Bidemi Zakariyau is the Founder & CEO of one of the fastest growing PR agencies in Nigeria, LSF|PR – a full service public relations agency with core competencies in corporate communications, consumer and lifestyle brands.
Bidemi handles the day–to-day management of LSF|PR and currently leads her team in creating communications strategy for the agency’s clients. Some of LSF|PR’s clients include: Philips, ARM, Remy Martin, Laurent-Perrier Champagne, The Lagos Leather Fair and the likes.
Last year she founded The Luxe Digest – a pan-African luxury content platform and serves as the head of business development.
In 2015, she was recognised as one of the leading female entrepreneurs under 25 in Nigeria by SME100 and in 2016 she was awarded The Future Awards Africa Prize for media enterprise. Earlier this year, she was recognised as one of the 100 most influential women in Nigeria by Leading Ladies Africa and just recently awarded by the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations (Lagos Chapter), and Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 Honouree.
Bidemi is member of the Nigerian Bar Association and the Nigerian Institute of Public Relations. She is a board member of Réle.
Starting a company can be scary. Were there any hesitations that initially discouraged you from going down that path?
Yes, I told someone that I wanted to set up a PR agency and the person advised me not to because there were many established agencies in Nigeria, in that moment I was so afraid, but I decided that I was going to try anyway and see what would happen. I’m honestly very grateful for listening to myself but I learnt from that experience as well.I’m just very careful about what I share. Instead, I go out and do what I want, the worst that can happen is failing, which most times is also a good thing.
How difficult or easy was it when you started LSF/PR? How did you handle the difficulties you experienced when starting your company?
It was very difficult. I had no funding and the worst part, I had no experience. How do you start a business with no experience? It was very tough, but I had to get really creative and utilise the little resources I had. I was also very eager to learn and land my first client. So I spent many days researching about working in PR and spent many hours browsing through the internet to get contact numbers for potential clients.
You have worked with some big brands, local and international, what do you think made you stand out to those clients amidst the tight competition from more established agencies?
I believe it’s our service delivery, we work hard to deliver results for our client, we also go the extra mile. We’re very passionate about our client’s businesses and pretty much live and breathe their brand. This way, we’re able to build brand advocates who can vouch for us and refer our services.
Do you remember your first pitch? How did it go?
Yes of course, that’s not something I can ever forget. I was completely fearless about it, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in PR so I needed a client to get started. I started by calling different designers randomly from the photo credit at the end of articles on different blogs. When I called the person that eventually became my first client, it turned out she needed some assistance for a shoot she had scheduled for the weekend and she said I could come to help. When I got to the shoot, I told her I could do the PR for her brand as well and she told me to send a proposal, she hired me after that and my work exceeded her expectations, she referred me to my second client, who referred me to my fourth and fifth client, slowly I started building portfolio of clients.
What are your biggest challenges in your career so far?
Definitely the general problem most Nigerian businesses face, poor infrastructure. The operations cost are so high. The time value of money and operations research is something I’ve had to learn on the job that I wish I knew from the beginning.
LSF|PR turned 5 towards the end of last year. How has the journey to 5 years been?
It’s been long, hard and amazing at the same time. I’ve learnt so much from when I started and I continue to learn every day. We’ve experienced continuous growth over the years which I’m grateful for. Sometimes I can’t believe some of the things we’ve achieved as a company.
You’ve expanded to digital marketing and PR for SMEs, why did you decide to expand to these areas?
I have always felt that small businesses are usually under serviced and left out in a lot of sectors. Everyone wants to service the big multinationals but we are passionate about SMEs at LSF because they are the driving force behind almost any economy. From a business perspective, the economies of scale derived from servicing small companies also makes a lot of sense so we decided to create a division for SMEs in 2016.
Besides the corporate work, we love fashion, music, art and other lifestyle projects as well, so it was the perfect time to introduce our SME service. With regards to our digital division, that was something we started that didn’t do quite well, so we’re taking our time with it and hope to introduce it again in a few years.
What was the vision for the Luxe Digest? Are you happy with its progress so far?
The idea to start The Luxe Digest was a result of my experience in PR. We have represented and currently represent a few luxury brands and there are no luxury media platforms to place clients content. Nigeria and other countries in Africa also have a very small or limited media landscape. I started researching this at the end of 2015 and found that this is a problem across Africa as a whole, except South Africa which is a more developed market in terms of luxury. With my research findings, I decided that the continent needed a platform that would inform, educate and connect the continent and the world at large, shaping the way the luxury sector is perceived in Africa. Africa is still very much portrayed negatively by Western media. The Luxe Digest is a platform that tells our story, of course with a focus on the Luxury sector. Africa as a whole is considered the ‘new Asia’ for luxury goods. The world and the people on the continent need to know what we have here. People need to be educated, people need to know that they can go to Zanzibar and have an amazing holiday, go to Morocco and stay in one of the most luxurious hotels in the world, go to Lagos and shop local and foreign designer brands. You don’t need to go anywhere, the entire continent has something to offer and so many people don’t even know this. The Luxe Digest is a platform that is documenting this.
You began a career development programme last year. What inspired that?
I decided to start the career development programme because of the HR challenges we face as a company. In my five years of running LSF|PR, we have faced the same challenges every time we’re looking to hire. We receive hundreds of CV’s – meaning that a lot of people are looking for jobs. However, when it’s time to review those CV’s we narrow down to three or five at the maximum. What I’ve found from this is that people are ‘unemployable’.
Yes, unemployment is a huge challenge in Nigeria, but people don’t have the right skills to get a job. Little things from adding a subject to your email, simple email etiquette, adding a cover letter, addressing the right person – all those things are consistently missing from the CVs we get sometimes and I thought to myself, that these people need to get out of the “unemployment circle”. Some of these people had no idea what was wrong and why they were not getting called after applying for a job. I wanted to do something about this.
The programme ran for five weeks (every Saturday), we had different people come speak to our participants. We started off with a one-one-one CV review with HR professionals and employers from different organizations.
In the other weeks we covered topics such as identifying opportunities, the importance of not being desperate when looking for a job, what to do while you wait for a job and most importantly – getting the job, keeping the job and growing a the job.It was a great learning experience for the participants and myself too. I started quite small by working with twelve to fifteen individuals who had previously applied to work at LSF|PR. This year I hope to scale by opening it up to more people.
From winning the 2016 Future Awards Africa Prize for media enterprise, to being recognised as one of the leading female entrepreneurs under 25 in Nigeria by SME100, and getting named as one of the 100 most influential women in Nigeria by Leading Ladies Africa early last year, Is there an added pressure now to deliver to your clients and on a larger scale?
My goal has always been to build a business that’s sustainable and can live beyond me. For me, every year is about growth and how we can always do better and achieve more as a company. While recognition is great, it’s not what drives what I do.We always want to serve our clients and deliver beyond their expectations, that will never change. I generally do not feel any pressure, but I definitely challenge myself and my team to continue to grow in all areas, be it at work or personal development. I think it’s really important to remain focused and be yourself and take everything at your own pace, I constantly remind myself about what I’m trying to achieve to make sure I never lose sight of it.
Any advice for other young people who are looking to start up their own companies or business in Nigeria?
Passion and hard work is not enough, you need to be purpose driven and have direction in everything you do. Do not be afraid to start, do not be afraid to fail, failing is a great way to learn. You must of course work hard and stay focused once you’ve figured out the direction you want to take. Success is a journey, take a breather to celebrate the little moments but don’t get distracted. You will feel lonely sometimes or even depressed but you have to snap out of those moments and remember why you started and where you want to get to. Start now, start small and scale. Sustainability is a key factor, don’t ignore it. Finding and having your own voice is key. So many times people will try to push you in different directions and tell you what they think you should be doing even if that’s not what you’re interested in. Listening is one thing, finding your own voice and focusing on what you really want is another thing.