Pros We Love: Ronke Lawal, founder, Ariatu PR

Ariatu PR founder Ronke Lawal (@ronkelawal) was born in Hackney, East London of Nigerian parentage. Having graduated with honours from Lancaster University and the University of Richmond Virginia (USA) with a degree in International Business (Economics), she started her own business in 2004.

In January 2010, Ronke became the Chief Executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce where she remained until the end of 2012 and became a non-executive director of The Hoxton Apprentice in 2011. She joined the board of Trustees of Voluntary Action Islington in 2012 where she is also a Director of The Voluntary Action Academy and is currently on The Employers Panel for the National Employment Savings Trust.

Ronke is a Mentor for The Cherie Blair Foundation and for The Elevation Networks Start Ups Initiative and in 2011 she received a Precious Award for Inspirational Leadership.. In 2015 she launched the RONKE LAWAL MEANS BUSINESS YouTube Channel which provides PR and marketing advice as well as small business tips for start ups and entrepreneurs. She became a #TropicsVoice Ambassador in January 2016 to raise the visibility of members of the African Diaspora across the world.

Apart from her active and involved business interests, her varied passions outside the business world include food (Founder of Food Blog, travel, music, literature and most importantly living a life she loves.

Ariatu PR is geared towards many different business sectors and currently represents clients in many industries including the entertainment, fashion, lifestyle & beauty, food and luxury goods sectors.

Ronke tells us why saying ‘no’ was the hardest lesson to learn.

How did you get into PR?

I started my business after assessing my core strengths and passions when I realised that the job I was working at was turning me into a Dragon Lady. I started working on a PR and branding project of a friend who was launching a beauty business and the rest as they say is history. I had absolutely no agency experience so I had to teach myself a lot but after more than 12 years I think I’ve finally cracked the code!

What do you love about your job?

PR teaches you to be mindful and truly reflective. Working with people and managing relationships, messages and reputation means you have to always take a moment to assess words and behavioural patterns. I love that because whilst some people see the “obvious” I can often break things down and see beyond the initial message. That’s my favourite thing, it’s like being a detective of sorts.

What are you most proud of?

Still being here!!! Being in business is no joke but I’ve made it and you know what really makes me proud about that? Disproving the myth that black businesses don’t pay or aren’t a big enough market. The majority of my clients are Black British or Diaspora clients and business is thriving!

What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?

When to say ‘no’ and charging what I’m worth. My goodness I would have gone much further so much sooner if I had learnt those lessons sooner. I’d say ‘yes’ so often even to clients who didn’t appreciate my efforts and ended up being drained and disillusioned. Particularly when it came to charging my value, people would want to use my services but didn’t want to pay the right price and made me feel bad for asking for payment! After a while I realised if people are approaching me for PR representation then they must know I’m good and thus should be willing to pay that price. It’s taken a while but I got there eventually.

Who are your favourite people in PR?

I don’t like to pick favourites particularly as there are just too many to choose from in my network. I respect and appreciate them all, especially the BAME ones based in the UK who are fighting that good fight. But fictional ones would have to be Edina from Ab Fab and Olivia Pope from Scandal.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the sector?

That dreaded ‘D’ word. Diversity is a real problem – I think I missed a step because I didn’t work in an agency but I receive messages and meet so many young black PR, comms and marketing graduates who are struggling with the same issue. They are being rejected before they even have the chance to shine. That is truly a problem.

What skill do you think every PR has to nail?

The ability to PAY ATTENTION. I’ve managed to get some fantastic results purely because I have been able to pay attention to what’s happening in the micro and macro world. It means I’m one step ahead of what’s going on and can effectively advise my clients.

What is your favourite social network and why?

Twitter!!! Hello. That 140 characters should be the maximum length of resumes. If you can crack twitter you’re a communications guru.

Who is your favourite tweeter and why?

Sorry but there are too many to just pick one so here are just a few: @DanielleDASH@dearjohnbyrne;  @UrbnLawyer; @walegates;  @Okwonga@bimadew and @BeeBabs.  They are all authentic and bold on twitter. They just make it a fun, engaged and a smart place to be.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

To take responsibility for my life and simply do the work. If you want anything in life you have to DO THE WORK and take ownership of it.

Finally, on the ‘D’ word… What can the sector do to tackle diversity?

Improve hiring practices, listen to graduates from diverse backgrounds, just hire more BAME people (give people a chance) and break out of comfort zones.

Ronke will be speaking at BME PR Pros’ first event ‘How to get ahead in PR‘ on Wednesday 15 March at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Tickets are free but places are limited. Book your place now.

Pros We Love: Jessica Hope, founder and MD, Wimbart

Jessica Hope (@WimbartHope) is the founder and MD of Wimbart, a boutique public relations company with a heavy emphasis on Africa and emerging markets. Her clients include Iroko, Konga, Ringier, She Leads Africa, Paystack and many more. 

Jessica graduated from the University of Manchester with a BA in History and MA in Religion and Politics and worked as a journalist and editor for a number of years before she moved into PR. Prior to starting her own PR company, Jessica worked at the Natural History Museum, the Jewish Museum and was Head of Communications for African entertainment brand, irokotv.  

Jessica tells us why she still feels like a teenager at heart.

How did you get into PR?

I’m a failed journalist – I was a magazine editor in Manchester from a super young age. Just local magazines – very small and before social media was really a big ‘thing’. When the last one I worked for folded, and I needed to pay the mortgage, I put my writing skills to work and got a job in a PR firm.

What do you love about your job?

The variety – and also, in my case, I’ve travelled a lot. That’s been amazing.

What are you most proud of?

Starting my own PR company. I still feel like a teenager at heart, so actually running and operating a successful PR company still feels a little bit grown up

What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?

How to figure out how to structure deals and how to navigate between time wasters

Who are your favourite people in PR?

Journalists who print my stories 😛

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the sector?

I think a lot of people have writing and textbook skills, but quite a few struggle to actually hustle and build relationships with journalists.

What skill do you think every PR has to nail?

Relationship building.

What is your favourite social network and why?

I know people are quite down on it these days, but I’ve found LinkedIn pretty useful for the contacts I need to make. Also – it gives me a platform to share my PR wins and then acts as a type of new business platform.

Who is your favourite tweeter and why?

My old boss – Jason Njoku. He’s succinct, often cutting – doesn’t tweet that often but has a pretty impressive following

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

You need to leave me and start your own business.

Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to tackle diversity?

Start hiring black / Asian people [yes, stating the obvious] – and shout about it to start attracting more BAME young people into the sector. It’s actually wild how many PR agencies have white-only teams. It really puts off young, BAME people, as they don’t recognise, or want to work within, that all-white demographic. I’ve never worked with a black PR that I haven’t personally hired myself.

Jessica will be speaking at BME PR Pros’ first event ‘How to get ahead in PR‘ on Wednesday 15 March at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Tickets are free but places are limited. Book your place now.



Pros We Love: Daljit Bhurji, Co-founder, Diffusion PR

Daljit Bhurji (@Daljit_Bhurji) is co-founder of Diffusion PR, an award-winning international integrated communications agency, with offices in London and New York. He brings almost 20 years of public relations experience as an adviser to some of the world’s leading brands, companies and political organisations. Daljit leads the consultancy’s work in developing strategic, creative and measurable campaigns that deliver real results to the bottom line.

Beginning his career launching start-ups during the dotcom era, Daljit now guides new, established and challenger brands alike, through an equally transformative period for business and communication.

Helping clients to successfully co-ordinate PR in multiple markets and then integrate campaigns across traditional media, digital and social media channels is central to the work Daljit has implemented for brands and organisations spanning the consumer, technology, retail and travel sectors.

Daljit tells us why launching an agency can leave you feeling a like a contestant on The X Factor.

How did you get into PR?

I had an early love for the media world. I remember as a teenager religiously buying the Sunday Times and then spending most of the rest of the day, much to the annoyance of my mother, slowly devouring every single section and supplement. I was fascinated by the content, but also the process of journalism and creating a newspaper week after week.

At university I got the chance to write for and then edit the student newspaper. As well as the opportunity to occasionally interview somebody famous, there was also the gruelling thrill of pulling all-nighters to get the paper to the printers, before grabbing two-hours of sleep before that morning’s tutorial.

It was a brilliant experience and I was offered an entry role by a national newspaper, but I realised that I was more attracted to the commercial side of the communication business. After graduating, I responded to a small advert in the Media Guardian for an as yet unnamed PR agency start-up, which was looking to hire its first two graduates. It was a unique, challenging but amazing start to a career in PR.

I miss all that care free time at weekends now, but I can still recall laughing out loud at both AA Gill’s restaurant reviews and Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s Diary of an IT Girl column, though for very different reasons. It’s sad they are both no longer with us, but the need for talented new journalists has perhaps never been greater.

What do you love about your job?

I think you start your career being sustained by the instant gratification of generating amazing coverage.  Today, what I love is seeing how those outputs turn into business outcomes that can help transform the brands that we work with.  Modern PR is crossing boundaries and stretching across the organisation beyond the confines of traditional marketing.  That means the role of a PR agency are constantly shifting and evolving.  At Diffusion we can be working with clients on a full re-brand and repositioning project one day and then the next helping to hire and train a team to run their social customer care function.

The challenge for the PR industry as its role continues to broaden and evolve is ensuring that the value we add to business performance is always recognised and rewarded.

What are you most proud of?

It will sound cheesy, but it really is true. There is not a day that goes by where I’m not immensely proud of my team.  Whether it’s securing a full-page feature in the FT or coming up with an activation that’s blowing up on Instagram, or hearing them deliver a piece of spot-on counsel to a client, they combine persistence with a passion for wanting to do the best job possible. I have to admit my heart does also swell with pride just a little, every time I visit Diffusion’s New York offices next to the Empire State Building.

What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?

You have to learn to cope well with rejection. As you move up the consultancy career ladder and especially if you’re brave/stupid enough to decide to launch your own agency, you find that you’ve unwittingly become one of those recurring contestants on The X Factor.

You enter new business pitches and you bravely stand in front of a panel, give the performance of your life, ask them to see the “real you” and hope your talent is enough to get selected.

PR is an industry where people buy people, and it’s difficult not to take rejection personally, because in part, it really is personal. You appreciate with experience that pitches like auditions are both hugely subjective processes.

Of course few things in agency life beat the thrill of winning, but you have to learn to treat those two imposters just the same.  Then before you know it, you have to be ready to pick yourself up and do it all over again.

Who are your favourite people in PR?

You really do owe the people who give you your first break into PR an enduring sense of gratitude. I will always be hugely grateful to Kristin Syltevik and Anthony Wilson, the founders of Hotwire, for spotting something in that awkward 21 year old.

I would not be where I am now and still relatively sane, without my friend and business partner Ivan Ristic, from whom I’ve learned some of the most valuable and enduring lessons about this profession.

What skill do you think every PR has to nail?

 At Diffusion we talk about organisations and brands being involved in a relentless battle for relevance.  We are all bombarded with more information than we can handle, from more sources than ever and there are very few companies that offer something that’s truly unique.

As a PR professional whether you’re an exec picking up the phone to a journalist or a communications director presenting a strategy to the board, we need to constantly think beyond “this is what we do” to “this is why we matter” and use that as the starting point for crafting stories that really connect with the audiences we need to inform and influence.

Best advice you’ve ever been given?

 A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.

Daljit will be speaking at BME PR Pros’ event ‘How to set up a successful PR agency and win big clients‘ on Thursday 5 October 2017 at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (6.00pm-9.00pm). Tickets are £20 but places are limited. Book your place now.

How to get ahead in PR: 15 March 2017

Want to know how to get your first job in PR? How to open your second office in New York? How to win new business? How to go freelance? How to run a 27-strong comms and marketing team? How to succeed online? How to juggle parenthood with a successful comms career? How to devise an award-winning campaign? How to get ahead in PR?

Find out from the best (and the very cool):

Daljit Bhurji, Global MD and Co-founder, Diffusion PR

Jessica Hope, Founder and MD, Wimbart

Natasha Kizzie, Marketing and Communications Director, NCS

Ronke Lawal, PR Specialist and Founder, Ariatu PR

Adrian Ma, Founder, Fanclub

Join us for ‘How to get ahead in PR’ – by BME PR professionals, for BME PR professionals.

Wednesday 15 March 2017, 6.00-9.00pm at the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.

Tickets are free but places are limited so book your place now to avoid disappointment.