Since the staging of the maiden edition of the Tech PR conference in Nigeria in July 2020, the organisers, Phyllion and Partners Limited, and its founder, Temi Ophylia Ibekwe, have been the subjects of discussion in the marketing communication circle.
Those familiar with the Lagos-based fast-growing PR and marketing consulting firm were not surprised at the success of the conference. Ibekwe, a seasoned marketing and PR practitioners, besides having the best cognate education in Nigeria, UK and USA, had also worked in key public relations firms in Nigeria and had garnered experience in strategy and account manager capacities.
The conference was a platform where leaders in tech and communications explored the various dimensions to the future of technology and PR on the continent.
In this interview with THE NIGERIAN XPRESS, Ibekwe opened an aperture about the dynamics of PR and technology and its benefits as a marketing tool available to business, especially in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era. She also shared insights from her experience as an entrepreneur and offered invaluable advice on how women can become successful at entrepreneurship.
Looking back at the first tech PR conference, how do you think it has been useful to the future direction of PR and African Technology?
The Phyllion Tech Conference in July was attended by key leaders in communications and technology. We discussed the realities of today and a picture of what the future is for Africa through technology transformation and we focused on insights into smart industry trends, tech impact and growth areas within social and interpersonal relations, education, communication and business, and technology changes to expect from the new era and immediate future.
At the end of the day, it was evident that technology needed a showcase in Africa to drive change and PR is the vehicle that will help us achieve this goal. That was why we started a platform to showcase tech start-ups in Nigeria and Africa and share their impact stories dubbed ’Keeping up with the Techies’ to a wide audience. So far, we have had two episodes where we featured start-up founders from E-worker and Staff Bus Nigeria.
With insights from the conference, what are the necessary changes you’d like to see in the tech and brand marketing industry?
I’d like more engagement and collaboration between the two. I’d like to see tech businesses begin to prioritise marketing and communications early in the start-up phase and sustain it during growth stages and after. What we had before is a situation where tech firms tend to engage marketing only after they have attained growth. PR and marketing are enablers if engaged strategically; they will have more impact even at the introductory phase as well. I also will like to see more platforms for technology impact stories, a lot is happening on the continent in technology, we need to own and share these stories.
The coronavirus pandemic had been devastating to businesses, both big and small. How do you think they can survive these perilous times?
As countries gradually re-open and the systems begin to regain some normalcy, it is becoming clear that we must go digital. However, applying these will require strategy, revisiting the SWOT, business strengths, weaknesses and what opportunities and threats exist to the business. To survive, a business will have to find a way to re-invent, while continuing to keep its customers satisfied and sustain its business bottom line.
But we have also seen some companies that had taken extreme measures such as laying off their staff…
This pandemic and its devastating effects have made it clear more than ever that no two businesses are the same. While all businesses abide by certain business principles, they differ considerably individually in their culture, leadership and business models. Hence, how they stave off the dire effects of the pandemic depends on their strategy and what their business model can accommodate.
Nonetheless, what I would advocate is that each business should do as much as they can for their staff in these times even as they seek new ways to grow the business. They should try to involve their staff because they can never tell, the next billion-dollar idea could come from a junior staff who ordinarily is not part of the decision-making group.
The world is now trying to get used to the new normal. How do you think women entrepreneurs can be successful in their endeavours in this new climate?
Women have the innate ability to nurture. This is a unique strength of women in leadership. That is what they need to key into. Woman, nurture your business like you would a growing child. But we need to show up more. From my experience sometimes, women tend to shy away when opportunities with potential marketing and business benefits open up, leaving it all for men, even when the men are not qualified. So, a woman who owns start-ups should take advantage of opportunities that will give them exposure and benefit their brand. That will go a long way in this new normal.
In what ways can brands and businesses improve or invent new ways of doing things?
An honest appraisal of where a business stands in the post-pandemic era will highlight the importance of seeking insight. For instance, business owners need to know what customers want these days, how they are living their lives daily; at the same time, there is a need to know how your product fits into their daily lives, how it helps them. These insights will help business owners to determine the best approach to providing service and the necessary adjustments to make to their products or service delivery to stay relevant.
With rampant job losses, a lot of people have turned to entrepreneurship to survive. How sustainable do you think this will be in the long run?
An entrepreneur, as I understand, is someone who identifies a need within an economic space and fulfils this need for profit. With this definition, the question of sustainability, in the long run, depends on the continuity of the provision of value for profit. Several factors such as business model, marketing mix and character of the business among others will determine the long-term sustainability of any entrepreneurship effort.
There is an argument about whether a digital strategy or tech drives business transformation. What is your take on this?
I am a proponent of digital strategy driving business transformation. The digital business solution helps to re-invent business processes; in this age of technology, it helps to improve or create new products that drive enhanced customer experiences. It includes all business processes that help move from analogue to digital in a way that minimizes operating costs and maximize revenue.
What are your suggestions for business recovery post-COVID-19 pandemic?
One, use insight to drive change and improve customer experience. Businesses should seek to understand customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction, analyse data into basic steps that will improve service offerings. To do this, ask critical questions. Place yourself in your customers’ shoes.
Two, use digital media to engage and advertise more. Now is the time to spend money on digital PR. Adopt a digital customer engagement strategy; create a budget and follow through with it.
I have seen both small and big business increase their digital engagement. And the reason is not farfetched. A recent report from Hootsuite (April 2020) shows that half of the world’s population is online. In Nigeria, there is an increase in digital engagement among the populace, a trend that is likely to continue to be on the upswing as infrastructure hopefully improves. You can trace and measure the impact of your digital campaigns. What is more, you can target the audience’s preferences from the insight gotten from data analysed.
Three, get your consumers to buy into you, not necessarily from you. How do you do this? Use social media to engage with your customers and build a community online so that you can have constant feedback about your product or service and build loyalty.
How easy was it for you when you decided to quit paid employment for full entrepreneurship?
To leave a salary job wasn’t a tough decision. I had all the enthusiasm and was extremely optimistic. Starting as an entrepreneur was what was not easy. I realised quickly that it wasn’t for the faint-hearted.
What are the big lessons from your experience as an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, you have to be bullish about your goals and you have to be disciplined. When you start to achieve, you have to be ready to face the next level of challenges.
I have learned to be resilient and to have an open-mind approach to things. When you hit a roadblock, find a way to go over or around it. My biggest lesson so far is people leadership. I am learning and still learning to make the most of human talents in terms of employees or clients whom I come across on this journey. People are indeed your biggest resource.