Public relations can seem like a difficult profession to pursue and excel in when you don’t have a lot of experience. Bidemi Zakariyau quickly dispelled that doubt and started an innovative P.R company whilst she was still in school. Bidemi Zakariyau is changing the public relations industry in Nigeria through an inventive and original approach. She is like the Olivia Pope of P.R – armed with two law degrees and a brilliant wardrobe to match. Her firm has represented clients such as Phillips, Godrej, Branch, Jack Daniel’s and so much more! The most intriguing thing is that her firm is five years old.
Bidemi is the CEO of one of the leading Public Relations Agencies in Nigeria, LSF|PR, a full service agency that serves clients on corporate communications, consumer and lifestyle brands. She has been able to scale her firm in under five years to one of Nigeria’s most sought after P.R agencies. She is also the founder of The Luxe Digest, a pan African Luxury content platform. She has been recognized on Forbes Africa’s annual 30 under 30 last and was previously awarded the Future Awards Africa Prize for media enterprise!
Bidemi is an amazing girl boss who has achieved so much in her career, she shared some career advice with LFE!
“Don’t do too many things at the same time. The most successful people/businesses take their time to develop and build one thing before deciding to introduce new features/new products and services etc.Take time to work and develop and build your core focus to the point where its sustainable before you decide do another thing”
P.R Firms often don’t work in tandem with Law Firms, what inspired you to start a P.R firm whilst you were in college?
I had the opportunity to intern at two top tier law firms in Nigeria before joining law school, although I had the most amazing experience at both, I figured very quickly that law wasn’t the career path I wanted. I always had an interest in media from a young age, so I thought it would be a great idea to start to explore while in law school. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made, I was scared but decided to anyway, that decision has led me to where I am today.
Having a law degree is one of those things that I’ve found very helpful in my career as I deal with negotiations and agreements often so I have the basic idea of what we’re getting into etc and it gives me an advantage as well.
You started LSF| PR with little to no capital and it was really your first baby, that must have been tough! What are some challenges you have faced as a female entrepreneur in Nigeria?
Running a business in the Nigeria is very tough, every single day is a challenge, but some of the stand out ones are:
Juggling Law school, starting a business and securing my first client: Although I had acquired some great skills at the two law firms, I realized, of course that I wasn’t very passionate about the legal practice. At the same time, I needed to make sure I could sustain myself financially through law school as I had already begun when I had my epiphany. I decided it was time to pursue my media interest. I took the risk of setting up a PR agency. At the beginning I started my company off as a fashion PR agency, I took meetings during lunch breaks or would sometimes miss lectures to take client meetings. I worked on small projects and had only a few clients to ensure I could juggle both.
Securing my first client was very difficult because I had no public relations experience, I would visit different blogs in Nigeria and look for contact numbers in the article credits and call the designers requesting to work with them for free. Someone finally agreed that I could work with them on a project, the potential client requested for a proposal and fees. I sent a proposal and charged a small fee for three months. I worked on her project diligently as I knew what it could potentially do for me. Her fashion label’s new collection received great coverage online and in print (to her disbelief). She had used other PR agencies and publicists in the past and had not received such extensive coverage. This led to many referrals for my next few clients in the fashion industry.
Diversifying my client portfolio, building a team and scaling: Once I was done with law school, the next thing I needed to do was build a solid team and scale my business. I did not want to only work with fashion brands, I wanted to work with corporate and consumer brands too. I got my first office space six months after law school and started to hire. I also began working on my PR certification. The biggest challenge was securing clients in the corporate and consumer sector. I continued to build our client portfolio, taking on projects with little or no profit for the purpose of reputation building.
I stopped taking on fashion projects and focused on more corporate and consumer accounts. The breakthrough moment happened when we did the PR for a client’s art exhibition and we secured Laurent-Perrier Champagne as an alcoholic beverage sponsor. The art exhibition received a lot of press coverage which Laurent-Perrier benefited from. I decided to research Laurent-Perrier’s strategy in Nigeria and discovered there were innovative strategies I could offer them.
I called the Laurent-Perrier team and asked to meet with them and discuss PR strategy that could help in positioning the brand in Nigeria. I knew full well that this was a longshot as company that big may not works with small PR agencies such as mine. My agency was barely 2 years old at this point. When I got there, I discovered that they had an in-house team, but I was still given a chance to present my ideas.
After the meeting, I was informed that the company represented other brands and was told to send a proposal for the 12 beverage brands under Ledrop Nigeria Limited. They loved all our ideas and offered us all their key accounts. Our relationship with the company officially started in 2014 and we currently handle all their key accounts including Remy-Cointreau (Remy Martin, Cointreau, St Remy, Louis XIII), Brown Forman (Jack Daniel’s), William Grants & Sons (Glenfiddich) and Laurent-Perrier.
These accounts were huge for us as they were all global brands, our work with these brands – positioning them in the Nigerian market had a beneficial effect on the growth of my company. We gradually started getting recognized for our work in mid- 2015, which led to us securing more local and global clients within the corporate, and consumer sector.
With regards to being female: the usual sexism that exists in society, but I’ve found ways to navigate it, by delivering excellent results and showing up, my work should never be attributed to my gender.
You have so much passion for your brand and it is infectious! How do you stay motivated and bring that passion to work every day – especially as a leader ?
My team!! I work with the most incredible young women who are all between the ages of 21-25, they remind me of myself when I started, young, energetic, smart, passionate and hungry to learn.
We also work with some of the most amazing brands, so sometimes it doesn’t feel like work even though it’s a lot of hours of strategy, execution, going back and forth on ideas etc but the energy from my team is amazing and definitely motivates me to show up everyday.
“I won’t generalize because I believe everyone has to do some self assessment and ensure they’re doing what’s best for themselves. If for example you’re in a situation where you cannot necessarily follow your passion because you don’t have the funding to, its ok to work for some time and get some experience, acquire new skills and save till you can start to invest in your passion”
You are invested in mentoring younger women and helping them take charge of their careers! What advice do you have for college women and recent grads who want to live their best lives and pursue the career of their dreams?
I won’t generalize because I believe everyone has to do some self assessment and ensure they’re doing what’s best for themselves. If for example you’re in a situation where you cannot necessarily follow your passion because you don’t have the funding to, its ok to work for some time and get some experience, acquire new skills and save till you can start to invest in your passion.
Another important thing is not being afraid to restart/go back to the drawing board when something is not working. If for example, you start a business, things are working out, its ok to reassess and take a break, I think we’re all usually afraid to do this sometimes because of what people will say or how it may be perceived or pressure from friends/family or others. I had to shut down our digital division last year because it simply wasn’t working out, this is not to say that I won’t re-introduce it in future, but I’m taking time to learn from the mistakes I made to ensure I build something solid and sustainable in the long-term.
Don’t do too many things at the same time. The most successful people/businesses take their time to develop and build one thing before deciding to introduce new features/new products and services etc. Take time to work and develop and build your core focus to the point where its sustainable before you decide do another thing.
Do you think young Nigerian woman easily have access to female mentors? Who is currently your career crush?
There are many organizations that provide opportunities for women to meet with potential mentors.
My career crush is Dr. Amy Jadesimi. she’s the managing director of Ladol – her vision to lessen the country’s dependence on foreign investment and solve critical infrastructure issues in order to push local content and create jobs is admirable.
What does being an executive woman of color mean to you?
It means impact, representation and letting those who look up to me understand that they can achieve what I’ve achieved and so much more. Its so important that we educate and let young women of color understand their power and the importance of not being put in a box by a label.
You can achieve anything regardless of your color, never let that limit you, work hard, remain consistent, persevere through the hard times, because there will be hard times and always remain focused on achieving your goals.