New kid on the PR block: Leaving a plum job to run a start-up on a full time basis

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By Victor Adar

Governments employ entrepreneurs. But unsurprisingly, the enterprising individuals they employ quit pretty fast in order to take charge of their own ventures and create opportunities.

Perhaps this is partly the reason why the public sector wrestle complex challenges like using taxpayers money to pay individuals who would most likely demand a fortune in return. Or, pay people who would resign anytime to pursue other things in the process leaving the government with no option but to look for someone else who can discharge similar duties. 

Not perfect but pundits think that it is awesome to move from employment to start a business especially if that’s what you have a soft spot for. Also, much more learning is required hence people find it better to gather experience from elsewhere (it does not matter whether the much needed experience comes from the private sector or from the public sector) before having to think of where to invest.

According to management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company’s Francois Bouvard, Thomas Dohrmann and Nick Lovegrove, the number of people moving from prestigious government positions is rising mainly because change is never easy in any big institution especially if it is a government body. Many public officials, they say, knowing this quite well, always seek to reform the way government operates. Mr Bouvard who is a director at McKinsey Paris office, says: “In our experience, these reforms typically fall short: with few exceptions, they skim the surface, cover too little ground, take too long, and leave much of the public sector relatively untouched. That’s why we see a need for broader, deeper, and faster reform. What we call whole-government transformation.”

It is because of this quest for turning a round a government department that Ahmed Mohamed was left guessing what to do that would make him happy. Thus he resigned from Tourism Finance Corporation (TFC) where he was the chief public relations and communications officer to join Lens Media Ltd, a company he had been toying with on the side, an indication that there is little legroom in the public sector.   

“We started small with an investment of Sh2 million,” he says. “We have the expertise to take care of all your publicity and PR needs. We are the engine that connects clients and consumers. We are the ones who transform crisis into opportunities. We deliver with brilliant strategies from real insights.”

Mr Mohamed talks openly about Lens Media, a full service communications, media, branding and marketing company that he started way back in 2010, and incorporated later on in February 2016.He takes pride in the success of a mix of clients whom he charge based on size which he can estimate by looking at expenditure, years that a client has been in the market, how much budget one puts on the table, among other things. Basically, he works hand-in-glove with clients who have a small budget, for example, to craft tailor made solutions that best fit their needs. Generally, he charges a retainer that ranges from Sh 500,000 to as high as over Sh1 million. By looking at a clients’ needs he can always come up with a suitable figure, and there is room for negotiation. For the few years his young company has grown steadily, mainly serving business enterprises of all type of nature, national and local government authorities, local communities, non-Governmental organizations, corporates, agencies, as well as development partners; high-end individuals with the aim of making all these groupings get high-level customer-centric visibility.

With characteristics of a corporate entrepreneur, he is motivated by proving that he has a better way of running a public relations campaign and to build something that is better than the offerings of his competitors. So far he has employed 5 people on full time basis and some other 4 on contract and commission basis. But how has the journey been so far and where is he going?

“This journey is full of trials and tribulations,” he says. “Where I’m going is Lens Media, a corporate public relations and publicity entrepreneurship that I founded some years back. After many years of extensive public relations, media and communications activities, I have finally reached the climax of my career at Tourism Finance Corporation. What a drastic and dramatic turnaround management it was!”

Mohamed has formerly worked at National Bank of Kenya as corporate communications manager, Nation Media Group as a correspondent, Radio Bar-Kulan (Writer), and Star FM (news producer). With the accumulated experience in media, was a blessing at TFC, a corporation that before was unknown to Kenyans.

The viability of entrepreneurs like this guy has been questioned going by the fact that movers and shakers in public offices would again do business with the government. This might come to haunt him. However, his defence is that self-employment is the way to go and he is cut out for it regardless of challenges that creep in once in a while.He says that an entrepreneur in his kind of field must have thick skin especially when dealing with clients better described as those “from hell”. In terms of market outlook, he is optimistic that the Kenyan market is still sustainable for public relations investments in a local market that is very crowded, adding that opportunities will be available for the next three years and beyond.

“I foresee no challenge,” he says. “My media and public relations pedigree sets me apart from the rest.  I am young, dynamic, full of energy coupled with many years of hands-on experience in public relations, marketing, media and communications solutions. We have also diversified our offerings in terms of product mix and locations. The gist of it is that we are open to business to people and agencies of all walks of life.”

While at TFC, he had to scratch the ground. To set the stage he started off by introducing a new management as well as the business advisory services to the media and Kenyans at large. Having previously served at the banking sector which is much more efficient with cut-throat competition compared to Government where there is too much bureaucracy, he had the leeway to implement a number of strategies in the public relations department which are still useful today to the corporation.

He says: “I found a department that was lost in direction structurally. I had to start from scratch. Publicised an MoU between UNHABITAT and TFC, and successfully executed the first stakeholders conference for the corporation, and conducted publicity campaign for African Hotel Investment Forum among many others.”