By Paula Melissa Interviewed Ronke Lawal, 26/01/2018 Pictures by Nuraan Ackers
East London’s very own, PR and Communications professional Ronke Lawal is no stranger to the power of Public Relations, social media marketing and brand management for businesses.
After founding her own PR agency, Ariatu Public Relations nearly 14 years ago, Ronke has gone on to work with and for established businesses and brands all over the country. She specialises in B2C (Business to Consumer) businesses in the entertainment industry, varying from beauty to food.
She has now become a respected name in the UK PR industry and was appointed a director of the Chartered Board of Public Relations (CIPR) last year and officially started this year.
But how did Ronke get to where she is now and what can you learn from her to push yourself closer towards starting and successfully running your own business?
With 90-95% of the PR industry being white, the odds were already stacked high against British-born Nigerian Ronke, but that has not seemed to stop her! She is audacious and bold in her conversations on race; a topic often avoided in the corporate office.
She said: “I don’t see why there should be a problem with being vocal in my blackness and in my womanhood.”
With a large percentage of her clients being Afro-Caribbean business owners, it can be assumed that British BAME (Black and Minority Ethnic) people appreciate going to someone who looks and sounds like them for their PR needs.
They value the comfort it brings, knowing their business is safe in the hands of someone who understands their background. Ronke celebrates this and ensures her clients feel they are getting the best from her.
She said: “I love that I am using my strategic skills. I love doing the work I do and I am doing it well.”
You may be able to relate to Ronke in the sense that you are trying to be a part of a rather exclusive industry. An industry full of people that perhaps grew up very differently from you – how do you intercept an industry like that? An industry which, like very much of the rest of the Western world, generally favours the white narrative.
Well, Ronke has good advice for you: “Put yourself forward in positions you’re not comfortable in. Challenge yourself but being in places and spaces people do not expect to see you in.”
Ronke, herself, did this when she was appointed a Director for the Charted Institute of Public Relations.
“They recognised that there was an issue of lack of diversity and representation in the industry. I appreciate that they were willing to do something about it by appointing me.”
Ariatu Public Relations was started slowly while Ronke was still working in her finance personnel manager job and living at home in London to save to buy her own house. This demonstrates to young entrepreneurs how necessary it is to be realistic with yourself about sacrifices you may have to make.
Being self-employed, being your own boss, sounds fun but business can be hard.
“It was an investment!” Ronke said: “It was a hustle. The tough times have really strengthened my internal drives.
“People expect entrepreneurship to be amazing. It’s great but it’s a journey. Open your eyes to your journey!
“Look at it down on paper: can what you want to do feed you! Be realistic. Don’t quit your job if it can’t.
“There are ups and downs. You have to know if you can cope with the lack of consistent income that can happen with being self-employed.
“Late payments can be a dream killer. Be wise.”
Deciding to leave a stable 9-5 job for your 5-9 (also known as your side hustle) sounds great in theory but do not confuse belief and excitement for your brand, product or service for pure foolishness. In our capitalist society, you need money to exist.
That being said, there are a lot of ways you can start an enterprise with limited resources:
- Consider crowdsourcing
- Consider sponsorship from venture capitalists
- Using free webinar platforms to build a clientele
- Monetise videos on YouTube or add ads to your site
- Start somewhere or with someone who will pay for what you do
- Use social media to shout about your product or service.
Ronke, who has an active following on LinkedIn and YouTube primarily as well as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, is a huge fan of the power of social media, especially for businesses and brands.
She said: “I can use the tools of social media as well as traditional PR skills. My use of Instagram, Twitter and YouTube with brands and clients is significant.
“They are basic, free platforms that can be valuable in projecting clients. People overanalyse the creative process when you can use simple tools and get effective results.”
Drawing on the example of Michael Daapah and his success with Big Shaq’s Mans Not Hot – the comedian-turned-musician used his social media platforms to get his brand out there – you do not necessarily need to wait for media coverage or exposure from a mainstream platform.
Ronke said: “We don’t have to wait anymore. You can just go and make what you want to happen, happen. I love that we can harness social media and get PR out there.”