Ayeni Adekunle is the PR practitioner, journalist and businessman behind Black House Media Group, a public relations and digital communications agency based in Lagos, Nigeria, with offices in London, UK. He founded BHM Group in 2006 from humble beginnings, building it to a chain of businesses that manage strategic communications programs for companies with interests in entertainment, lifestyle and fashion, media, marketing and technology.
While working towards his degree in Microbiology from the University of Ibadan, Adekunle began his career with Hip Hop World magazine, and worked subsequently with Encomium Weekly, Thisday and The Punch, leaving to fully concentrate on the BHM Group. He founded Nigeria Entertainment Today, a niche website, launching its print version in April 2010.
Since 2013, Adekunle has convened the annual Nigerian Entertainment Conference, the largest gathering of artists and professionals in Nigerian entertainment, and in 2014, he led the BHM Group to conceptualise and build BHM App, Nigeria’s first PR mobile application.
With over two decades of experience, Adekunle’s savvy knowledge of African audiences have ensured that the BHM Group’s clients span a host of sectors and countries, including MTV Base, Nigerian Breweries, Nickelodeon, Hennessy, Interswitch, Verve, as well as global entertainment brands BET and Comedy Central.
The man fondly called “Ayeni The Great” gave a rare peek into digital marketing agency ID Africa, his latest business venture, which will see a spread of the BHM Group’s clientele and content across more nations on the African continent.
How did BHM Group begin?
BHM Group started in 2006, while I was still a reporter, from my two-bedroom flat in Akute (Lagos). My wife and I had no furniture so I bought a small chair and table, and could only afford to pay someone to assemble a computer. We started out working for musicians, actors and record labels that had smaller budgets, so it was tough but fulfilling work.
A few years later, my friend Ayo Animashaun gave me a desk in his office from where BHM operated. Eventually, we had to rent our own office space and today we have 60 employees and various consultants across the world on our payroll. In 2009 we began working for corporates, and they tapped into the experience we had built with entertainers and young people.
It’s never happened in Nigeria that an organisation comes from entertainment – working for artistes and actors – to begin working for multinationals. That’s our story and we are proud of it.
You’ve recently launched ID Africa, a digital agency and subsidiary of the BHM Group? What do you hope to achieve?
With Digital Marketing, disparate uptake rates exist. Brands across regions in Africa are very late to the party, while those trying to get into the party are not in the appropriate attire; I mean they are not using the right tools to speak to, or listen to the people. Africa is a continent of up to 2000 languages from numerous tribes, with over 1 billion people becoming increasingly globalised, yet retaining the peculiarities that categorize their individual heritages – the status quo is changing. We all know that the latest arrivals to a party can still make the atmosphere electric, so this is an opportunity for practitioners.
We are fortunate to have an extensive understanding, based on our PR background, about people who consume and publish content on the Internet. We know what they are looking for, so we have an understanding of how to use that social space better to create the kind of conversations that can help people meet each other and have a nice time, whether it’s a brand meeting the consumer or just consumers interacting, or even brands needing to engage with each other.
ID Africa is the digital agency that can make this happen because it is not just a service agency; more of Africa’s audiences need to be communicated with and listened to via channels and outlets that best conform to their social, cultural and personal proclivities.
So, what are you noticing as you roll out ID Africa with more continental clients?
I cannot divulge research data we have obtained at prohibitive costs, but I will share some insights.
To successfully communicate with the diverse audiences and demographics that constitute Africa’s cities and navigate the sociocultural nuances therein, all brands – entertainment or corporate – must treat the term media very loosely. If I can get on a Mutatu in Kenya or a danfo in Lagos and speak to 50 passengers, and try to get them to try or understand my new product, then that bus as far as ID Africa is concerned, is as valid a media vehicle as social media is in Johannesburg.
We know for a fact that unlike in-store shoppers seeking a specific product or seeking inspiration via window-shopping, online shoppers will Google a category, or go on websites to choose categories closest to what they want. Without relevant search categories, or a sufficiently detailed gamut of categories present, the African shopper aiming to save data costs and time will shift to a more promising seller’s website – and stay there. These are some of the little things make the biggest difference in bottom-lines for brands.
Are you saying there will possibly be new concepts and platforms adopted with ID Africa?
Possibly. (Laughs) We do not want to give too much away, so…
Broadly speaking, we see media as any platform that gives us an opportunity to communicate with people we have identified as important to us, or to the people that we work for. Understanding, relating to and publishing media in that way frees our minds from limiting ourselves to the “I have to get into the newspaper or on Twitter” only goal. There are some stories you can tell best in the newspapers; others are better told on radio or the marketplace, and even in churches. So all I’ll say is that; whatever vehicles we find best suits the purpose, population and product, is what will prevail on every single brief.
Are there any insights regarding Public Relations you wish to share?
With PR, our approach has always been to understand how the media landscape has changed, is changing, and therefore ascertain what tools we need to use to deliver value to brands and audiences alike. Before, the media was a brick wall you had to pass through, to get to the consumer. Today, every consumer, every brand, is a publisher and recipient of content. Just as there are billboards on the roads, there are digital billboards to draw in and engage the consumer, but their construction for Africa-focused demographics is a whole different field which we are excited to have the privilege of labouring in.
So ID Africa is here to further the premise on which the BHM Group itself is built – ensuring that as manufacturers and consumers, we do not lose sight of the ‘social” in social media, and the “media” in media communication.