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Ayeni Adekunle will now present his one of a kind PRTech company

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It’s palpable, this man’s dogged chase after technology. Just a glance in his direction and you cannot miss what he’s going for. But do you understand it? Like most people, probably not. Why, you might say, is Ayeni Adekunle so intent on making his PR firm a tech start-up? Is that even possible? But he won’t stop to explain. He just wants to show it to you.

Okay, you’ve heard of tech PR. This, definitely, is not that. While tech PR is public relations fashioned for tech companies; PRtech is a whole different beast. It attempts to make the art of stakeholder communications into a science and track with precision what had forever been measured by whims, somewhat like feeling your way around in a dark tunnel.

It was this capricious nature of PR that prompted Mr Adekunle, 42, to declare in 2015 that “PR Is Dead.” Like the legendary PR man Robert Phillips whose book (Trust Me, PR Is Dead) also came out in 2015, Ayeni’s point was rock-solid.

He argued, in a manner that shocked the trousers off the entire industry and installed him as a thought leader, that the old methods of the practice were about to crumble under the weight of emerging tech and cultural trends.

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“Brands are using storytelling and content marketing to engage their consumers,” Ayeni wrote in a blog post that year. “Many consumers are becoming content creators and publishers in their own rights – be it through their Facebook status updates or by expressing strong opinions on Twitter. Some of the biggest media and influencer jobs of the past two years in terms of income and impact have been by individuals on social media; individuals who may never have been considered ‘media’ only a few years ago.”

So, if you’re smart, he seemed to be saying, you’d promptly relocate your business from Deadwoodland. Instead, you’d fire up your engines and gun your vehicle towards Sprout City.

Deadwoodland is the old school, ideas that have peaked. The Sprout City are the virgin territories, the future, the budding industries that would determine whether you live or perish.

In Sprout City, you mostly have companies upgraded with software and integrated hardware. They’re in alternative energy, fintech, edutech, mediatech… all the techs. Ayeni Adekunle, a former showbiz journalist and publicist to some of Nigeria’s star musicians, wanted to move his company, BHM group, to Sprout City.

It would make sense for him to do that. Since he started BHM 14 years ago, he’s proven repeatedly that his business has grown by constantly reinventing itself. BHM began as an entertainment communications enterprise called A.Y.E.N.I. Entertainment (All You Ever Need In Entertainment). Later it became the mature-sounding Black House Media, and now it is BHM Group. If Ayeni believes his company should become a digitised public relations agency group, then that must be the natural next phase in his evolution.

Today, the BHM Group, with full time employees numbering around 60, comprises a content and experience farm — ID Africa; a collaborate hub for brands and influencers – Plaqad, and the original PR firm that started it all — BHM.

Altogether, these companies are designing the tools and platforms to help themselves and the entire industry better plan, execute, and measure public relations campaigns.

Take Plaqad, for instance. Earlier in 2021, its updated website went live and on it, bloggers, news publishers and social media influencers could now be matched with brands, according to the brands’ project scope and budget.

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Gbenga Sogbaike, who runs Plaqad, says his firm rates all content creators through a “Global Standards Test” before registering them on the site. Aside from that, Plaqad has invented a tool which it calls SocialCred by which it estimates online clout.

When a person’s SocialCred score is viewed in the context of the annual Influencer Compensation Report, which Plaqad also publishes, creators and their clients should have a mutually acceptable data point upon which they might engage with one another.

Eventually, says Sogbaike, fame should be tradeable like a tangible product. And to make that happen, Plaqad will keep “breaking [influencer marketing] down into a science.”

As for ID Africa, headed by Femi Falodun, the question is this: can editorial content, social media, and entertainment be in one room at the same time? Yes, they can and ID Africa intends to build that room.

Today, one of ID Africa’s media properties, theNET.ng, is one of Nigeria’s most referenced entertainment blogs. Other ID Africa assets include: Newsroom, the site for citizen journalism; and 234Star, for fashion and reality TV-like content.

Then there’s the music streaming service, Orin; an awards programme, NET Honours; a merchandise and ticket shop for showbiz related events, NetShop; and the national conference for music and film professionals, NECLive.

ID Africa tags itself “a marketing, media and technology company,” and this line, in one fell swoop, describes its business and also reveals the direction in which its parent, BHM Group, is headed.

Until BHM, no Nigerian PR company has developed for their clients such an interlocking system that weaves into the entire marketing value chain.

This is how it works: once a brief lands in BHM’s system, it could present creative strategies that are normally expected of a PR agency. Then it could garnish that with a spread of owned media channels whose websites have earned high domain authority. This network of theirs is complementary to the paid media that the company offers, of course. And when it comes to social media, BHM could offer the throw in the unlimited access it has to the most powerful Nigerians on all the trending platforms.

Altogether, this package becomes an easy sell for BHM because it all rides on technology, which means whoever is buying could verify the figures BHM might have deployed to justify its pitches. Gradually, feeling your way through a dark tunnel to know if your PR is reaching the right audience will be something you read in the history books.

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In August 2020, the group set out to make some adjustments to BHM Qomms, the data gathering app it had created for the PR industry. Known as the BHM PR App since it was first designed in 2012, Qomms should now not only be a handy gateway to educational and commercial resource for Nigerian PR practitioners; it should now also include a directory of media houses, an agency database, a news hub, and a continually updated collection of training videos.

Before the first quarter of 2021 ends, Ayeni has said, BHM would be registered in the UK and it would invest N100 million (about $210K) to grow Qomms into an international asset, while running it from that UK office.

Spreading into Britain is partly because of the longstanding affinity between Nigeria and the UK, and partly for the European giant’s £2.5 billion PR market. Often considered the global capital of PR, the UK hosts over 3,000 agencies with cross-border reach and its Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) is the world’s largest professional PR community.

When Ayeni finally plants his award-winning consultancy over there in the Queen’s country, his world class client list should serve as a distinctive calling card. Not many consultants can claim to have worked for Coca-Cola, Nigerian Breweries, Reckitt Benckiser, MTN, and DStv at the same time. Neither could many boast of a 233.3% year-on-year revenue growth. He’s from a country whose economy between 2015 and 2020 was hammered with not one but three punishing recessions but there’s something to be said for resilience and the capacity for reinvention, which, of course, he’s got in spades.

Right now, Ayeni believes that these are still early days in BHM’s tech play. The group will evolve some more, and even if he chooses to step aside as CEO, the iteration would never cease.

So, ask him again if it’s indeed realistic to build a PR tech company from Africa — from Nigeria. If he chooses to give a verbal response, he’s going to recite those words he says he lives by: “It is possible.”

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