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.