures Africa in 2012.
After two years at Ventures Africa, he left to start Enterprise54 in 2014, striking up a partnership with Chude Jideonwo and Adebola Williams. Enterprise54 would only operate for a little more than two years and after losing a year's worth of content and struggling to hire the right staff, he shut the company down.
For the brief period it existed, Enterprise54 got a lot of requests to handle PR briefs and in 2019, Oyeniyi founded TechPR to help startups get media visibility. In 2022, he stepped aside from the daily running of the business, bringing on Ochelle, a former journalist with more than seven years of experience to head the team.
Helping African startups gain visibility and juggling multiple client needs
Working as a journalist, it's common to come across passionate and knowledgeable founders who struggle to communicate the value they provide without technical jargon. Many even go as far as describing their businesses as the 'X' for Africa. While that may help when speaking to investors, many customers neither understand nor care about that and this is where PR agencies can help. PR practitioners help businesses with a range of services, including handling corporate communications, handling social media activity, and developing a communications strategy.
For TechPR, some of the services they offer include helping startups identify what makes their products relatable to readers and the journalists who write about them. This also involves helping them work on taking off the ambiguity that founders often shroud their services in.
Startup founders typically get invited to speak at events but not all of them would be great at public speaking and TechPR helps them with media training and executive brand building. Startups that want to raise funds can also get help with becoming investor ready.
The TechPR team currently has five employees who have worked with more than 50 organisations since its founding, including ThankuCash, Moni, Techstars, and Travelbeta. To help with handling its clients' needs, the TechPR team begins the day with media rounds where they read stories from various publications and share their thoughts and insights with the team.
Like most PR firms, account executives are attached to each startup and they are tasked with staying on top of trends and happenings in a client's space. Doing this helps them spot media opportunities that clients could profit from.
What is the state of the African PR industry?
In the past decade, Africa's startup scene has witnessed tremendous growth. More startups have been created and they have received more investment. Their success is not restricted to the spaces where they operate as adjacent industries benefit from this progress, with the PR industry a major beneficiary.
Ochelle points out that PR agencies have done a great job putting African startups on the map and despite the downturn in venture capital funding, there would always be a need for PR agencies that do great work.
"I think that the PR industry is growing, it is on an upward trend which is also driven by the growth that the ecosystem has enjoyed in terms of the number of solutions that have been deployed and startups going into more spaces. Despite the seeming downturn in investment, I don't think the PR space is going to go down," she says.
Her assertion is supported by research conducted by Reputation Matters and the Public Relations and Communications Association. According to the report, 33% of PR practitioners surveyed said that leaders now take public relations seriously. Meanwhile, another 33% claim their results are not appreciated by the top brass of the companies where they work.
When should startups involve PR professionals?
To the untrained eye, public relations and marketing are similar and serve the same purpose but Ochelle explains that while marketing is directly tied to sales, public relations is more about shaping perception about an individual or business.
"There's a very strong correlation between PR and marketing but the distinctive difference is that PR is about shaping the public's perception so you can achieve a certain objective. Marketing is directly related to sales. Marketing creates awareness but PR is strategic," she says. While some people start with marketing and add the services of a PR professional when they need to achieve certain goals, she advises that startups engage the services of a PR professional early on as the rewards may not always be immediate.