In a short time, Elizabeth Osho has gone from the ‘new kid’ in Nigeria’s Public Relations industry to one of the more-soughtafter. And as the industry continues its rapid growth, RACHEAL ABIRIBA speaks to this Digital Media Communications expert about being the newbie in a competitive market and why businesses need to be dedicated to digital communications
It must be absolutely exciting being an active player in Nigeria’s Public Relations and Communications industry. What informed this passion and how did you nurture it?
I fell into this. Every single thing that I have done for an income throughout my life or fallen into, I never really pursued. That’s how I live my life. Whatever I am doing that seems like people want more of and I see that I could possibly make an income from, I nurture and develop that. So I didn’t actively pursue a career in the. I still don’t feel I am a major player, I feel like I am new. I have had key people that have been very instrumental in helping build the business. I think God sent them as angels. So yes, it feels awesome. I am very passionate about what I do and it is the passion that keeps me going.
You made a complete U-turn from journalism to start your company. How difficult was it starting up on your own?
The good thing I would say, and why I will always be thankful for Mrs. Irabor and the opportunity at Genevieve Magazine, was that I wasn’t working full time. I got the opportunity to work part-time for four years: I did three days at Genevieve Magazine, and two days to do my own thing. So I didn’t do a complete U-turn as people think because privately, I was already in the communications space, though not formally. The things that I am doing on a bigger scale now, I was doing on a smaller scale then. Back then, during my free time, I would help people put events together, or bring together a bunch of journalists for someone’s launch, and I was finding that more people needed that. Nigeria is full of businesses. It is a very trade-driven environment, and people, even corporate organisations, are always looking for communication services; a way to [create a] buzz. And I guess that’s how I fell into it. I just kind of thought, “You know what? This is the next step.”
What motivated you to start your business? And why did you start when you did?
I thought it was lucrative. Not that it was all about the money. [It’s cliche but the saying] “If you enjoy what you do, no day will feel like work because it’s all fun.” is what it was [for me]. Work is fun for me. There have been some days that I’ve been like, “I’d rather not do this,” especially when it came to reports and those kinds of things, but it’s all parts and parcel of running a business. And there are some really good times for me: like going to South Africa on holiday or getting bloggers together for Froyo.
That was what the motivation was. And since I can enjoy it, have fun, work, build relationships – as I’m big on relationships (I’m a people person) – and I can also get paid to do this, it seemed natural. I started when I did because, after four years at Genevieve Magazine, getting married, moving into a new house, I wanted to start a new chapter in my career. I’ve always been reinventing myself anyway, so I thought it was time for a new start.
With all the risks associated with starting a business, how did you stay motivated to start your company?
I needed to challenge myself. That was a motivation. I like to be challenged. I challenge myself to see what I can do next. Obviously, I was good at helping Genevieve Magazine build their brand online, but I want to be known for more. I want to add to the portfolio. I’m also motivated by money, especially when I make more money. I’m one of those people who feed off ‘well done.’ So, the more people that I was helping, the more I was motivated to continue, because, people were saying “well done Liz”, “Thank you so much”, “Liz added value.” And at the beginning, all of my businesses were by referrals. And someone is only going to refer you if they got a good service right? So that was motivation in itself. I kept going because that provided me with a natural adrenaline. I was lucky because I didn’t need a huge capital to start my business so I wasn’t too frustrated, to be honest. Of course, being an entrepreneur in Nigeria is not easy. We all have our challenges, but I never thought of giving up. Like I said, I’m a ‘I will die on the line’ kind of person which has been what has helped me in life generally because I really put my soul and energy into anything I’m doing.
Are there women in business who inspire you?
Yes! Loads of women inspire me. I actually have a women’s group called ‘The Visionaries’. It was set up by Ehime Akindele of Sweet Kiwi and she is one woman that definitely inspires me. In my Visionaries group, I have Anyafe, she’s based in Abuja and runs a Communications Agency, and I have Tolu of Melting Moments. I don’t want to go mentioning people like Oprah, I want to keep it to the women I interact with every day. Bukola Are of HVS Beauty, Joyce of Oriki, and so many more. Bukky Karibi-Whyte, I love what she does; I love her no-nonsense approach and the fact that she’s just a girl doing her thing. I root for the girl-child. A lot of women inspire me; Betty Irabor, Tara Fela-Durotoye, [so many].
Social media is a huge part of your business and personal brand.
How did you make it such a huge part of what you do? And what effect has that made for you?
I started with Facebook, to be honest. Twitter is relatively new still. But I realised that with Facebook, I could reach a large demographic within a short space of time, it’s cheap, and I embraced it. Without any type of advertising background, I was promoting events, nightclubs, I worked with Koko Bar in London. Every week, I needed to make sure that people were booking tables at the club. I utilised Facebook for that. I created Facebook groups to keep people updated; I would do mini videos, and print out flyers. I was marketing using Facebook without realising it. Once the event was over, people would go to Facebook and look at all the party pictures. That was way before the advent of Instagram. So, I thought “Wow, I could do this using this platform” and it has graduated from Facebook to Twitter, Instagram and all other social media platforms as we know them now. That led me to build my personal brand.
You can be anything you want to be online. You can build and, of course, inspire. I want my life to be inspiring. The effects of social media were, at first, negative. Anything you put online is content. Even when you write a status, you’re creating content. It’s easy to misconstrue people because they are putting out whatever content. Those are the negative parts of social media. As I am now, touching and feeling you, it’s very difficult to get the wrong vibe especially if you’ve spent some time with me. But on social media, you feel like you’ve spent some time with someone especially if you’ve connected with them. But the truth is you are only seeing a glance. It’s a split second of their day. But you feel like you know them. It’s easy to form the wrong opinion. Those are the bad sides of social media. But over the years, I’ve learned how to make it work for me.
How important is it to mold and evolve one’s online presence in order to grow or take control of one’s personal and professional narrative?
Anyone, brand or person, who chooses not to be on social media in this day and age is committing career or brand suicide. It is very important to build your own narrative.
Whether you’re a person or a brand, if you’re not controlling the narrative, someone else will do it for you. If you’re not listening, or monitoring, you can’t come with a counter. It’s important that we are all building our personal brands. There’s a digital real estate, you’re building it, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. We pray it all multiplies and becomes fruitful for all of us, but if you are doing the right thing, over time, it will appreciate and it will pay you back the dividends that you put in.
You recently started a Master-class on digital marketing. What led to that project?
A lot of people used to come to me and say “manage my social media” but I would explain that I don’t think I can or that I should. Or maybe they don’t have the right budget for us to do so. We actually manage a few brands’ social media. For instance, with BLK/OPL, we handle their PR as well as their day-to-day social media. There’s a lot that goes into it. I started Dedicated to Digital so even if you can’t afford us or if I feel that your type of business requires you to have someone in-house, I can still pass on knowledge. That’s how ‘Dedicated to Digital was born. I am passionate about the digital space. I feel like a lot of us don’t utilise it enough. I decided that we need to give back so that people who cannot afford us but need guidance can come for a one-day workshop and get as much as possible from it.
Another one of your projects is with South Africa Tourism. What is the aim of that project and how can Nigeria learn/benefit from it?
With South Africa Tourism, we handle communications for them, from a PR stance. It’s a very interesting project because for them it’s a five-in-five. They are looking longterm. People don’t realise that sometimes in business, you don’t get immediate results. Anything even worthwhile takes time. For South Africa Tourism, they’re hoping to get five million people going into South Africa in five years. The project has been an eye-opener for me as for many people. There have been a lot of misconceptions, but through the work that SA Tourism is doing here in Nigeria, we’re beginning to see that we can indeed harmonise, work, and play together. Definitely I know that we’re doing a lot of trade. That’s one things that South African Tourism is opening: the doors of trade between the two countries. It is exciting.
How were you able to survive and stand out as a new communications firm in an industry that is teeming with agencies offering similar or ‘seemingly similar’ services?
I don’t want to sound like typical Nigerians and say it is God, but Grace has been big a part of it. Even with the South Africa Tourism account, it was grace. Bigger agencies could have gotten it, but we managed to. One of my clients, not the biggest, not the smallest, an SME was asked “Why do you use So.Me Solutions?” She replied by using the analogy of a meal. For example, if there’s a meal of chicken, rice, vegetables and sauce, previous agencies would promise the entire meal and dessert. But she noted that I would be straightforward and honestly promise her just rice and veggies, but deliver rice, chicken, vegetables and even a little sauce on top. For this client, it is better to be told “I can’t do it all” than to “over-promise and under-deliver” (which is the mentality that a lot of businesses have). So, I’ve been able to stand out because I’ve under-promised.
What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned so far?
People may not remember what you said but they’ll remember how you made them feel. So energy is really important. Leave everyone feeling as if they got something out of an exchange with [you]. Even if I can’t help everyone, I don’t want them feeling like I just dismissed them. So, if I can’t help, I often try to do referrals. I’ve also learned that the same people you see on the way up are the same people you’ll see on the way down. So, be humble. Don’t get too big for your boots. Even if you want to get a big contract, it’s the secretary that you need to suck up to. I can’t explain how far being friends with everybody on every level has helped me. You just don’t know who’s going to help you.
What tips can you give on how to survive as a new communications firm in Nigeria?
Firstly, you are your only motivation.
You grow from being criticised. If you don’t fail, if you aren’t criticised, how will you know how to do it better next time? So, criticism is okay. Fourthly, you are going to need your family and friends. Trust me. It’s so hard staying motivated. You need a small circle of people around you, your accountability partners that will make sure that you’re doing things the right way, that you can lean on when you get weary every now and then. We all do. That’s what makes us human. Fifth, enjoy the ride. Don’t take life too seriously. I keep reminding myself that we are all going to die. I’m sorry to be morbid but at the end of the day, we’re all going to die abi? And we don’t know when. So if you spend your time being sad and wishing you were at another spot, you might not even get there. You don’t know if you’ll even make it to your next birthday. So, enjoy the ride, have fun, laugh, giggle. Work hard, play hard, and find a balance.