Mr. Tokunbo Modupe is the Chairman/Chief Consultant, TPT International, one of Nigeria’s leading Public Relations agencies. From Ondo State, the unconventional communications expert who revels in being addressed as a rebel took YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, on an excursion. Recalling how it all began, how he has been able to come this far and more, even the rumour flying left, right and centre about him wanting to be the next governor of his state was also responded to. Come with them…
What makes a good PR man?
A good PR man must be an ideas man; he must have what we call a scientific mind, because PR is all about perception; a good PR man must be able to look at the situation, diagnose problems and provide solutions using communication tools.
Why do most people find it difficult to make it in PR?
For me, PR has given me a lot. As a profession, I’ve gained a lot from practicing PR, therefore if people find it difficult to succeed in PR, it is only because perhaps it is not their passion. You see, any business you do for the sake of doing it or maybe because somebody else is doing it and you think it’s okay, you too can do it, you may have taken the wrong decision. But when you are passionate about something, you go the extra mile, you live it; everything about you radiates that which you are passionate about. If you see a damn good footballer; for instance, when Merci is playing, it’s like this thing is so easy. But that’s because he’s so passionate about it. Look at Ronaldo. The guy can almost kick anything he sees and sometimes it’s so effortless the way they control the ball. It’s because they are passionate about it and sometimes when you see other players, you know immediately that they are average. So, finding it difficult to make it in PR, I don’t think PR is a failed industry. There are a lot of opportunities there. It’s a platform for one to know a lot, it’s a platform for knowledge, because if the brief comes from the brewery industry today, tomorrow it’s gonna come from a bank, the next moment maybe it’s gonna come from another industry. So, you need to have knowledge about what is going on around you generally so that when the brief comes, you will be able to dissect and provide solutions.
What does it take to run a successful PR company?
From day one, you must be very organized. Very, very organized. When we were out there, I was telling you my story. PR is all about perception. You are not gonna handle anybody’s reputation if you are not well grounded, if you are not prepared, if you are not organized. If your clients discover that you are not organized, they won’t even have the confidence for you to manage their reputation. No multi-national will surrender its reputation to an organization that is not strong, that is not well grounded, that is not well structured. So, it is important for you to be knowledgeable about modern trends and tools for practicing PR. It’s also important that you have a conducive environment and you can’t be conservative. One of the setbacks for PR practice in Nigeria is that the people who started practicing PR in those days were very conservative. You will see a PR person and you will say is that a PR man? To the extent that it’s those people that you see in the ministry that they call PRO or even in a village meeting, they will appoint a PRO – Public Relations Officers. And maybe he’s the one sharing kola and making sure that certain things are well put together. So, the image of the practice was poor, but over the years, we have the new generation practitioners who have got style, panache and confidence to the point that today the younger generation is attracted to the practice.
What is the costliest mistake that most people who engage in Public Relations make?
To have the erroneous belief that Public Relations is all about media relations. You see, it’s one of the biggest challenges in the industry. You are my friend; you have a lot of contacts, no doubt about it. You can help somebody to appear in many newspapers and magazines. But that is where it starts and ends, because you haven’t sat down to look at the holistic communication strategy and a sustenance programme. You are not in a position; you have not prepared yourself to be able to handle a holistic campaign that is sustainable over time. So, when the person appears on the pages of newspapers, great! But what happens next? The same good story today can be bad story tomorrow. The person will run back to you and say ah, help me do this, help me do that. That is still the media angle and that is why the level of appreciation and reward is not commensurate with what we deliver. And people can look at companies like TPT, like Quadrant, like JSP, Corporate and Financials, etc as doing well. But what about others? And even these companies, let us assume that company A earns N5 million from a particular client every month, you don’t have up to five, six agencies that are earning good money and these are agencies that have paid their dues and they’ve been there. So, we want clients to pay us well. Sometimes a lawyer is handling a case; they get paid a huge amount of money. A PR person handles a lot of crisis from January till December and if you put the entire pay together, it’s not even up to 10 percent of what they pay lawyers or 20 percent. But it depends on the lawyer o! So, it’s a costly mistake that even some of our colleagues make. Even in the media. Because sometimes they leave the media and then they want to practice. By the time they come into the practice, they suffer the same thing. So, if we make the industry robust, attractive and with good reward, if you come out tomorrow and you want to practice, you can be sure that it’s a profession that will pay your bills and possibly guarantee a quality life.
What do you like most about what you do; what do you like most about being a PR man?
What I like most about being a PR man is the freedom to think. The creativity. You are not restricted. You wake up in the morning, you don’t know what is gonna happen that day because you can get to the office and something comes that would change your mind set. It’s lovely. I don’t see myself in any other profession that restricts my brain.
What don’t you like about Public Relations?
To a large extent, your privacy is also sacrificed, because you are in the media. You interact with the media, you have a lot of friends in the media and these are the people you relate with from time to time. To a large extent, you want to be careful; sometimes you just wanna be yourself, you just wanna be free, but you can’t eat your cake and have it (Laughing).
What distinguishes TPT from the other PR companies?
We are known for our creativity. Our approach to communication solutions to our clients is not pedestrian, and I know that you can testify to this. We have introduced a lot of innovations into PR practice in Nigeria over the years. We are unpredictable in terms of the kind of creative solutions that we provide and the goodwill in the media is a great advantage.
What is the greatest thing that PR has done for you?
PR has given me financial independence, PR has rewarded me as a practice; I’ve gained a lot from PR.
What has PR not done for you?
PR hasn’t given me a private jet (General laughter).
TPT has been around for so many years, what has kept it going?
Professionalism has kept us going. Like in other organizations, you will have challenges at some point, but what keeps us going are referrals – people who have worked with us, maybe from one organization they left for another one. When they are looking for PR solutions, they mention our name based on their experience. That is very important. So, for us, every time we get a business referred to us, it’s a confirmation that professionalism should never be sacrificed because it is the only thing that can sustain an organization, especially a company like ours.
What are the other ingredients needed to succeed in PR?
You must be very focused, you must conquer fear, because with fear you can’t be confident. Even things that you know you can do, fear will tell you that you can’t. So, you must conquer fear and you must prepare yourself. Knowledge is very important. I am somebody that is very interested in acquiring knowledge. In my profession, once they say the best practice is in so, so country, I want to go there to see what is new. There was a time I went to a PR agency’s office in the UK. As I was going through their profile, I saw the way they packaged their profile. Without telling you, if they give it to any organization, if you are gonna price them, there’s a level you would have rated them before they mention their fee. And then as I was going through, I read about a solution they provided when they were launching a product and I said to myself, yeah, this is the way to go. What was it that they did? They wanted to launch a new identity for one of the global fast food brands and it was a media launch. You know what they did? They took the label, commissioned an architect and some construction guys to go to the desert and use towns to recreate the logo; different colours that go with the colours of the brand. They recreated the logo on about an acre. So, you can imagine how massive. When they finished, for the launch, they just took journalists in a helicopter to view it from the sky and take photographs and then go and develop their stories and it generated unprecedented media coverage. They didn’t have any event; there was nothing like high table, fireworks and so on. The originality, the innovation, the fact that journalists were in a helicopter, they had to take photographs from there and they got it well because of the distance. They got the photographs of the logo in a desert, the experience and everything. So, for me, that is my style. My style is all about creating an experience. That is why I always challenge things. If you look at TPT over the years, we avoid press briefings, we prefer interactive sessions. We prefer creating an experience. That’s why we had the boat cruise, St. Moritz Style Selection. We wanted people to experience something different. That’s why we had a fashion show for the media and it was at the beach. You know, a lot of stunts that we’ve done in the past. The whole idea is to create an experience. We’ve had an interactive session in a Marcopolo bus, we got every journalist on board, got the MD of Xerox at that time on board and when the journalists came in, the MD was there. There were hostesses, like you are travelling in the Business Class and the man stood up and welcomed everybody. It was an interactive session and by the time we were done, after about an hour or so, they dropped everybody off. Look at that experience!
Why do some people attain success but find it difficult to sustain it?
Distraction. If you are not very careful, you can easily derail, because along the line, when success comes your way, you become vulnerable. Because it’s not everything that looks attractive that is genuine. You’ll probably have more friends, you’ll probably have more contacts and then more opportunities, but it’s not every opportunity that is good for you. For instance, if I’m chasing a PR business and along the line you ask me to come and supply computers, I won’t do it. In the short time, it may give me money, but that can be a huge distraction. Before you know it, you make profit from supplying that one, you feel I can do more, you start looking for computers to supply and before you know it, your core area of competence is relegated.
You’ve handled a lot of accounts, which would you say is the best so far?
I will never forget my time with the British American Tobacco…
(Interruption) – Why?
They crave for quality and professionalism and creativity.
Which account would you like to handle but has not been able to corner?
(Laughs) – I will like to keep this to myself because it will make some people uncomfortable. Let’s keep it as a trade secret (Still laughing).
To win an account, how does one go about it in your line of business?
It comes in different ways. Sometimes you get invited based on your reputation – that is when you are known. You can be invited alongside other agencies to come and pitch. Then, you get a brief, you sit back, you have your ideas generation session, which is otherwise known as brain-storming session and you look at what the overall objectives are. Sometimes the brief may not be detailed enough, you ask further questions where necessary and then you put your presentation together; your ideas together and you do a pre-presentation session to look at it again. Then, you get ready for the presentation proper and you present and the agency that has offered better ideas and capability to deliver is announced as the winner. That is one. Another one is that you’ve done things for organizations before and people know what you have done and the impact and then they just come to you to come and help them out. The third one is that everybody needs business and you can also get information through contacts about some organizations needing your services. So, that’s why a PR person can’t be an introvert, because you need to know what is going on around you.
What exactly happens when PR agencies go for pitching? What does going for a pitch entail?
A lot! It’s like a competition. It’s a huge competition. If you invite TPT now and three other PR agencies to go and pitch for an account, everybody wants to win. So, the best carries the day.
When you get there, what do you do, what do you say during the pitch?
We have a presentation. We will present our profile and then we will review the pitch they have given us and then present what would be our solutions to solving the problems and if given to us how we are going to manage it, etc. You present all of that. Usually, you present to a panel and at the end of the day they assess all the agencies that have presented – their ideas – and then decide on who they consider to have the most creative and sustainable ideas.
What prompted TPT, how did you come about the idea?
Well, I’m a restless person. Having worked with a small agency; the agency is defunct now. I left there. I also worked with a consultancy firm, but that one I was there for only about 6 months or so. They were too stereotype. They do the same thing again and again and again. I’m an ideas person, so I left and then sat at home for like a year. I wasn’t doing anything. I got job offers, but I had developed my passion for PR and I said let me start something on my own. It was a crazy time that a young man like me will want to start a company. I was even squatting with a cousin of mine. So, there was no logic in what I wanted to do. But I learnt something from one of my heroes, the late John H. Johnson, the publisher of Ebony magazine. How he started his publishing business, sold his mother’s furniture for $500 and all that when racism was at its worst in America. This was a man that wanted to start a business that seemingly did not have a market. It’s like you going into publishing and knowing that Nigerians don’t even buy papers; they don’t even want it. You can even be attacked on the road for selling the newspaper and then you wanna sacrifice another property to start that kind of business. It seemed stupid. But he challenged the status quo, he conquered his fears and he did not allow fear to suppress his passion and until his death, he was one of the most famous and richest publishers in the world. So, for me, I was completely consumed by my passion to do this. That was how I started.
Who was your first client?
My first client was Banex Group.
The brief they gave you was for how much?
What exactly did they say you should do for them?
They were going to a trade fair and I handled media relations for them.
Your company, no doubt, has grown tremendously. What is your dream for TPT?
The dream hasn’t changed – I want TPT to be the most sought-after PR agency in Africa. We are not there yet, when you talk about the continent. That’s where I want it to be. And also the highest paid.
Who are the people you look up to in your line of business?
I respect Mr. Biodun Shobanjo. I read one of his interviews a long time ago. This must be about 13 or 14 years ago and I quote: “You must hold on to your dream”. I believe the man was not only focused, but very passionate about communication and if you look at his companies; he set up the first full-fledged PR agency in Nigeria, even though he had a successful advertising agency that was doing very well and is still doing very well, and he has remained relevant. Talk about every arm of marketing communications, he’s there and he’s doing well.
Why do you pride yourself as a rebel and what are some of the rebellious things you do?
Many times, some of my friends have said that this guy is crazy, so I try to help them simplify it. Instead of them calling me a crazy man, let me be a rebel (Laughs). I’m rebellious; I challenge conventional ways of doing things. My rebellion is not as in armed struggle, but in terms of ideas generation and because I try to challenge the conventional things to get better results.
How true is this story flying up and down that you want to go into politics?
(Laughs) – Wahala don shele o! That I wanna go into politics? Well, we are all political animals…
So, it is true that you want to run for the governorship of Ondo State?
As I speak with you, I don’t have any plan to seek any elective position, let alone the governorship of my state. But like I said, we are all political animals. I am interested, like you are; in whoever is gonna lead us. We can’t all take the back seats believing that things will be okay. So, we can all be involved in the process, but not necessarily seeking elective positions. At least, not as I speak.
NB: First published December 2013