Tolu Rachael Akisanya holds a BA in Public Relations and has over ten years’ experience in the PR & Communications industry. Previous work/clients have included Barclays Premier League, Rugby Football Union (RFU), Rimmel London, JLO Perfumes, Sarah Jessica Parker Perfumes, and working with Ed Skrein, Joe Dempsie, Gizzi Erskine, Maxine Peake, Vicky McClure, Plan B, Adam Deacon, Joe Cole, Werner Hertzog, Nadine Labaki and more.
Tolu also produces and hosts The Culture Reel– a new platform created to fill the ‘diversity’ gap in film criticism and journalism in the UK. She has interviewed Academy Award Winning documentary maker Morgan Neville and BAFTA-winning and Emmy nominated British producer Charlie Hanson. As a freelance writer, Tolu wrote for several magazines, blogs & websites, including Flavour Mag, Fashion 156, Musicology, UrbanWorld, Soul Culture and StupidDOPE, writing features on culture, style and fashion pages, and profile interviews with a range of celebrities including international R&B singer Kelly Price, award-winning British artist and film director Plan B, UK rapper Tinchy Stryder, Radio 1 DJ Trevor Nelson and many more.
She also has a huge interest in increasing diversity within the media and the creative industries, and recently founded BACE Media Network, a diversity and inclusion initiative which aims to help companies recruit skilled diverse talent, and is also on the board of south-London based youth organisation, Young People Matter (YPM).
Having recently joined Personal Investment Management and Financial Advice Association (PIMFA) as PR Manager, Tolu will be responsible for the organisation’s media exposure and social media activity to help raise awareness of financial services and understanding of the sector.
Describe your background/yourself in 5 words max?
Media obsessed, South Londoner, Nigeria
How did you get into PR/comms/creative?
At secondary school I randomly managed to get a one-week work experience placement at a members’ organisation that arranged leisure skiing trips. I initially wanted to do marketing so I worked in that department with a small team and did filing and making tea, but it also gave me my first experience of PR. I didn’t fully understand it at the time, but I knew I was intrigued and wanted more.
After college, I still hadn’t decided if I wanted to do advertising or marketing and I came across a university that offered a degree in PR – and was only an hour away from home. It was one of the first PR courses and was also one of the first UK degrees tailored to the needs of the PR industry.
What do you love about your job?
It might sound clichéd, but I enjoy the variety of it. There are some areas of the job that can be repetitive and a bit tedious – so it’s not like watching ‘Flack’ or ‘Ab Fab’ – but other times the randomness can catch you out. One day you’re brainstorming ideas and helping to design marketing materials, and another day you’re arranging interviews or at a dinner event mingling with BAFTA-winners.
I like that it is all things – creative and challenging.
I’m a generalist and I’ve worked in a range of industries including consumer, FMCG, healthcare, sports, entertainment, fashion and beauty. It has all taught me so much and allowed me to be adaptable to almost any situation.
My favourite part of my job is seeing coverage – I’m not sure how lame that is, but it’s everything you work towards. There’s something in me that loves the idea of taking something and making it interesting enough to engage the general public and help influence or even change perception or behaviour.
I’m also a people person (you kind of have to be in this job) and I still really enjoy meeting people and developing relationships. No matter which industry I’m in, I find people so interesting. There is always so much more to them than their jobs.
What are you most proud of?
I successfully co-managed the launch of Directors UK’s diversity report (UK Television: Adjusting the Colour Balance) only two-weeks into a new position. The report highlighted lack of diversity across TV production in the UK.
I hit the ground running; I did everything from scratch and generated both national and international coverage (which included BBC News, The Independent, Guardian, London Live, Forbes, Hollywood Reporter, Broadcast, Televisual, The Stage, The Voice and more). This is now one of the organisation’s most successful and highest profile campaigns to date. As a result, the report is still referred to and included in industry and organisational reports to help tackle the issue of diversity in the audio-visual industry in the UK, and was included in Channel 4’s 360° Diversity Charter (Feb 2017), Sir Lenny Henry’s panel at parliament (Jul 2017), Ofcom’s Diversity and Equal Opportunities in Television Report (Nov 2017), and the BFI’s Workforce Diversity in the UK Screen Sector report (Mar 2018).
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
So many – and I’m still learning. Learning how to work with people who work differently, how not to take things personally, that not everyone will like you, that it’s ok to push back and say ‘no’ at times, learning to speak up, that rejection or criticism isn’t (necessarily) a reflection of your professional skills or you as a person.
I’ve been in the industry for many years and it has taken a long time for me to learn these things and there’s so much to still learn.
Who are your favourite people in PR and why?
Ronke Lawal, PR and Communications Consultant and founder of Ariatu PR is a dream! Hands down my absolute favourite person in PR. She might be one of the smartest and funniest people in the industry – and on Twitter (follow her if you’re not already doing so)! She’s incredibly knowledgeable and inspirational, friendly, open and honest.
Effie Kanyua, Director of PR and Communications, Hearst UK. Our career paths are similar, and she’s shown me that nothing should hold you back. Also seeing her gives me hope for my own future and career path.
Mikey Abegunde is such a lovely person, and absolutely hilarious! And Sam Ross raised the bar for me – I don’t think he even realised how much of an impact he made on me and how much I learned from him.
Thanks to social media, I’m able to look up to (and follow the accounts of) so many inspirational women who are doing great things in the communications/PR industry around the world, such as Karen Blackett OBE, Karen Civil, and obviously Beyonce’s publicist Yvette Noel-Schure!
I also have my TV PRs who inspired me including Eddie from Ab-Fab, Samantha from Sex and The City and Olivia Pope – fierce, strong, unshakeable, stylish, intelligent, on the ball and super smart! She was everything I wanted to be (without the affair).
What skill do you think every PR/comms/creative has to nail?
Building and maintaining relationships.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Twitter! I get everything from Twitter: real-time news and current affairs from across the world; all the latest up-to-date gossip; instant reactions and jokes and memes.
I’ve learnt so much from it, and from people I probably would have never crossed paths with in real life. I’ve even made some really good friends from it. It really is unmatched.
Yes, it has its ‘moments’ and there are a few people that ruin it, but it really is a great source of news, entertainment and education. Well, if you follow the right people.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Issa Rae, who inspires me, said: “build with people at the same level as you, who’s next to you, who’s just as hungry as you are, those are the people you need to build up with – network sideways” and “find a good team”. This is such great advice and made me reconsider how and who I’m networking with. The old school way is to chase up, but there’s also logic and beauty in building with someone at your level.
Also one of my former managers who has been incredibly supportive over the years used to say “you can do the thing!”. It became a personal battle cry, if I ever needed a boost.
Best campaign of 2019 so far?
I’ve always been impressed with how Nike have been able to catch on to a movement, despite what anyone else might think. They always manage to grab your attention. They did it with Colin Kaepernick and they did it with Serena Williams.
I love the recent “crazy women” x “just do it” Nike ad campaign. Combining emotional branding, Nike found a way to tap into this recent (new) wave of feminism and female empowerment and celebrate female athletes who have challenged the norm. It’s great, and by using Serena Williams – a female athlete greatly overlooked and mistreated – to voice the advert during the 2019 Academy Awards ensured they had a captive audience. This was a complete win for me.
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
Representation and visibility. I spent years thinking there were no other BAMEs working in the PR industry, little did I know that they are here! And doing incredibly well in their roles.
Thanks to social media I discovered some of these people, by chance. And now with the help of Elizabeth Bananuka (BME PR Pros) and Deborah Marie (Black Women in PR) there’s an opportunity to do more and go further.
I will go as far as saying diversity in PR needs better PR (ha!).
Schemes and initiatives like this (BME PR Pros) are great to highlight and encourage. However, if it wasn’t for these specific outlets online so many people (me included!) wouldn’t know or come across so many of these other great people in the industry. A national newspaper offered a BAME training programme for young people, perhaps this is something larger organisations could also do. Internships are great, but we must also think about where these are advertised and funding/payment.
Industry trade outlets and publications need to do more to increase representation and profile BAME professionals, by featuring more individuals, across multiple outlets and platform – which could help inspire younger and more diverse generation of PRs. I’d like to see more BAMEs doing public interviews, panel discussions and talks, and not just about diversity and race in the workplace, that’s when we’re mainly only ever rolled out. With so many BAME professionals working in a range of industries, I’d love to see more being featured as experts in their fields speaking about a range of things – If we’re already doing the job, let people see that.
However, what I don’t want is diversity for the sake of it or tokenism. To be truly diverse, minority staff must feel included. Inclusivity is key. If staff members don’t feel like they’re able to be themselves, or are being bullied, discouraged, or held back from promotions or advancing in their careers then there’s no point. Diversity isn’t the buzzword for 2018/19. Ensure that BAME staff are valued and supported in their careers.
Finally unconscious bias training for all staff and not just hiring members or CEOs but everyone, as each staff member has a key role to play in building cultures that encourage diversity and celebrate differences.
Connect with Tolu on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Tolu is a mentee on the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme. She will be mentored by Effie Kanyua, Director of PR & Communications, Hearst UK.