Tommy Rufai is an Account Executive at Aspectus Group (Oil, Gas & Energy), joining three months ago as a Junior Account Executive after a five-week stint as an intern. He has won the Aspectus hijack (employee of the week award) twice, becoming the first intern in the company’s history to win the award.
Including a three-month internship at the PR Office, Tommy has experience with clients in a variety of sectors including venture capital, asset management and renewable energy.
A former writer and correspondent for MTV Networks and sport editor at the International Political Forum, Tommy has a unique educational background, holding a BA Economics and Management and MA Media, Culture and Society. He received the Best Student Prize for his masters course and leverages his degree in economics to navigate the changing dynamics of the energy industry.
Outside of work, Tommy is a videographer for Hillsong TV (Sky Channel 597) and regularly produces content for their channel. He also has a keen interest in music and is a rapper in the music collective, Authentic Music.
Describe your background in 5 words max?
African. London. Education-oriented. Christian.
How did you get into PR/comms?
During my masters I secured a six-month internship in financial journalism after university and was booked on a study scheme to head to China straight afterwards – until one fateful day when I came out of the shower to find both opportunities had been taken away (another story for another day). I spent a pretty long time deliberating about my next steps but for those that know, unemployment and Nigerian households mix about as well as oil and water, so I needed to get myself together – and fast. I was really keen to find a career path that would suit my passion for written and oral communication (obviously comms) and I came across Sarah Stimson’s list of 150 PR internships. After spending a few days sending in my CV to 100+ agencies, I suddenly had 16 interviews in the space of two weeks and my once dormant email inbox was resuscitated to life! I completed internships at the Aspectus Group and the PR Office and I’ve been loving life ever since.
What do you love about your job?
Pitching, pitching and pitching. Especially over the phone. I love the rush of being on the phone to a journalist who knows their sector inside-out and having to draw on your common stock of knowledge to persuade them – it’s almost like an intellectual game of tennis. But aside from this, I love the variety that comes with my role as I’m someone who’s always venturing into new areas and learning different things. I’m still just about getting over the fact that I’m paid to be a media junkie and it’s a real privilege to hold briefings with clients and gain an insight into their industries that I otherwise wouldn’t have. With this being said, my first love is still writing and I’m looking to do more as my role progresses.
What are you most proud of?
Winning the Aspectus hijack (employee of the week) award. I previously won the award as an intern, becoming the first individual at the Aspectus Group to do so, but the second time was particularly special due to the circumstances surrounding it. I’d just started as a JAE and it was mentioned that I looked bored in one of my reviews.
I was surprised about this but rather than become demotivated, I asked my line manager and another senior staff member for their advice and took all of the necessary feedback on board. The following week, I managed to secure interviews with Bloomberg and Dow Jones for a frustrated client, which really helped us to secure a new contract.
This led to a meeting with my managing director, who held a meeting with me just to comment on how impressed he was with my progress. Looking back, I’m really thankful that the issue was raised in the first place as I wouldn’t have been able to grow or had the added motivation to succeed.
What’s been the hardest lesson to learn?
You can’t be perfect and you will make mistakes. I can be exceptionally hard on myself when I don’t meet my own standards but I’m beginning to realise how unhealthy this is. It’s an attitude that can definitely prevent you from seeing the progress you’ve made and also affects the lens through which you view the efforts of others – focussing on what they didn’t do rather than celebrating what they did do. Recently, on the advice of my line manager, I’ve been writing down all of the things that went well at the end of the day. It’s not about ignoring the negatives, but it’s about consciously focussing on the positives to encourage myself for the next day.
Who are your favourite people in PR/comms and why?
Sofie Skouras, Account Manager at Aspectus. Sofie was my mentor and she managed to make the transition from JAE to Account Manager in two years. It’s really inspiring to see an example of where hard work and commitment can take you. She was always patient and willing to help whilst I was an intern (and answer the silliest questions!) and having made the change from an intern to a full-time team member, seeing the scale of my workload only makes me appreciate this more.
Rajmeena Aujla, Associate Director at The PR Office. On a number of occasions, Raj went out of her way to give me really valuable feedback on tasks and has such a solid understanding of how to get into the minds of her clients. She gave me a deeper understanding of my role which extended past my job description, which was a massive help in my permanent role.
What is your favourite social network and why?
Twitter. You can get inside people’s heads and see what makes them tick understand what makes them who they are which I find so fascinating. I’ve always had a curious mind so Twitter is great for someone like me. But I also have a really soft spot for LinkedIn. It offers so many opportunities to be enterprising with your career and take matters into your own hands. If I need advice, I’ve got access to the people I need, and I can take the initiative in getting to where I want to be.
Who is your favourite journalist and why?
This will be controversial for many reasons (one being some may not classify him as a journo – haha!) but Charlemagne tha God from the Breakfast Club. Aside from actually being brave enough to ask questions the audience want to hear, Charlemagne has a natural flair for building a rapport with his guests and turning his interviews into flowing conversations – which sounds easy but after seeing so many rigid interviews with presenters more concerned about rushing through their question schedule rather than the insights of their guests, it definitely isn’t! I’ve seen him ask some pretty tough questions and receive some even tougher responses and his composure levels have been supreme. Granted, he doesn’t always get things right and I don’t always agree with him, but it’s pretty clear he has a great talent for bringing an audience into the interview room and yes, you will find my name registered on his fan club page.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Walk into situations looking to see what you can give rather than what you can get.
From networking events to the workplace, it’s saved me a lot of frustration whenever life doesn’t match up to my expectations and as a desperately ambitious person constantly looking forward in life, this really forces me to look back and look around to others. I find it really easy to focus on what I haven’t done/have but looking at how I can support others is a great way of not only boosting the self-worth of those around me, but funnily enough mine too.
Your favourite PR campaign/stunt of 2018 so far?
I’ve been really impressed with UNICEF’s “Game Chaingers” campaign, which encourages gamers to use their computers to mine the crypto currency Ethereum, which is then exchanged for cash which goes towards children in Syria.
Given the current hype surrounding crypto currencies and blockchain, I think it’s a solid example of leveraging the current news agenda for your own benefit. The campaign also does a great job of attracting its target audience by listing professional gamers on its website (a fantastic use of industry influencers to widen a campaign’s appeal). The website also includes a leaderboard with the ranking of which gamers have mined the most ethereum, tying into the theme of competition which gamers love.
Why did you apply for the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme?
I’m quite free-spirited but sometimes I need to be reined in and have a degree of practicality and long-term thinking to my plans. At this stage of my career, I need an informed and objective opinion that can help me navigate my future so I’m keen to find someone who can scrutinise the career choices that I make. This will go a long way in challenging me to take more ownership of my career direction as a result.
When I found out I had a place on the scheme, I had a really calm exterior but inside I was doing backflips. My friends on the other hand were going crazy – especially when they found out who my mentor was. It’s definitely safe to say that I’m in good company with Ronke!
Finally, on the D’ word… What can the sector do to encourage diversity?
If I’m entirely honest, I haven’t been in the PR world long enough to fully gauge the challenges I’ll face as a BME and consequent solutions, which is one of the reasons I wanted to join the mentoring scheme. But from my experience at an entry-level perspective, it would definitely be helpful to boost awareness of comms as a career path at university and breakdown a simple explanation of the role. Universities are such melting pots of cultures filled with students with great transferable skills and so many don’t know what they’d like to do with them. I think bridging this gap would go a long way to enhancing diversity.
Tommy is a mentee on the BME PR Pros/PRWeek Mentoring Scheme. He will be mentored by Ronke Lawal, founder, Ariatu PR.