Q+A with Ronke Lawal
Tell me a bit about yourself, your background and where you are from.
I am a British Born Nigerian woman, this is very important to mention because people quite often want to define members of the diaspora by their own limited experiences but I love being British and I love being Nigerian and I am so blessed to be able to have this multidimensional cultural identity. I was born in Hackney, East London and grew up on a council estate, it was a tough neighbourhood, but not necessarily one of the toughest in London. We had a couple of gangs, some dubious activities/characters and the estate itself was definitely not always well looked after but the community spirit really made up for any sense of lack. Everyone knew each other even if you didn’t always like each other. Whilst it was London outside it was definitely Lagos inside my home. My parents were very strict and I had to face my studies and be in the top percentile in school. Education is something that I think most diaspora communities hold onto because that is the one thing they can hopefully control and allows for access to opportunities. I pursued an International Business (Economics) degree graduated with Hons from The University of Lancaster, with a year in The University of Richmond, Virginia.
Tell me more about Ariatu Public Relations and how the idea for it came about.
I started my business in 2004 and rebranded to Ariatu PR at the end of 2014 as part of my 10-year anniversary. Ariatu PR is a public relations agency that is geared towards representing clients in a variety of industries including the entertainment, fashion, lifestyle and beauty, food and luxury goods sectors. I have a wealth of PR and Marketing Communications experience in the High Growth Start-Up Sector as well as working for corporate clients in a range of industries, overseeing the development of marketing & PR strategies.
PR Coverage for clients gained includes: The Huffington post, Evening Standard, Metro, The Independent, Arise News, The Voice, BBC Radio, Vogue Bambini, Bloomberg TV, Vox Africa, OHTV and much more.
How did you get to where you are today and what was your career path?
I became self-employed in 2004, whilst I was in a standard 9 to 5 management role, a role in which many people my age would have been happy to have stayed in for many years. It was an interesting position with lots of responsibility, however, I became a robot, unhappy with what my job was turning me into. I was stressed and would often take that stress home with me. My life lacked dynamism and to some extent purpose. I felt strongly that I was not following my true life’s purpose and so I made a choice to start my own business. Many people thought I was crazy, I was after all only 23 years old and my only starting capital was my savings, I was taking a big risk although thankfully back then I still lived at home so that helped. I wanted to create a life that I loved and by starting my own business I felt that I was able to do that. After 5 years of being in business, I actually went back to work so to speak and was appointed as the CEO of The Islington Chamber of Commerce.
What is the most challenging aspect of running a public relations business and how do you deal with it?
Managing client expectations can be quite tricky, particularly for those looking to undertake media relations. Most clients want to get mainstream features. That can be quite challenging because sometimes a client might not have a story for the mainstream or might not even be ready for it. For example, imagine getting the biggest news platform in the world to feature your business and suddenly you can’t cope with the orders because you don’t have a strategy in place.That can have a major negative PR impact and end up as a crisis (another facet of PR is crisis management). But overall I always stay positive and inform my clients of strategic perspectives so to manage their perspective.
Have you had any mentors to help you along the way and do you think it’s important to have one?
At present I don’t, a lot of my time is spent mentoring but I do believe it is very important to have a mentor (so I should start looking for a new one). Mentors are able to keep you on track and hold you accountable to your core vision. Whilst they can’t give you the answers they can help you find them.
Any achievements you’re particularly proud of?
I honestly have to say that staying in business for this long has really been something to feel proud of, growing the business and attracting so many amazing clients has been phenomenal.
How do you keep motivated?
Motivation is like exercise. It can be tough, repetitive and sometimes the results are not immediately obvious. So the fact that every day I wake up I have another chance to try again keeps me motivated. The fact the even though I’m not where I want to be I am further than I ever was before.
The fact that I am living a life of purpose and every day I am learning more about what that purpose is.
What do you enjoy the most about what you do?
I love meeting new people and working with some great clients, it’s like an ongoing MBA programme. I love educating people and speaking at events about what I do and what my clients do. I get a chance to really push the boundaries and work on projects that I don’t think I would always get the chance to work on if I was in a big agency. There’s freedom too but only as much freedom as my clients (or bank balance) will allow!
Any advice for those wanting to start a business, but have no clue where to begin?
I would say follow your passion and stay focused. Passion doesn’t pay your bills unless you have a purpose and a strategy though. Make sure you actively network in your business and professional life and engage with the right people, but be sure to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. If you can get a mentor, or at least surround yourself with a positive and powerful circle of people who will champion you in your business journey. Seek continual business development through training and seminars; education is important but only if used actively. Use education wisely as part of your long-term professional strategy. Someone once shared this tagline with me “I go where there is courage” – I think this should be everyone’s tagline. Be brave in your business and don’t ponder on mistakes for too long, learn from them and move on. You can reach anywhere in your business if you so wish – don’t let anyone hold you back, least not yourself.
Find Ariatu Public Relations at http://www.ariatupublicrelations.com/.