Over a decade ago, Bukola Sawyerr-Izeogu, then a 35-year-old woman realized PR was fun. As a joke, she says that the first thing she did was buy a book about PR for dummies.
Then, she pitched Chocolate City around the start of its monstrous run in Nigerian music. What she didn't realize was the effort it would require to convince her first set of clients as a full PR professional.
"I must have spent six hours convincing them. It was a very long session - breaking down and explaining all the different things that I would be able to do for the GRIP BOYS. That is, Yung L, Endia, and Chopstix.
"Technically a bright-eyed rookie but with a clear path and conviction, It was a tough day convincing these three guys that there will be a remarkable difference if I handled their PR, and they agreed in the end. They were convinced and we got the ball rolling. Being my first believers, they remain close and dear," she says.
The journey didn't begin that day though, it began over 11 years prior as a student at the prestigious University of Lagos. It was in those days that the idea for the company she pitched to the GRIP Boys was formed.
That company became BukiHQ Media, one of the foremost entertainment PR firms in Nigeria and a recognizable brand in Nigerian entertainment. Shortly after the GRIP Boys accepted her proposal, she became a Director at Chocolate City.
The girl who fell in love with music - through both her parents' depth of knowledge in music - and computers in her young years was into the big leagues.
Working hard to get other clients
By the middle of the last decade, Bukola Sawyer had begun amassing quite the array of clients when she met Mr. Eazi. Ladies and gentlemen, a SWOT analysis was created for the idea.
She says, "Oh... It has to be Mr. Eazi. He was the hardest client to get on board. We did a SWOT analysis for him and our analysis was off. I remember they sent a mail highlighting their strategy and plans and we realized that what we thought were weaknesses and threats were deliberate strategies from their end.
"It was so interesting getting to know him and building a relationship. We eventually got him on board and I’ve been working with him on and off since."
Bukola Sawyerr-Izeogu in 2020
Today, counts Burna Boy, Asa, 2Face, M.I, Seyi Shay, Adekunle Gold, Mr, Eazi, Timaya, Chidinma, YCee, Waje, Patoranking, Skales, DJ Sose, Phyno, Zoro, Johnny Drille,, Sarz, Guinness World Record holder, Kaffy, Modupe Ozolua, M.anifest, WBar, Bikiya Graham-Douglas, Lagos Jazz Series, Hennessy Artistry, some models and much more among some of BukiHQ Media's present or past clients.
Her life has changed and even her days have taken a twist. She is a boss that some people might deem intimidating with a confidence that could become contagious charm in a heartbeat. With her unique sense of style sprinkled across any of her looks on any given day, she charter-manages the image of many-a-Nigerian-brand.
She says, "There are good days and there are bad days and there are some very bad days. The kind of day I have is dependent on the kind of night any of my clients had. So if my client had a bad night, for example, and is trending when we wake up, that sets the tone for the rest of the day.
"So I am either ahead of it or chasing the day (laughs). My job is a typical example of 'Man proposes, God disposes.' Nobody realizes what it is like to sit here as a person running a PR company. It’s not easy at all but I love it."
The life suits her.
What is PR to Bukola Sawyerr-Izeogu?
This woman moved into PR for problem solving and relationship building. She also loves a challenge.
She breaks PR down that, "Public relations is the business that establishes positive public perception of a brand which may be a personality, corporate entity or a product. It is confused more often than not with publicity which is marketing and advertising; both related but very distinct.
"Probably the most important difference between marketing, public relations, and advertising is the primary focus. Public Relations emphasizes cultivating relationships between an organization or individual and the public for the purpose of managing the client’s image.
"Marketing emphasizes the promotion of products and services for direct revenue purposes. Advertising is a communication tool used by marketers in order to get customers to act.
"Working in this industry has shown that of the 3, PR gets the “smallest slice of the cake” in terms of budget allocation despite having a larger portfolio and operating in more intricate detail.
"I am constantly learning and assimilating ideas, solutions and plans from many mediums - books, movies, TV shows and video games (laughs) There is so much to learn if you look. The goal for me is to constantly share the acquired knowledge with my team, my clients and friends."
How does she run BukiHQ?
Their job is largely perception-driven. That makes it important to gain the trust of the client but first, the team must be confident, comfortable and trust each other to ask the right questions. It must also think through the process in order that questions are answered and solutions are proffered in a manner that best serves the client’s interests.
Buki says, "The team is subdivided into departments with seasoned professionals as team leads which ensures all processes and constraints are addressed. Then, the management team, made up of myself and the Heads of Department, approves plans and strategies in detail to kick-start the PR process."
Bukola Sawyerr-Izeogu, The Fixer
A PR person requires a handful of skills, but to Sawyerr-Izeogu, a PR person also has to be a fixer. Maybe not necessarily in the realms of Olivia Pope or Ray Donovan, but a PR person must have some have some of their skills.
She says, "The ideal PR person should be a good marketer and also a lawyer - I wish I studied Law (laughs), but I have marketing on lock.
"More often than not, your PR person is your first call when there is a problem, even faster than a lawyer if you have engaged the right PR person and have a good relationship, then you can rest assured your becomes theirs."
Along the way, she picked up lessons and she gladly shared many of them during this interview.
Buki on PR in Nigeria
In Nigeria, people don't understand the importance of PR, and PR professionals reinforce that narrative with derisory service that clients don't value. Just a day ago, a supposed Nigerian artist looked down on PR services.
To the trained IT professional, this is understandable because a lot of PR people themselves don’t understand what they are doing. She also feels certain PR people are responsible for the derisory perception of PR by ignorant people.
She says, "The Public Relations industry does a very bad job of its own PR; and it's understandable as we can’t concentrate on ourselves, because we are busy with everybody else.
"The worst part is we can’t brag about our successes because they are usually crisis situations that have been averted, but our failures are public (laughs) kind of like the CIA (laughs). PR is invisible - the work is hardly ever seen but when done properly it is felt.
"PR is also thankless. If you are looking for heavy financial reward, you are in the wrong business. Your reward comes from the results, from the relationships built and from the favour can’t buy. If you can’t accept this then this job is not for you. That is the situation, a lot of people don’t know the importance of having a PR person.
She continues that as with every essential commodity, PR is a need which erroneously is considered out of reach and labelled a solution for the wealthy or people/institutions with deep pockets. Buki feels that this is due to the misconception that PR is either marketing or advertising.
Izeogu says, "It is neither as the perception of the process is seamless and unquantifiable for the untrained beneficiary. We have the Herculean task of enlightening potential clients about the importance of PR considering there isn’t a restriction as to what is consumed mentally.
"There are many examples to explain this fact which slowly but surely will be understood. That said, not everyone or situation would require a professional PR solution as some solutions happen upon situations of which PR would be proud. The more people are made aware of solutions, more knowledge would be gained and the respect for PR would be established."
Dealing with difficult times with clients
Today, Burna Boy is the poster boy of Afrobeats and Afro-pop with global touring, international features, the biggest stages and even a Grammy nomination on his side, but it was not always this way. At some point, you didn't even have to follow Nigerian music to see some the press around him.
BukiHQ has been representing Burna Boy for a while now. On how she got here, it has gone beyond simply working. There's empathy between all the parties involved.
Buki says, "He has an amazing talent and he’s an amazing human being. He’s very loyal, extremely hard working and he is a good guy. He’s the kind of person that would leave everything in a heartbeat if a person close to him is in trouble, and come through for you."
With all that has happened, Izeogu still does not pray against bad publicity. If anything she was born prepared. Instead of praying against bad publicity, she is prepared for spins. She also feels you can't prepare your client for crimes against political correctness because that concept.
Sawyerr-Izeogu then admits that it is easy to drop the ball once in a while. To combat this she ensures that her clients are constantly informed. Buki HQ also carries out extensive research across board before putting out any communication.
Bukola represents non-human brands as much as non-artists. Amongst her clients are legendary producer, Sarz and veteran, Chopstixx.
Some people might see dichotomy, but not Buki. To her, they are all personal brands, "We can handle you no matter your occupation. There is nothing hard about working with Producers in fact their versatility makes them even more interesting and sellable."
On how she represents non-human brands like events she notes that, "Event PR is a one-off. Personal PR is usually a retainership with more time to grow the perception and awareness of the brand.
"Conversely, event PR doesn’t afford the luxury of time. Most projects have a 2 to 3 month schedule usually which keeps all tasks on a tight schedule with little room for error."
To deal with these brands, she engages in press and media tracking, sentiment analysis, and increase in interest from the media in the clients for interviews and appearances.
PR and Media
After Sawyerr-Izeogu went to pitch at Chocolate City in 2009, she still worked on radio. For that reason, she understands the concept of media relationships.
She says, "PR and media have always worked very closely with each other. Our industry can’t exist without the media. Are the PR people going to write the stories? We can’t work without the journalists, they are extremely important. "
BukiHQ Media and her biggest takeaway
In nine years since BukiHQ Media started on this path and the past six years of intense work, Izeogu takes pride in how the need and importance of PR keeps rising. She also says that she is very fulfilled.
She further notes that, "Corporate brands have always known but personal brands are just starting to realize the importance of PR. The internet and social media have made it even more important for people to have PR representation.
"It doesn’t matter your profession, as long as you need to communicate with the public and be relevant, you would need someone to manage your relationship with the public and the media. It has changed a lot."
Word to aspiring PR professionals
Buki doesn't have much to say, she just goes, "It is tough! Internship is important. Reading is too. BukiHQ Media runs an intensive Internship program and in the past 6 years we have trained and grown PR managers that are gainfully employed in various companies and have proudly gone on to do great things.
"PR requires a lot of sacrifice for which they must be prepared. I can not promise heavy monetary rewards in this field right now but job satisfaction can be guaranteed. Hopefully with the growing relevance and awareness of this field, monetary gain is imminent."
What does the future hold for Bukola Sawyerr-Izeogu
She says, "I get to wake up every single morning with a new opportunity and renewed zeal. There are not many professions that can provide a cocktail this interesting."
The beauty of it is that she doesn't think she is done with PR.
Word to the young ones...