How a journalist juggled different roles to become a fully-fledged communications expert

BY VICTOR ADAR

Many are generally hopeful that what they venture in will bear fruits. As always the case, you only hear of the pitfalls when things turn horribly wrong. But in the midst of those challenges, Alex Owiti would be one novel Kenyan to learn some tactics from. Quite focused, he seems to lead the pack in public relations and communications space. 

Mr Owiti’s career started after a few years in the mainstream media as a journalist. One day he took a bold step from the defunct Kenya Times and joined Gina Din Corporate Communications, a local PR agency that was run by Gina Din-Kariuki, and has since been acquired by Edelman, a global communications firm.

When he joined Gina Din in 2010, he worked on blue-chip companies such as Safaricom Limited, Orange-Telkom Kenya, Samsung Kenya, LG Electronics, MTN Business (formerly UUNET), Seacom and Ericsson Ltd among others, and grew over the ranks from being a media executive to an account manager. 

He then moved to Corporate Talk Group in 2012 as an account manager until a sublime moment came that saw him return to Gina Din Corporate Communications to take up bigger roles for a period of two years, and out to Ogilvy Public Relations (2015 to 2018) to become an account director. 

At Ogilvy, he was in charge of developing strategies and managing a team. Then came his exit two years ago, which he terms “very dramatic” (story for another day) but equally timely. He decided to jump off the ship and continue with full energy and focus on Alexander PR and Communication Network, a company he was toying with while in employment.

In more foreseen ways, Owiti has gathered a wealth of experience and real exposure in the corporate ecosystem mainly because of hands on management of the top players at the helm. The experience at Ogilvy, for example, ushered him to a new level of global thinking and handling of brands from an integrated marketing perspective. What was the motivation and how did he start? Is the future bright for PR gurus?

“There are always opportunities to do side-hustles in this city if you are street-smart,” he points out. “Your salary will never be enough especially when you have growing responsibilities as a man with family. As African children, we come from communities that are highly dependant especially when you are the only child to have been blessed with a job.”

As a result, Mr Alex decided to register a company to do consultancies that he came across thanks to his growing network in the industry. At the same time, the prowess at executing some of the jobs became admirable to those who saw it as well as word of mouth from good references. “This job is dependent on referrals from happy clients. Results too, speak for themselves,” he says. 

Describing communication as an art and at the same time a science, he says that the business can be a success depending on how you apply the “art” and “science” to get the required output. To him, it is an art because of the tactics one need to apply when communicating to publics. It is a science because you need to apply the necessary theories of communication to ensure that messaging is persuasive and authentic.

“Because of those two elements, I was attracted to communication-related jobs, and opportunities are massive when you look at the different disciplines of communications such as journalism, public relations, advertising and now the new revolution, digital communication. Your passion will drive to where your strength is,” he says, adding that communication is a billion dollar industry. 

November Advertising Industry Overview report by research firm Ipsos & Synovate revealed that big spenders included marketing and public relations firms Oxygene spent Sh272m on adverts in November 2019, Coca-Cola spent Sh294m in the same month, Equity Group Sh230m, Kenya Breweries Limited Sh200m while the National Government spent Sh192m. The industry is highly lucrative. 

At the same time, Supa 5 Lottery, Reckitt Benckiser East Africa, Beiersdorf East Africa Limited, Pwani Oil and GlaxoSmithKline spent Sh163 million, Sh133m, Sh131m, Sh119m and Sh114m on advertising in the same month capping the list of big spenders.

Globally, the PR industry grew by 5% in 2018, based on the Holmes Report’s definitive annual ranking of the world’s top 250 PR firms. The research reveals that the top 250 PR firms reported fee income of around $12.3b in 2018, compared to $11.7b for last year’s Top 250 ranking.

Owiti says that despite big money, the most interesting thing about PR is that you do not need hard cash to reach higher heights. All you need is the intellectual Property Capital, which is bundled in the experience, reputation capital, social capital and skills to service clients. At the same time, customized services as opposed to one stop shop for all communication services has a strong impact. 

“We saw this when at some point, during Bob Collymore’s tenure at Safaricom when the organization decided to procure the different communication services from different agencies. Corporates have realized procuring such services from one-stop is expensive and sometimes execution of duties is compromised. Because of that, expertized services in the various disciplines of PR are now emanating and giving opportunities to many, and, well, diverse companies. One would say that the pie is big enough for each one of us. Your capability gives you a part of the pie. A client may be looking for only crisis communication or consumer PR, name it… On a good day, one may just consider you based on your capability rather than the connection,” he says, adding that it is a very cutthroat market so much that “you have to fight for your pie”.

In the next two to three years from now his plan is to move fully into offering digital public relations thanks to the fact that all communication has moved into digital platforms. 

“That is where the audience is. We are revolutionizing our services to this new dynamic phenomenon. And most importantly is to see how to use Big Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence to provide efficient services. Data is the new gold,” he says.  

QUICK FIVE
How do you market your services to clients?
The first thing I do is developing case studies that I share on professional platforms such as LinkedIn where decision-makers sit.
I then initiate one on one meeting with clients to showcase our capability as a company. I do an audit on the company based on media perception and go with solutions that may help their brands.
The good work sells itself and I will get referrals based on good recommendations from previous clients I have worked with.
Our website and other digital assets such as Facebook where we post our case studies raps it up. As a result, you may get a client or two with similar challenges.
Is it a good business?
Yes it is. More than the money, we help brands humanize themselves and maintain a good relationship with their publics.
Do you face challenges?
The major challenge in our industry is the cycle for payment of PR fees. Some organizations prefer paying you between 60 to 90 days despite the usual payment cycle of 30 days. That delay in payments affects decision-making in the day-to-day running of the organization.
What is your advice to those who would like to venture in the industry?
This business is not for the fainthearted. You need to have patience. Work on your capabilities to be dynamic and fit into the integrated marketing spectra so your offering can be realized in the market and fit into the jigsaw. At the same time, work on your social capital. Your net worth is in your network.
Endeavour to write in your area of expertise and appear in many TV interviews. It positions you as an authority in the industry.  Be proactive in positioning yourself.
Your final remarks?
Never quit on your dreams. Follow your passion and keep working on it. Always endeavour to be at the dinner table and not on the menu.

Sign Up