Maria is a founding team member at Wimbart, an independent public relations agency specialising in Africa and emerging markets. With eight years’ experience across consumer and corporate public relations, specialising in African entertainment and technology.
Prior to Wimbart, Maria began her career as PR Executive at IROKO and in 2013 became Press Officer at YouGov.
Maria’s expertise lies in developing communications strategies, planning and rolling out proactive social media campaigns, audience development, event management and working across international teams. Maria has led campaigns for pan-African clients including M-KOPA, Kobo360, Andela, Yoco and Piggyvest, amongst others. Maria also regularly gives talks and interviews on PR, comms and the African tech space, and is also a mentor for the UK’s BME PR Pros scheme.
Describe yourself/your background in 5 words max?
British Nigerian twin, firstborn, Christian
How did you get into PR/communications?
By accident. After university, I had no career plan. I love to argue so was considering a career in law until I saw a job opportunity at IROKOtv, the world’s largest online platform for Nollywood content. I was obsessed with Nigerian movies so I joined as a “Nollywood evangelist”. Lowkey wanted to be a Nollywood actress; let’s just say my big break never came. Shortly after joining, the company’s Head of Communications – Jessica Hope – who is also my boss at Wimbart and a #ProsWeLove, asked if I’d be interested in joining her team as a PR Exec. With zero PR knowledge, I said yes, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What do you love about your job?
I love working in the Africa tech sector. I find joy in telling the stories of great companies that are doing A-M-A-Z-I-N-G things on the continent. For so long, Africa has been portrayed as a poverty-stricken continent; it’s about time the rest of the world got to see some of the amazing developments happening over there.
What are you most proud of?
My proudest moment was speaking at a tech event in Kenya, it was my very first. I’ve spent many years prepping CEOs and C-suite level execs for events, so to be on stage for the very first time – overseas – was a special moment. I’ve spoken at a few events since then and most recently featured on a podcast [I h-a-t-e my voice].
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
Leadership is hard…very hard. It requires a lot of patience, self-awareness and good communication. Leadership is…hard!
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
Lots to choose from but someone who stands out is Kamiqua Pearce. She set up a safe space for black women in comms and founded the UK Black Comms Network, a space for UK Black and mixed-Black PR and communications professionals to level up, lobby for change and give back.
What skill do you think every PR/comms person has to nail?
Stalking. I’m always discovering new journalists who are relevant to my clients. It’s my job to get to know what would pique their interest and that does require a bit of stalking on social.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Twitter; I’ve slipped into some journalists’ DMs and it has yielded results. Also, it’s Love Island season right now; I follow the hashtag as I watch and love engaging with my fellow watchers.
What’s your favourite podcast and why?
I never used to be a fan of podcasts until I came across ‘Jesus and Jollof’ featuring Luvvie Ajayi and Yvonne Orji. They are super relatable – two proudly Nigerian women who love Jesus and Jollof rice [Nigerian jollof] just like I do. I love their relationship and the various topics they cover – they are literally my friends…in my head, of course.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
I have so many, but I gotta show some love to my friend Tobi Oredein, CEO & Founder of Black Ballad. She’s built an awesome platform that caters to black women in Britain and Europe. Most recently, Black Ballad raised over £300,000 from private investors and equity crowdfund – impressive! She is also a prominent voice in mainstream media and is not afraid to speak up on behalf of black women. I’m obsessed with her weekly editor newsletters too.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“Google is your friend!”
Biggest PR campaign fail and yay of 2021 so far?
Yay – Weetabix and baked beans!!! The food combo was questionable but the tweet itself had the right mix of humour and debatability – and this was tweeted at a time where everyone was fed up with the lockdown and lurking on social media for a bit of banter.
Nuh-uh – the royal family scrambling to be seen in public with black people after Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s Oprah interview…
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
The sector needs to be intentional about encouraging diversity across all levels. We do not have enough BME thought leaders in the sector who we can model our career on. This includes more speaking engagements, op-ed pieces, and interviews. We need to see more BME leaders, which is why initiatives such as The Xec., BME PR Pros & The Blueprint are very important.
Maria was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. She will be mentored by Claire Quansah, Head of Client and Business Development, Social.