Bukky Karibi-Whyte is the CEO and founder of Robert Taylor Media, one of the premiere communications agencies in Nigeria, an agency which houses Communications Firms Invicta Africa and Bobby Taylor Company as well as three other brands.
Her company represents brands like BROOMFIELD Law, SPAR, Dom Perignon, Cyber Xchange, Henessy, Belvedere, Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and various events and personalities.
While in Lagos for Social Media Week, I dropped by her office to chat about the business scene in Lagos and to get a better idea of what she does.
BKW: In Nigeria, you need to be physically present to be relevant. While running the firm in Canada, I would get a lot of emails saying my name kept coming up for PR gigs in Nigeria but noone wanted to hire me because I wasn’t “on ground”.
Eventually, one person took a risk and flew me in. We did a great job and I got paid the equivalent of a years salary where I worked in Canada. I moved back finally in 2009.
Once I arrived in Lagos, It wasn’t hard to find my feet. There were few PR agencies in the lifestyle and luxury market and I saw this as an opportunity to fill that gap.
SB: Many people say the adjustment to moving back is hard. What was your experience?
BKW: It IS hard! I know people that moved back and left a few months after. Its almost like pledging a sorority or fraternity. Nigeria will test your endurance. I just wasn’t taking no for an answer. I came with the attitude of “I’m the best and you guys need this.”
Naija is great but you’ll be frustrated all the time. Do you know how many times a press release was supposed to go out at noon and at 11:58am electricity goes out and the internet has gone off? Next thing you know, the client is calling frantically for their release.
Or imagine you’ve been invited to pitch a client in Ikeja with a massive budget and there’s traffic on third mainland bridge isn’t moving and you miss the meeting and they don’t wanna hear why.
SB: Describe the ideal client?
BKW: All of my clients are ideal. I say that because for me, business is very personal. I only work with brands that I personally buy into and use their goods or services. I’m confident enough to go to any tv station or magazine publication and say these guys are the best.
It isn’t just about business to me. If it was, i’d be a whole lot richer (Laughs). I actually turn down business if i don’t believe in the brand or don’t think its a good fit. If I don’t buy it i’m not selling it.
SB: How does an international or even a Nigerian brand survive in this market?
BKW: One, they have to understand that the same formula that works abroad won’t work here. We are very fickle and lose interest very quickly. That’s why you hear a huge buzz about a certain brand one day and three months later, there’s nothing.
That’s because you have to engage people. The brands that last are the ones that keep changing and evolving and keeping up with trends.
You need a plan to continually engage.You can’t hire an agency to introduce you and then end the agency relationship once the introduction has been made. The work only really begins after the introduction. Now the brand has to show the public that they are who they say they are.
SB: You studied African American History in college. How did that change your mindset as an African and what are your thoughts on how to improve relations between Africans and African Americans?
BKW: I continue to say that with Africans and African Americans all we need is major DIALOGUE and SUPPORT of one another. I see it slowly happening. On major holidays i see a few African Americans come to Nigeria and Nigerians are always in the U.S.
Even in regards to African American Greek Lettered Organization, you find a lot of Nigerians getting involved. I am a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated.
Every year I fly to the states for conferences and to spend time with my second family (my Sorors). We do however need more work. I am proud to have studied African American History in college.
SB: Is there a growing movement to support made in Nigeria products and Nigerian owned businesses?
BKW: Yes there is a growing movement. There are people that are not in support of our current Government but I personally feel that our present Government has forced us to look inward. A lot of people are becoming entrepreneurs. A lot of people are turning their hobbies into businesses.
There’s a massive opportunity for Nigerian brands to excel in these present times.
Bukky showed me a picture in her office that was taken by photographer Seun O who previously covered weddings and special events. Now he recently launched a series called “Ladipo: Gods of Machines” and just had an exhibition where she bought his work. “Everyone is getting creative and its amazing.” she said.
“Don’t get me wrong, people are still very financially buoyant but we are now looking locally to support our quality local brands. There is a huge demand for QUALITY products and services. Give us quality and we will buy.”
SB: Where do you see yourself and your company in 5 years?
BKW: I want to remain boutique. I also want to teach at the universities and create mini publications that are useful to PR and communications professionals. I get a lot of PR interns and after seeing their course works I can tell that there’s a lot of fundamentals being taught but nothing practical. I am very interested in the educational and advisory space.
SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
BKW: Bring something unique to the market. Everything is already here. Be tenacious and don’t take no for an answer.