Temi Ophylia Ibekwe is the founder of Phyllion and Partners Limited, a fast-growing PR and marketing consulting firm based in Lagos. With various certificates in marketing from Nigeria, the UK, and USA, she has worked in key public relations firms in Nigeria in strategy and account manager capacities, facilitating pitch wins and project leads. Passionate about tech communications and brand marketing, she recently held and concluded the first Tech PR Conference in Nigeria with key leaders in tech and communications discussing the future of African Technology and PR.
It is no secret that the ongoing pandemic has affected many businesses, both big and small, how can they remain relevant in these times?
Indeed, no one knew at the start of the year that this would happen but proactively, we took steps to give us a head start until the pandemic struck and businesses began re-structuring to survive. As countries gradually re-open and we begin to regain some normalcy, the path to conscious recovery is glaringly digital. However, applying these will require strategy, revisiting the SWOT, business strengths, weaknesses, and what opportunities and threats exist to the business. Then find a way to re-invent, continuing to keep your customers satisfied, and support the business bottom line.
In a bid to survive these times, some companies are letting staff go, do you think this was the right move at this period?
The definition of right or wrong in this period is relative. It is clear now more than ever that no two businesses are the same. Although there are business principles we can all follow, organisation culture, leadership, business models are unique to the particular business. It depends on your strategy and what your business model can accommodate.
I would advocate for doing as much as you can for staff in these times while seeking new ways to grow the business, but more importantly, involve them. Your next billion-dollar idea could come from the junior executive who isn’t even a decision-maker at your firm but whom you allowed to contribute as a result of the decision to involve them.
What are some ways brands and businesses can re-invent, improve, or/and create new ways of doing things?
As stated above, following an honest appraisal of where the business stands in the post-pandemic era, the next most important thing is to seek insight. What do customers want these days? How are they living their lives daily? How does your brand/product fit into their daily lives? How is your product/service helping them? Insights will help you determine the best approach to providing service or what necessary adjustments to make to your products or service delivery to help you stay relevant.
For us, our core strength is in communication strategies that impact growth and the bottom line for our clients. One way in which we re-invented was to increase efficiency in digital business solutions. We increased efficiency in our online events using event management software that makes virtual events more seamless; we also improved on our digital PR solutions, so more digital, less physical.
A lot of people have turned to entrepreneurship to survive these times; do you think this is sustainable in the long run?
My understanding of an entrepreneur is someone who identifies a need within an economic space and fulfills this need for profit. If this definition holds sway, then the question of sustainability, in the long run, depends on the continuity of the provision of value for profit. Some factors come into play here; the business model, the marketing mix, the character of the business. All of these will determine if it’s sustainable in the long run.
Do you believe that digital strategy and not tech drives business transformation?
Yes, I am a proponent of digital strategy driving business transformation, but not without technology. The digital business solution helps to re-invent business processes, improve or create new products that drive enhanced customer experiences in this age using technology. It involves all the strategies that help your business processes move from analog to digital in a way that drives down operating costs and increases revenue.
What are some ways you think businesses can recover post-pandemic?
I will be proffering a few ways to business recovery post-pandemic as follows: One proven way is to use insight to drive change and improve customer experiences. Businesses should seek to understand customer satisfaction or dissatisfaction, analyse data into basic steps that will improve service offerings. The way to do this is to ask critical questions and place yourself in their shoes. Secondly, we’ve heard this many times but I’d reiterate it, use digital media to engage and advertise more; now is not the time to reduce digital marketing, digital PR spend. Now is the time to adopt a digital customer engagement strategy, create a budget, and follow through with it.
I have seen increased brand engagement on digital, from small, medium to large businesses. Half of the world’s population is online according to Hootsuite’s April 2020 report, and in Nigeria, digital is fast rising, as infrastructure hopefully improves and tech solutions too. You can trace and measure the impact of your digital campaigns and best of all you can target the audience preferences from the insight gotten in point one above. Lastly, get your consumers to buy into you not necessarily from you. Use social media to engage with your customers and build a community online so that you can have constant feedback about your product or service and build loyalty. I will always advise hiring professionals to do this, you can define the scope and KPIs and review quarterly. This is one of the services starting to gain an increase in demand within our business portfolio.
Leaving paid employment to delve into full entrepreneurship must have been tough, could you share your experiences?
Oh, I did not expect this question within the mix, but it’s a good one. Well, it wasn’t a tough decision to leave; I had all the enthusiasm and was extremely optimistic. However, kicking off in the entrepreneurial world, I quickly realised it wasn’t for the faint-hearted. As an entrepreneur, you have to be bullish with your goals and very disciplined. Also, when you start to achieve them, be ready to unlock the next level of challenges because overcoming those will lead to the next level for you and on it goes.
I have learned to be resilient, have an open mind approach to things. When you hit a roadblock, find a way to go over or around it. My biggest lesson so far is people leadership; I am learning and still learning to make the most of the human talents in terms of employees or clients whom I come across on this journey. People are indeed your biggest resource.
You recently held the first Tech PR conference to discuss the future of African Technology and PR, what was the focus of the discussion?
The Phyllion Tech Conference took place in July and had key leaders in communications and technology discuss the realities of today and a picture of what the future is for Africa through technology transformation. It centred on insights into smart industry trends, tech impact, and growth areas within social and interpersonal relations, education, communication and business, and technology changes to expect from the new era and immediate future.
We tried to keep it timely but at the end of the day, it was evident that technology needed a showcase in Africa to drive change and PR is the vehicle that will help us achieve this goal. As a result, we started a platform to showcase tech start-ups in Nigeria and Africa and share their impact stories to a wide audience. Dubbed Keeping up with the Techies, we’ve had two episodes already where we featured start-up founders from E-worker and Staff Bus Nigeria.
What strategic marketing tip would you share with women-owned start-ups on navigating the new normal?
As women, we have the innate ability to nurture; this is a unique strength universally for women in leadership. So, let’s key into this; nurture your business like you would a growing child. Show up more, from my experience sometimes, when opportunities with potential marketing and business benefits open up for business owners both men and women, the woman sometimes stays away, while the men go for it even when they are not qualified. So, as a woman start-up leader, one big marketing tip is to show up and take advantage of opportunities that will give you exposure and benefit your brand in the new normal.
What changes would you like to see in the tech and brand marketing industry of which you’re a major player?
I’d like to see a seamless engagement and collaboration between the two. Tech businesses should begin to prioritise marketing and communications early in the start-up phase and sustain it during growth stages and after. What we had before is a situation where tech firms tend to engage marketing only after they have attained growth. PR and marketing are enablers if engaged strategically; they will have more impact even at the introductory phase as well. I also will like to see more platforms for technology impact stories, a lot is happening on the continent in technology, we need to own and share these stories.