‘Women should see their careers as channel to serve and make impact’
Adedoyin Jaiyesimi is the co-founder and Chief Communications Consultant at The Comms Avenue, a capacity building and knowledge exchange platform for leading and innovative communications professionals across the world. Armed with a Law Degree, she finished the Legal Practice Course at BPP Business School and holds various certifications in writing, brand strategy and policymaking as well. She has vast experience consulting for international organisations and top corporate executives and specialises in providing strategic communications consulting for development, philanthropic and corporate organisations, helping them develop and implement a robust communications strategy. She has successfully executed projects for Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, African Philanthropy Forum, Fountain of Life Church, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), Heritage Bank, the W Community, Specta by Sterling, WIMBIZ, Leading Ladies Africa, amongst others. A personal branding expert, she is also a communications trainer and regularly speaks at conferences all over the country. In her debut book, From Clueless to Success, she chronicles her journey, struggles and lessons for young women, women entrepreneurs as well as surviving and weathering tough times. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she shares her career experiences.
Could you give us a little insight into your journey as a communications expert?
My journey as a communications expert began from a colleague’s suggestion to explore where my writing gift could take me. At the time, I didn’t even recognise it as a talent, so I couldn’t see how I could have a successful career as a writer. I, however, listened to her and took the plunge and I’m glad I did because I’ve had a very rewarding journey so far.
I started off as an intern in a media company where I had to write and post daily news content on the company’s website and then I moved to managing the company’s magazine as the Editorial Assistant. From there, I have moved from one exciting role to the next and I eventually started my own brand communications firm in 2016, which opened up quite a lot of opportunities for me to work with corporate and development organizations across a wide variety of industries.
You launched The Comms Avenue during the pandemic, what gave you the courage?
The Comms Avenue wasn’t planned; it started from wanting to host communications professionals for a brunch event where we could network and learn. I did this when I couldn’t cope with the comments and messages on my LinkedIn page asking for advice on one issue or the other regarding the industry. The brunch was scheduled to take place at the end of March, but Nigeria recorded its first COVID-19 case and a lockdown was announced in Lagos.
I decided to put the brunch on hold indefinitely. As I thought about what else I could do to achieve my original goal, the thought came to create a specialist community where communications professionals could build capacity, network and exchange knowledge and that is how The Comms Avenue was birthed.
What impact would you say it has had so far?
I’d say it has had tremendous impact so far and we have witnessed a lot of firsts. Currently, we have over 400 members from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, US, UK and other countries. We have been able to interact with and learn from over 25 renowned professionals and thought leaders from firms and organisations around the world from the Dean of Communications of Harvard Kennedy School to the Global Communications Manager of Heineken and several other leading organisations within and outside Africa.
Another significant impact we have made is being able to successfully bridge the mentoring gap between senior and junior communications professionals through the Comms Mentoring Program (CMP). We are currently running the second batch and 60 percent of the mentees from the first batch have already recorded significant progress in their careers as a result of the program.
You switched from Law to Communications, what informed that move?
I wouldn’t say I completely dumped Law; I studied it in the first place because I knew the knowledge I’d gain would always be relevant, but I knew I didn’t have a desire to practice. I returned to Nigeria abruptly after I had started a Masters at Cranfield University in the UK and had to face the question, ‘What do I want to do with my life now?’
After months of being sad and depressed, I applied for an internship at an HR Consulting firm and I got in. It was while I was in this role, that a colleague encouraged me to explore my love for writing. Since I was clueless, I decided to explore the path that led me to communications and I haven’t looked back since then.
Almost a decade in the industry now, would you say you made the right decision?
Certainly. I remember when I started my second internship at the media company; I felt like a fish that had been placed in water after struggling for a while on land. I reflected on this experience in my book, From Clueless to Success. Communications has allowed me to explore the range and depth of my gift. I discovered that I was not only good with writing, I could think creatively and come up with innovative ideas. I also discovered that I knew how to think strategically and craft a simple narrative from complex concepts and perspectives.
Let us talk about your book, From Clueless to Success, what is it about and why did you decide to put it together?
From Clueless to Success is a collection of 20 backstories from my journey so far as a communications professional. I started the book because I knew it was something God wanted me to do and in the process of writing it; I began to understand why. The book essentially passes across the message that you do not need to have everything figured out to have a successful and thriving career.
Younger people and sometimes peers look at me and they say I’m bold or they wonder if they can achieve all that I achieved. My answer is always to remind them that my career journey hasn’t always been a smooth one, but I found courage to follow God’s leading. I have made mistakes that I documented in the book and there were moves that I made when fear completely gripped my heart, but God caused everything to work out because I was operating where He placed me. It is a book every professional and young person should read and it is available for download on my website, www.adedoyinjaiyesimi.com.
What are some key lessons you want young female professionals to learn?
There isn’t only one path to success and success goes beyond making money and living a comfortable life. Those things are important of course, but there is more. There is a way that we tend to compartmentalise our lives, but the truth I’d like young women and professionals to learn is to begin to see their career and business as a channel through which they can serve and make far reaching impact. When you do that, your career will go beyond competing for one promotion or the other. Instead, you will begin to explore ways to add value not only to your organisation, but the society at large. This mindset will allow you explore opportunities that will build your leadership capacity.
I encourage women to be bold enough to make big moves and make an indelible impact in their professional journey. Lastly, I’d like them to understand that their career does not define them; because you have succeeded in one path doesn’t mean you don’t have the capacity to succeed in another path.
What would you say was the most interesting/challenging project you ever worked on?
This is hard to choose because there have been many interesting and challenging projects at the same time. One that had an intersection of both was when I handled communications for the African Philanthropy Forum Conference in 2018; it was the first time I would handle a brief outside Nigeria. It was interesting because I got to interact with philanthropists, entrepreneurs and professionals across Africa, but it was challenging because a key part of the brief was to ensure that the footprint of the conference was felt in three African countries over the course of the event.
Working with a dynamic and diverse team, we were able to create and execute a strategy that allowed us to successfully achieve it. What I also loved about this brief is that I felt very fulfilled working on it because one of APF’s goals is to promote philanthropy and inclusive development in Africa.
What does working on high profile briefs and with senior executives entail? How does it differ from regular briefs?
It is not too different because the core skill required to execute such briefs is essentially the same. The difference is largely in the fact that the stakes are higher and failing to perform can be detrimental to your name and brand.
I enjoy working with senior executives because I learn a lot from them but a lot of wisdom, emotional intelligence and attention to detail are required. When you work on high profile briefs and with senior executives, you must think 10 steps ahead and anticipate their needs before they even know they have that need.
What is it like building a company from the ground up In a country like Nigeria? Is it something you would recommend for others?
Building a company from scratch in Nigeria is not for the faint-hearted. To be honest, I don’t think it is easy anywhere in the world, but the peculiar challenges we face here make the process even more difficult; the experience for me was a mixture of everything. There were great moments of triumph and there were painful times when I wasn’t sure how things would work out. I’m glad I was able to push through because the process made me resilient.
I also had the opportunity to build many worthwhile and beneficial relationships. To answer your question about whether I’d recommend it or not, it really depends on the individual and what they want to achieve. If you don’t like stress and you enjoy security, you may want to stick to building a successful career in your 9-5.
Do you think mentorship is important for women, especially in this industry?
I am a big advocate and fan of mentorship. Mentorship allows you learn from the wisdom and experience of those who have gone ahead or have knowledge that you do not yet have. For women, I believe mentorship is critical to closing the gender gap that currently exists in the workplace and to also access certain opportunities. It’s one of the key reasons why we started CMP at The Comms Avenue, which gives junior professionals the opportunity to learn directly from senior professionals in the industry within and outside Nigeria and the results have been phenomenal. The mentees have been stunned by how much they were able to achieve through the program and the opportunities that became open to them thanks to the nudging and input of their mentors.
How would you say mentorship has helped you personally in your career growth?
It really has. In my book, I shared how my supervisor in my first job informally mentored me and was instrumental in helping me become a successful writer and editor. There are many others like that supervisor who have shown me the way, encouraged me to go for opportunities, helped me fine-tune an idea and much more, helping me go farther, faster. It also helped me to pick myself up quickly whenever I fell or made a mistake because my mentors always taught me to have a different perspective about failure.
Has there been any experience that made you want to give up?
Too many of them; I remember one brief that we worked on a few years ago. We poured everything into that brief, but the client kept shifting the goal post. At the end of the day, even though we did all we could to execute the brief, we lost a significant amount of money. It was really bad because I had three team members on the payroll and other operating costs to worry about. I started to wonder, ‘Who sent me on this journey?’ Like I said before, thanks to God, my mentors and friends, I was able to pick myself up and keep pushing. There have really been many low moments but as the process of writing the book showed me, each one of those moments have helped me become better and grow.
How can women-owned businesses leverage social media for brand visibility?
First, audit your personal and corporate brand. For a business just starting and even for those that have existed for some years, the power of personal branding should not be ignored. Go on Google and type in your name and the name of your business. What do you see? If you did not like the results that came out or you saw information that was outdated, it’s time to change that. Start by optimising your social media pages, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter (please create a social media account if you do not have one). The next thing is to own a digital brand asset that you will be in control of. This can either be a website or a blog. Lastly, have an engaging and comprehensive strategy that meets the needs of your target audience and adds value to them. Consistent and meaningful engagement on social media is essential if you want to see good results.
How would you rate women entrepreneurship, would you say the numbers are satisfactory?
It’s definitely better than a decade ago; we’re seeing more women entrepreneurs springing up all over the country. I love how creative women are, from the woman in the rural community to the woman in the city. Women are thinking innovatively to solve important problems across Africa and globally. That being said, there is definitely room for more, especially in terms of the ability of women to access finance to scale their businesses.
What is the driving force that propels you to keep going?
The simple answer is God. I only do things I sense that God is leading me to do; I find my strength and courage in Him. He helps me find the light in the dark moments. I have learnt that my job and everything that I do is beyond me, there are lives to be impacted and there is a difference I need to make in my community and society. Having this picture in mind also keeps me going. Next will be friends in my inner circle who encourage and support me; I don’t know what I would have done without them.
What last words do you want to leave with women reading this that might want to go on this path?
Have a healthy self-image about your ability and worth as a human being and professional. I have seen so many times, even in my life, how women tend to undervalue their skills and abilities. You are the chief promoter of your personal brand. If you are not self-confident, you will not be able to effectively communicate the value that you bring to the table. Own and celebrate your success and when opportunities come your way, don’t be afraid to go for them because you have a lot of value to add. Lastly, enjoy the process. We get so caught up with getting to a desired destination or goal that we forget to enjoy the process and celebrate all our wins. The process of achieving your goal is just as important as the goal itself.