Ayeni Adekunle, CEO of Black House Media and publisher of Nigerian Entertainment Today, calls himself Ayeni The Great and it is laughable because he should be called The Greatest.
Journalist, PR practitioner, trailblazer and all round entertainment industry maestro, Ayeni has broken and continues to break fresh grounds where many of his seniors even fear to tread.
In this interview, part of sabinews Bossman/woman series, Ayeni lets us into what makes him tick. Catch a glimpse of greatness in this chat with Peju Akande and Toni Kan.
sabinews: Give us your full names?
Ayeni: My names are Ayeni Adekunle Samuel
sabinews: What do you do?
Ayeni: I’m a hustler. I hustle at Black House Media group. It holds a couple of businesses I have interest in. One of them is Nigerian Entertainment Today, a daily news service on mobile, print and online and a couple of other biz here and there. Black House Media is a full service PR agency that works with some exciting brands here and abroad
sabinews: How long have you been doing this?
I’ve been into media and entertainment since 1994, which is about 19 years ago but always had the mind of an entrepreneur. I went through all the areas I needed to go through. I worked as an employee at Encomium, external columnist at Thisday and the Punch. But before going to the university, I used to be on my own. I used to organize awards. There was the award called Youths Awards for Excellence in Music close to what the guys at the CICA awards are doing now. We used to do yearly musical awards and it was big as at 1997 – 2000, which was where I met some of the people I know till today. Someone like NSEOBONG Okon EKONG, who is here, was the man that took me by the hand when we were trying to get venues. All the guys I later got to work with were people I knew way back. I have been into this for 19years but it is just like I just started
sabinews: Did you have any formal training for this?
Ayeni. I wish I could say I don’t have any formal training. I used to say that a lot but I discovered that, like last year I took this course in PR. Before then I used to say that “know the rules and break them as much as you can”. I studied Microbiology at the University of Ibadan. I never had any formal training as a journalist or as a PR person but the kind of parents I had were such that would expose you to books (and I hope I can do that for my children). You see, my father would expose you to all music possible. So when I write about people like KSA, it is as a result of the kind of background I had. You could see me talk so much about Chinua Achebe; it is as a result of the kind of books I saw with my mum. So I grew up around music and books and it was only natural I know things around that area. I actually wanted to be a doctor because my parents felt I was too brilliant to waste my As in Chemistry and other science subjects so they advised I went to study medicine.
So, to your question, for years I worked with talent and acquired skills but last year a policy was formulated that anyone that works here at BHM must get some training and to show example I also went in to do an 8-week PR training and I went in with some arrogance because I felt I knew it all and the trainers had nothing to teach me. But after 8 weeks, I decided that this should be done once a year because I found out that there is so much one still doesn’t know even in dealing with staff. And I discovered that PR is not what you do for your clients but what you do with your friends, with your wife, it is how you relate to who is your public at that particular time.
sabinews: What advice would you give to young people coming into this business?
AYENI: Myself, I need advice. I am still looking for the advice that will help me make it so I consult every day. I read widely; I read the Harvard Business Review which is one of my favorite journals. I read that and BusinessDay. And I keep looking for that instructive stuff that can help me succeed. So I can’t say I can advise anybody now.
sabinews: But you read, so I believe you will have an advice to give.
AYENI: For me, I am still looking for the key advice that can help me to succeed. I read. All my friends are older than I am. I never had one friend that is on my level either career or age wise. My friends are in their 40s and 50s so people think I am an old man but I am a very young man. So when you relate with such people, you discover what they have in terms of experience and you add it to what you have. And I hope they are able to learn one or two things from me too. I read recklessly. I don’t have a life so I can’t survive where there is no internet. I have come to realize that I don’t have to make the mistake that you made. If you have made it already, let me find out why and how you made it and know how not to make that same mistake. So for me, I think people have to read more, open their minds more, and expose themselves to what can prepare them for stuff they never knew would happen. If I knew the dreams I had as a small boy would come to pass, I would have dreamt more. In secondary school, I had dreams to go into entertainment and today it has come to pass. My friends see me now and they are proud of me. I used to tell them in school then I wanted to go into entertainment, I wanted to have a newspaper. If I had known, I would have dreamt to be a president. We limit ourselves with our thinking. When we started with our PR Company, I wondered if we could ever work with MTN, Nigerian Breweries, Guinness. We started with 2face, Kennis, Weird mc etc. today we work for Viacom, NB PLC, Hennessy, etc. I have learned how to dream bigger then put in the structures and knowledge that can make them achievable. I am increasingly finding the place for communion, relationship with God. I realize that at the end of the day it amounts to rubbish if we don’t know our purpose on earth. I am learning to balance work with family because if I don’t train my daughters well and I succeed at business, I have failed. You see, we have the capacity to build our own Google, Apple, and Microsoft, but if we don’t learn to balance things up and bring up our children well, then we will fail. If you succeed as the president of Nigeria to transform Nigeria to Singapore and you don’t bring up your children well, then you have failed. If you raise kids that grow up to be bandits, then you’ve failed. Everyone should try to find balance. I am looking forward to a time when we will publish our financial report in the Newspapers; there is nothing to hide. I am trying to run an organization where we are as open as possible but in terms of rating now, it might be difficult for me because I don’t know whether to rate where we are as a business or where we are in the industry.
sabinews: What’s your USP as a business and as an individual?
AYENI: I will answer you in three places. Blackhouse Media is a very fortunate organization. This is 2014, there are a few PR agencies who understand both digital media and traditional media. We are fortunate because we understand both excellently. So when we speak with clients we speak with a currency because we know what works with both traditional and digital media. We know the trends with digital media. This is what works with us when we discuss with clients. I say to my colleagues that only communicators who understand the direction of mobile media will stand the test of time. Media will never go back. If you want to be a PR practitioner in 2015 you have to understand trends. For instance google is lunching google glass so how does it affect the entire market communications industry? If google succeeds, they will be delivering adverts to you and I; so you see, that’s the future. So that is the thinking we need to have for now. PR has gone beyond writing press releases. What do you understand by Search Engine Optimization? If your client produces soft drinks, how do you position him so that when you search on google or yahoo, his name is No. 1. That is PR of today.
PR of 15 years ago; once you have Daily times, you are ok. There was no keyword in Daily Times. So that’s what works for us as a growing PR company. In those days, if you want to start a newspaper, the first thing you need to do is to buy the press then you roll out. Then create a website. We started the newspaper with a website and we launched the print version four months after and the website runs separately from the newspaper. We’ve been able to run multiple streams of income. The website runs separately from the newspaper. I grew up thinking I would amount to nobody so when I gave myself “Ayeni the great”, I was in part II. I read a lot from Mahatma Ghandi so I discovered that you could be anything you wanted to. I always saved my name with “Ayeni the great”. Up till now, I discover that I’m not an over confident person. I still have fear of what could happen. But I always consult God and I put my best to work. I am not a fantastic writer or a fantastic PR person but I have these doubts that propel me to work my best and I still send my write-ups to people to go through them, so I don’t see myself as being perfect.
sabinews: What would you have done different?
AYENI: I would have dreamt bigger. When I left Uni, I told myself that I would first work for someone. I wanted to work in the media so I chose Channels, Ovation, and Encomium. I remember how I paraded around Encomium for so long before I got the job. I didn’t give up although it was frustrating and after just 6 months in Encomium I became a star. If I was to do something differently now, Maybe I would have employed experts. We made a couple of losses that would have been avoided. I should have dreamt bigger too. If I had done a lot of training before 2011, we would have done better. We started our newspaper with zero capital, so if I had known we would have started earlier. Maybe if the money was there, we would shave spent it on irrelevant things. Mentorship is also necessary. With mentorship, you can move up the ladder quickly. The problem is that young people don’t want mentors again and the older ones are not ready to hold the ladder for young ones again. When you train, you are doing it for the industry and not the staff. Let everyone get trained no matter if they will leave your company for another. There are basic stuff I should have done earlier that would have helped me now, like learning accountancy and finance management.
sabinews: What are challenges you are facing now or have faced before?
AYENI: Human capital. Finding the right people to work with is frustrating. The educational standard is flawed. Secondly, the environment we work in; no basic infrastructure, security, roads. These also pose a challenge. But most importantly I believe that what you need to start up a business is funding. But I think we have been able to get our way through these three challenges. We have decided to grow organically.
sabinews: What inspires you?
AYENI: Fear of failure. I want to live well. I love the good things of life so I want to work to get the good things of life without stealing. I run away from friends that discourage my dreams. On my BB status my personal message has been it is possible for the past two years. I am sure that the person that built the first aircraft was laughed at when he shared his ideas with his friends.
sabinews: Who inspires you?
AYENI: Mahatma Ghandi, Jesus Christ, and I won’t tell you the third person. Mahatma Ghandi had a very huge impact on my outlook to life and my philosophy. I learnt humility, simplicity, peaceful non-conformity from reading about him and his works and I am glad I found him. Jesus Christ lived a short life but for him to still be around town today, you know there is something about him which everyone must know. He inspires my living. I live like I will die today. So, if you don’t believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior, go and read about him. There must be something phenomenal about him
sabinews: :What are your guiding principles?
AYENI: I am not a Rotarian but I believe in their four-way test. Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Is it beneficial? Is it for mutual goodwill? It covers everything. A lot of us give to others what we can’t take. We must ask ourselves if what we are doing is fair to others. Always put yourself in the shoes of others and this helps me to make sure that my staff are ok. A lot of people invest in equipment and not in Human resources. These principles help me to deal fairly with all and sundry. You might not be fair to all, but you will try.
sabinews: What will you advise a young person who is dreaming the way you dreamt when you were younger to do?
AYENI: I had friends who were more brilliant than me when we were younger in college. I met a guy yesterday at Shoprite. When we were in Uni, he used to throw the biggest stage plays and drama but today he is an Alcatel Lucent big boy and I told him, “oga, what are you doing there. Leave there and come and start this because when you eventually leave there, this is where you are coming to.”
So for me, it will be tough. I went through a lot. I am lucky I have a wife who believes in me. I lost my mum when I was writing my final exams and I am from a polygamous family. When I met my wife, she had to leave VI to come and live with me in Akute. We didn’t have a car. I have every reason to have relocated. If you relocate, you are wasting your time, you want to ruin your life. Go abroad and get trained and come back. I could have relocated. I thought we would be successful immediately after school, but my wife didn’t get a job immediately. There was no money but I identified my calling. When you follow after your calling, it is impossible for you not to be successful. I am having fun because I am doing what I enjoy doing. I love music and my life revolves round it and I am getting paid. I don’t envy my friends that work in the bank. I have friends who are still in the job market since 2005 when we finished service.
sabinews: Where do you see the entertainment industry in the next 5 years?
AYENI: Ah, (laughs), you won’t believe but in the next 5 years we will be ruling the world. I told Steve Babaeko a few years ago that this advertising he is doing, very soon music would be making more money that it is making and at that time music was not making so much. Africa in the eyes of the west is nothing but that was the same level that Taiwan, Singapore and China were in. But today you know where they are. It might not happen the way you think it will happen but I can bet that this is that right market. When it comes here, it will stay. So for me, we have work to do. We need to fix our system; we need to put our house in order for things to change. We are going to be at the forefront of global innovation as concerns, IT, entertainment, agriculture, styles. All we need is to understand and set up our 5-year plans. It is just a matter of getting some things right.