This week Girls Perspective caught up with Ronke Lawal, PR & Communications consultant and founder of Ariatu PR. She speaks about her career in the field, clarifying the misconceptions many have when it comes to PR, plus more.
What made you interested in PR?
I have always been a people’s person and I have enjoyed interacting with people and communicating. Although I’m an extrovert, I’m the kind that needs my boundaries and my space. I feel like for me PR is a reflection of that in terms of being able to manage the interaction and engagement of my clients and sharing stories that not only affect their business but also make a difference. For example, me being a publicist in the black community, I think it’s very important to share those stories, especially in the media where they might not always share those positive stories.
What is the story behind Ariatu?
I have been in business for a little over 12 years. I launched it as a business development marketing agency which went by the name RSL Management Services. I decided 3 years ago around the 10th anniversary to re-brand and what I found was that PR was the more natural flow, marketing was great but I just didn’t think that it was coming as natural as PR for me in terms of pitching to press, getting coverage for my clients and so I re-branded to Ariatu which I decided as the name and it’s actually part of my middle name which is Shariatu. I just loved the name and the flow and what it represents for me – “There is a fluidity of excellence as a process.” It’s not about perfection and always getting everything right all the time, it’s about the beauty of working with people communicating effectively and using PR in a holistic way, so always being mindful.
When seeking new clients, what factors affect your choice in terms of working with new businesses?
I am always open to engaging with different clients. Most of my clients do tend to be black business owners and that is because of the passion that I have with the Afro-Caribbean diaspora which is reflective because I’m always sensitive to how the media represents our demographic, that is why I attract and seek out that kind of client. However, as I have many other facets to my business in terms of my consultation and my e-guide that can be purchased by anybody and it’s standard, my seminars are open to anybody who wants to understand PR better. But when it comes to the more niche and personal areas in terms of representing Afro-Caribbean clients and using the Afro-Caribbean narrative that’s where my forte is. Where businesses are able to find me and look at the clients that I have and the services that I offer, they may look at me and think that I am better suited in terms of being able to understand their business and tell their story more effectively than another PR firm that doesn’t have the same sort of background and understands their community.
Do you have a team? If so, how do you manage your team?
At the moment I am actually a consultant on my own. If there is a big project then I will assign freelancers or people that can work on a short-term basis. When I’m working with a team I have people in place, I’m very much about people being able to show me what they can do and do the best they can and be great at it. I don’t want to feel like I am mothering you, I don’t like to be a micro manager at all I want to trust that when I give you an assignment you can do it. However, I do find that not many people are used to that style of leadership they have been brought up where the smallest mistake turns into a big issue, but I’m more about can you fulfil something under the deadline, thinking of new ideas. I am the kind of person that when I give you a deadline for Friday you are able to send it to me by Friday and everything is correct and in place whatever happens between then, whether you are working from home or from a different country, as long as you can deliver. I just feel like as long as you can do your job I’m very relaxed when it comes to leadership and management.
Speaking on your re-brand you underwent 3 years ago, how often do you feel like you have to evolve your business?
I think that you should always be willing to learn, always be willing to innovate. Over time all our favourite brands and even the entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Oprah have managed to change over time and keep up with the times. Your business ethos can be the same but you have to be innovative to the times, using technology, social media, using smart ways of interacting and being more engaging. I use the example of Oprah who has always televised her interviews, but she now also utilises Facebook Live, where fans are able to watch her live, interact and leave comments. It’s just another addition to her brand to be able to engage with her audiences better. I always say to look what’s going on in the space and if you don’t know or understand it, then learn it. You don’t want to be stuck in the times of the past, you must always be innovative.
What is one common mistake, people tend to make when starting a new business in terms of PR?
The biggest mistake is that not many people know what it is, they don’t understand what PR is. Often people confuse it with advertising or think that as soon you get a mention in any sort of media that it automatically translates to sales. PR is a long term strategic communication process between a company and their audience. People don’t understand the impact and power of PR they just see it as media. But they fail to think about who they are going to with the media coverage, what they are going to use it for and those are important things that they don’t think about.
So as a response to that what is the key piece of advice you would give to new businesses in terms of PR?
I would say to firstly to figure out your strategy. Know why you are using PR, try it yourself first. I say this because what often happens and there have been so many stories of new businesses and startups that hire major PR companies which can be quite expensive in terms of costs and they don’t necessarily always guarantee results, because people want the media coverage that they see in the magazines and newspapers but that doesn’t always happen instantly. So I always say to learn about PR for yourself, attend a short course or a seminar, get some online guides, write your own press release. When it gets to the point where you feel like you’re not getting what it is you want, then you can assign a small PR agency or a consult and go from there. I would definitely recommend first learning about it and trying it yourself, because that way you understand what it is you are trying to achieve you know what is actually going on.
What 3 skills are necessary to work in PR?
Effective communication is key, being able to listen and being able to speak. When I say speak I don’t mean public speaking, but communicating, writing things down, and always being open to new ideas. Look around, be aware, be inspired, there is so much inspiration, watch things that are out of your comfort zone, go to places out of your comfort zone, just be open. It’s important to be able to network in PR, build those relationships, be patient, respectful, mindful of the relationships you are building, not only with your potential client or employer but journalists, anyone you interact with, because you never know where those relationships will lead.
Do you have a mentor or people that you look up to?
There are a lot of people that I just follow and admire, a real example of someone is Oprah. Another one is Mellody Hobson whose an amazing financial manager. She’s an amazing woman she’s got her own asset management company. I follow some incredible people and it’s also just people around me, I like to surround myself with influential people who are doing the best they can do in their field and I’m also really inspired by my clients. So whilst I don’t currently have a mentor, I feel like I’m getting mentored all the time by the people around me.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
The best one has been simple “Just Do the work” it’s a case of anything you do or start, no matter how difficult or challenging it is, you have to work and put your work ethic behind it. People give up so easily when there are no results and I feel like if you just do the work, keep going and not just the case of if you try it and it isn’t working you just stop there. If something isn’t working find another way to accomplish your ultimate dream, your ultimate dream can be achieved with different strategies it doesn’t have to be one particular way.
Aside from running your business you also have a food blog Who is For Dinner. What are some of your favourite things to cook?
I love just cooking my own Nigerian Food. That’s my heritage so I love cooking something simple like beans and plantain, which seems so simple, but it’s just that authentic taste. Also dishes like pounded yam, those stews with the meat and jollof rice, just those types of comfort foods.
How do you balance running your business and exploring different interests?
Everything has to fit in between. If you manage your time effectively then you can pretty much do anything, if you learn to manage yourself and cut out all the distractions. I know what things I do well and do really fast, so if I can do those things then I can do my food blog or hang out with friends or do other things and travel. It’s all about managing time effectively and at the core of it, is deciding what is your priority. If your priority is only to work and make the money, then you work like a horse and do that. If it’s to have a work life balance, then you will make the effort and make time for it.
What is the best way for anybody to start a career in PR to get started?
As I mentioned earlier I think it’s really important to network. Research PR companies look at the people you would want to work for. Do the work as I mentioned before meeting people, look them up on social media, Use your skills, make sure your resume and LinkedIn is on point and just be proactive.
Finally, what is your vision for Ariatu?
Keep going and keep growing globally and just being the best I can be for my clients. I want Araitu to be a known brand in the PR space in terms of it just being respected for what it is. Engaging with all levels of business and proudly engaging with the Afro-Caribbean community, making a breakthrough and representing quality black businesses.