‘In PR industry, once you know your worth, gender becomes secondary’
Mariam Mohammed is the Chief Executive Officer, Maktoub Strategic Public Relations/ Publishing. As a top strategist having created and executed a wide range of unique and personalised reputation management programmes and blueprints to clients’ full satisfaction, she has worked with many high profile political personalities in Nigeria. With her professional background and footprints spanning the fields of media and communication in both Nigeria and the United Arab Emirates, Mohammed studied Media and Communication Studies at Middlesex University. She also has qualifications in Social Media Strategy for Communication, Practical Event Management and Press Release Writing from the International School of Communication (ISOC) in London as well as certifications in Reputation/ Management Issues, Advanced Public Speaking and Presentation, Crisis Communication Management, Planning and Managing PR Campaigns…
She is also a holder of a RERA (Real Estate Regulatory Agency) certification from the UAE. She is also the convener of the ‘Intelligence is Sexy’ annual event, a medium through which she hopes to promote and get youths to embrace and find appeal in hard work and intellectualism, rather than materialism and get-rich-quick schemes. Also the publisher of the glossy business/lifestyle magazine, Maktoub, a monthly business and lifestyle publication, Mariam writes for select national newspapers where she shares her ideas for management at all levels with regards to policy decisions, strategic planning, execution and real impact on the citizenry, both in the short and long terms. She has also partnered with non-for-profit organisations and charities such as the GIPLC focused on raising funds and awareness for the implementation of social transformation initiatives. In this interview with GuardianWoman, she talks about discovering Public Relations, challenges of running a PR firm in Nigeria, her upcoming event and how to set up a PR firm from the ground.
Was this what you always wanted to do? Did you know from the start that you were going to make a career in Public Relations?
You know as a child one always wants to be so many things all at once. There were times I wanted to be a lawyer (actually what my parents wanted); then also, there were times I thought of being a nurse, we played doctor, engineer, just name it. However, I knew that none on those things were what I wanted. I wouldn’t say PR as a definite path, but being a writer of sorts has always held me spellbound. So in a sense I could say, yes, after all, PR is part of journalism, the difference being that you have to burnish the image of individuals, corporations and organisations. Like I said earlier, left for my parents, it was lawyering and nothing else. But when the inner-self knows exactly what drives you, except you are not perceptive or simply not attuned to what you want out of life, parental decisions, or even societal persuasions could be the ultimate decider. Though initially it was not easy for my parents accepting my decision when I enrolled for Media and Communications Studies, they eventually allowed me have my way. The interesting thing is that I found myself drawn away from my choice of study once I was done with gaining the required certificates and certifications. I found myself into real estate for almost a decade in Dubai. The good thing is that I never lost focus as to what I really wanted to do and be. I guess the allure of the media for me is the power and responsibility it confers on an individual. I know that sometimes, journalists and communications practitioners most times fail to recognize the enormous powers they wield; I don’t know if it is the fear of the constitutional and social responsibility that makes a whole lot of us shy away from exercising that power. Well, I was not going to lose that advantage of knowing the power the media confers so I turned to being a PR strategist as it was going to serve my purpose.
Having worked with some of this country’s biggest names, would you say this is a lucrative field?
I think if one were to be more driven by the lure of money rather than passion and service, one could end up being disappointed. When you say lucrative, is it like owning an oil well or a diamond field? The opportunity of working with those who make the ultimate decision is about the economy, politics, goods and services are priceless beyond how much one makes in the end. But does it pay bills and aids one to live a contented life and spare for community? It certainly does and the impact of it I should say is lucrative.
How would you rate Nigeria’s PR industry? Can we compete favourably with international firms?
The growth or performance of any sector is tied to the overall performance of a country’s economic growth and or indices. While I can say that the PR industry in Nigeria is robust, it is still an emerging sector since it is yet to realise its full potential. The global PR industry hit over $15 billion in the last couple of years in total spending, what is Nigeria’s market share of such a huge market? There are a couple of factors you have to appreciate to know why the PR industry is not performing to its optimum-currency volatility, macro-economic shocks and policy issues of those with the financial muscle to spend. Besides those, the idea that indigenous companies and high value individuals will rather centralise their PR accounts in South Africa and even Kenya does not engender the kind of patronage that the sector desires. As to if PR firms here can compete favourably with international ones, without a doubt, yes. What every meaningful PR consultant in Nigeria wants is give us the same respect and consultancy with the foreign ones. There are instances that Nigerian PR firms are the ones that execute jobs shipped to companies abroad. We understand the peculiarities, the nuances of our environment and are better suited to drive any campaign.
How is Political PR different from traditional PR?
Conventional PR practices require you to build and protect a good public image with relevant publics for corporate and non-profit sector using relationship management tactics. In Political PR, however, you apply PR skills and techniques to build and sustain political capital for public office holders, political candidates, parties and campaigns, as well as governmental agencies. Naturally, and especially in an often politically charged environment as ours, the communication continuum between the principal (our client) and the recipient (political constituents and other publics) can be distorted by different sorts and shades of political and psychological “noises”, most of which are from political opponents and mischief-makers. A major part of our job is to try to eliminate those “noises” as much as possible so communication can be clear, effective and produce the desired result among all the parties involved. As you’ve rightly surmised, it can be a bit sensitive. But with the right training, character, and experience, I sail through with less drama and stress. You need to maintain professionalism and balance. I know politics requires you to be partisan, but it’s always key that I present my client as honest, having integrity and capacity, true leadership values and genuinely interested in public service and welfare.
Would you say your educational background prepared you for this path or does it stem mostly from passion?
Education and passion are not mutually exclusive of the other. Education helps to sharpen your passion and gives you clarity on how to realise your drive and dream. For me, it was both.
Being a publisher of a monthly business and lifestyle publication, what has it taught you so far?
Being a publisher comes with a huge responsibility given the enormous power you wield, and that is my worry for today’s journalists. Most seem not to appreciate the full extent of the privilege of the power they command as people who every other Nigerian wants to listen to, read and quote in their daily discourse of issues. As a publisher I have learnt how to be circumspect, patient and ask the right questions. The danger of not being prudent with information is that you could ignite an inferno that could lead to crisis, chaos and needless loss of lives or even destroy the career of an individual. Also, I have come to the realisation that running a business in Nigeria is a herculean task especially the media type.
As you’ve said, running a business here can be tough, what are some challenges you’ve had to face and overcome?
Running a business anywhere is tough not just here, but yes, there are Nigerian peculiarities like multiple taxation, even getting your business registered can be a burden. However, I’m happy that this administration has done well in the Ease of Doing business in the country. Then there is the issue of power, which has been with us since forever. If you add into the mix the issue of poor work ethics amongst most employees, if you are not careful you will have migraine every other minute. I have learnt how to adapt and ensure that situations that can be remedied are expeditiously dealt with. Then, I don’t toy with capacity building for my team. Everyone has to be up-to-speed because in the kind of sector we operate in, mistakes can be costly.
How accommodating is this industry for women? Have you had any problems specifically because you’re a woman?
I would say once you know your worth, gender becomes secondary. Few instances abound where people are chauvinistic, but I have broken that barrier and demanded for equal respect and accounts handling.
What five tips would you say to any young woman that wants to go down this path?
Let me say that this is not cast in stone. But for an aspiring female entrepreneur, you must exude confidence, be yourself, be properly educated in what you want to do, be open minded and stay focused on your ultimate goal; success.
As the brain behind the Intelligence Is Sexy event, what was the driving force behind it?
Let me throw a little light of why the Intelligence is Sexy event is happening. In years past, I use the day before my birthday to host my fans and friends from social media and on the D-day, December 9, I host family and close friends to dinner. But this year, I said to myself, rather than wine and dine, I want to be a mentor and hope that the young people who follow me on social media will get the opportunity to learn enduring lessons of life, so I came up with Intelligence is Sexy. It bothers me that most young people see social media as an avenue for body gratification, get-quick schemes and disturbing indulgences; photos, fashion and so on. Brilliance and intelligent ideas are a rarity. The social media ecosystem should be about intelligence not just fashion, photos and a false lifestyle that encourages depression. Being intelligent and legitimately smart is actually cool. Some of my friends will be joining me to meet some of the over 25, 000 of my fan base and expound on this issue. Actually, it is aimed at being an annual event.
As someone passionate about the country’s youths, what are some things you’re doing to re-direct our youths?
The upcoming event is one of the ways; also, there is the Mariam Mohammed Maktoub Foundation, which is pro-people, pro-less privileged and is essentially education centered with a target to impact over 100, 000 students in the next two years. We have already started in Kano by remodeling one of the biggest secondary schools and providing furniture. Over the next two years we intend to do more for schools especially in the north because, truth be told, the highest number of out-of-school children are in the north. And if we are serious to harness these potential, then we should empower communities by offering them decent school environments. My personal expectations is that more northern governors will leverage on what we are offering so we can deliver something tangible, worth the while for the children of the north in need of assistance.
Do you think mentorship is important especially for women?
Owing to the fact that most societies are patriarchal in nature, it is important that young women are given the requisite knowledge they need to navigate the pitfalls of society. Mentorship is an integral part of building the today’s woman for her pride of place tomorrow. The young woman of today ought not to pass through the ordeal of the woman of yesterday.
How would you rate female entrepreneurship in Nigeria? Is it where you think it should be?
It is still subsistent. We are still moving up because if you look around, how many women CEOs do we have? I think there should be a deliberate government policy to help women be at the apogee of entrepreneurship after all the bulk of those who drive the SMEs are women and they do so very well. How come when it comes to quoted companies we find just a sprinkle?
Tell us what it is like, building a PR company from scratch?
Hard work, determination and sometimes, heartbreak. Before I ventured into PR, I was into real estate and I saw myself losing money in the 2007/2008 global financial crisis. So when I decided I was going back to my first true passion, I knew I had to be more pragmatic and consummate in this venture. I will say it is with sweat, lobbying and never saying never.
What is your passion, what drives you to do more?
To leave humanity one-step better. To see that just one person is satisfied. It could be you, anybody.
If you were president for one day and could change something for Nigerian women, what would you do?
This is a tricky one. I don’t want it to be seen like women are being spoon-fed. I believe in equal measure, therefore, as president for a day, I will sign an executive order for free and compulsory education for all women. There is no better gift than education.
Life at this level can be very stressful, how do you disengage/relax?
Long ago I learnt that it is one step at a time. Very few things, if any, bother me. Basically I am home reading if not at the office.
What last words do you want to leave for women that have been inspired by you?
Let nobody tell you that it can’t be done because you are a woman. Never you tire of being yourself.