Ronke Bamisedun is a PR consultant and Founder, BWL Agency, a Lagos-based strategic brand development and communications company, with experience covering music, fashion and consumer goods.
With an undergraduate degree in Media and Communications (Public Relations) from Birmingham City University and a Chartered Institute of Public Relations Diploma in Public Affairs, she began her career in the music PR where she had the opportunity to work with some of London’s biggest music agencies who represented artists such as Mark Ronson, Madonna and Florence & The Machine…
With a passion and flare in fashion, it was no surprise that she went on to work in fashion, working for iconic designer Diane Von Furstenberg as well as retail giants Selfridges and Matchesfashion. Ronke also worked with high street giant Topshop as a personal shopper, bringing forward her media skills to deal with its celebrity clientele… She bears it all in this interview with Guardian.
Tell us about your growing up, education, and professional background?
Growing up – I am the third of four girls. Yes, my dad was a lucky man right?? We were raised to be hardworking females – if you want it, you go get it. My sisters and I are fiercely independent. My dad always told us there was no place for us in ‘the family’ business and my mum always said ‘my girls cannot be housewives’ -even though she is a housewife. Those words removed any safety blanket as well as sense of entitlement from a very young age. We knew we had to go out there and make it by ourselves.
Growing up I had a lot of guy friends who were like brothers to me and that has still continued. This has made it easy for me to handle alpha male situations in a board room or work environment because I am seen as ‘one of the guys’ whatever that means.
Education: My younger years were spent in Lagos where I went to St Saviour’s School Ebute Metta and then unto Vivian Fowler Girls College before I moved to the U.K to finish my studies. My formative years, I would say was spent in U.K. I have a B.A degree in Media and Communications (Public Relations) and I hold a CIPR Diploma in Public Affairs and Political Communications.
In terms of professional life…where do I start? I’ve been working since I was 16 years old and yet to take a break from my career. My first role was at a Butcher’s store in London – well I wanted the extra cash and so worked there on the weekends. Then I went into fashion and worked for a bunch of High street stores. Right about the same time, I was struggling on my course in Business school, I hate numbers and anything qualitative so I took a year out to explore Communications which was the best decision I ever met. I interned in a couple of music PR agencies in London. Can you imagine getting to meet some of your favourite artists? Eventually, I got my first PR job with an agency called Kaizo PR where I worked on some amazing accounts such as House of Marley – a range of products by the Bob Marley Family. I moved back to Nigeria four years ago and took on the role as Head of PR for the InterContinental Hotel and last year I joined Grayling a Top global agency where I headed the Nigerian team. I now run BWL Agency – the exclusive affiliate of Grayling in Nigeria. We look after the Pernod Ricard Nigeria Portfolio handling some fantastic brands such as Jameson, Martell, Chivas and Absolute Vodka. I’m also in the process of launching a new fashion platform called SLKT Fashion. SLKT will provide fast fashion for a very underserved demographic at budget prices. This will be launching soon.
As PR consultant, is there an experience from your career that stands out as one that helped you develop the person you are today?
There has been several experiences over the years but one which really stands out would be washing bird poo off one of my boss’s car in the middle of Swiss Cottage in London. As it turns out, this is something that every ‘intern’ had to do. Now that I look at it, I think she was just trying to see how far you can be pushed or willing to go. A little bit like that film – Devil wears Prada but without The Prada. That experience taught me to be resilient, develop a tough skin and think about the end goal. Listen, this woman has done Madonna’s PR for almost 20 years. She was the big deal and I wanted to learn from her. I also knew if I succeeded and could get a solid reference from her, I could get a job at any record label. So yes, that incident is something I share with my team that you need to be able to do anything (well within reason of course) to get where you need to go.
In taking up your clients, what are the specifics that you look for?
Our clients have found us. I am a rule breaker and my team and I continuously challenge the status quo – all of our clients have noticed that. Our clients look for us when they want a team who have an international outlook but a local mindset. They come to us when they are looking for something different. We don’t look like everyone else, we don’t sound like everyone else and we don’t execute like everyone else. BWL Agency actually stands for Brands We Love which means we only take on brands that we love, brands that we are passionate about and brands that we believe in. We don’t work on brands just for the sake of it or for the money, we work on it because we want to make impact by creating compelling and creative campaigns.
You are quite successful; how did you get here?
I won’t really say that I’m successful – I live in a basement flat in my sister’s house for starters and I don’t have a limitless bank account so I prefer to say that I am striving for success. You know it’s very easy to talk about how you have gotten somewhere but what I have realized is that people do not often read out loud all the chapters of their stories. I want to be careful of that. I am still trying to figure it all out with the understanding that my story will be different from the next person’s story. Hard work has contributed to me being where I am, making a ton of mistakes has contributed even more to where I am because I have been able to learn from it. I’ve gone through the same or possibly similar experiences with other 20 -30 something year olds. I’ve messed up at work royally, I’ve had my heart broken, I’ve been broke but what’s more important to me is sharing my mess ups and failures so that others can be comforted by it. I’m not one for painting a perfect picture – if you ask me I’ll tell you.
Young, successful women are often pressured into getting married. What’s your take on that?
Our generation has really been dealt an unfair blow by those before us. Look at Nigeria during the time of our great- grand fathers – our manufacturing industry was booming, we were producing, there was access to land, infrastructure. I come from a family of manufacturers, my late grandfather made something out of nothing. He wasn’t from a prominent family but he was able to make something for himself and give his kids a life that he didn’t have- guess what? Nigeria gave him that opportunity.
Now, look at the state of the country – the rate of unemployment is outstanding and the young people of our generation cannot catch a break. You know like we don’t have enough to deal with, then comes the pressure for females to be married by a certain age (the dreaded 30). This I have to say is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard. Young ladies are getting married and settling in bad marriages because society has told them that they strive for marriage, that a marriage is their highest form of accomplishment. I’ve been told several times to dumb down myself, tone down my achievements, simply to make some man comfortable.
Let me ask one question: did my father work so hard to send his daughters to school only for them to be told that they should tone down their intelligence to please people? Of course not. I am not married so I can’t speak on that topic but I understand that marriage and being with someone is not a way to secure financial freedom.
What advice do you have for young female professionals?
Live your life. Do not let culture, tradition and people’s opinions stifle the person you can be. See the world, get out of doing the same things. Make mistakes, learn from it. Fall and then pick yourself up.
Importantly, please get out of the mindset that you need a man to be ‘set’ in life, that you need to marry a rich man to give you the things you need. This is something I’ve heard so many times in this environment. No you don’t, all you need is your brain and prayers.
Stop the Instagram envy, remember that not all that glitters is gold. Remember your values and stick to them, it’s so easy to lose yourself if you keep comparing yourself to the next female on Instagram.
Stop putting yourself under the pressure to look like you have it all together. It’s ok to not know what you want to do – take the time to discover yourself and the person you want to be.
Knowledge – Learn and be the best in your chosen field. Be that female that can work any room. Be that female that can command attention. Be that female that when you speak the world listens. Be that female that can work a club and also a board room…
If you are not in public relations, what would you be doing?
If I was not in PR, I would work in Fashion as a stylist or a full-time nomad so I can roam the world.