Building a successful PR company

We introduce our new series #CareerGoals with a feature on Ronke Lawal, founder of Ariatu PR in London. Ariatu Public Relations works with entrepreneurs and luxury brands to enhance their media presence. Their niche is the African and Caribbean diaspora. For her work in this space, Ronke was featured in AfroElle’s top 35 under 35 list and won a 2011 Precious Award.

 #CareerGoals walks you through the career paths of accomplished Africans highlighting how character is built and big decisions are made as they share their passion for life.


Can you tell us about your background and upbringing?

I am a British-born Nigerian woman, this is very important to mention because people quite often want to define members of the diaspora by their own limited experiences, but I love being British and I love being Nigerian and I am so blessed to be able to have this multidimensional identity. I was born in Hackney, East London and grew up on a council estate, which was a rough neighbourhood, but not necessarily one of the toughest in London. Whilst it was London outside, it was definitely Lagos inside my home. My parents were very strict and I had to face my studies and be in the top percentile in school. 

How did you become an entrepreneur?

I became self-employed in 2004, whilst I was in a standard nine-to-five management role, a role in which many people my age would have been happy to have stayed in for many years. It was an interesting position with lots of responsibility, however I became a robot, unhappy with what my job was turning me into. I was stressed and would often take that stress home with me. My life lacked dynamism and to some extent purpose. I felt strongly that I was not following my true life’s purpose and so I made a choice to start my own business. Many people thought I was crazy, I was after all only twenty-three years old and my only starting capital was my savings. I was taking a big risk, although thankfully back then I still lived at home so that helped. I wanted to create a life that I loved and by starting my own business I felt that I was able to do that.

When you were younger, what did you want to be when you “grew up?” How has that idea changed over time?

I wanted to be a millionaire. I knew I would be an entrepreneur of some sort, but I also knew that I wanted to be rich and successful. Has that changed much? Not really! Of course I would still like to be rich, to build a level of wealth that will help my family network and allow for a certain level of power would be superb. However, now I am more concerned with truly living my purpose, using my gifts and being guided by my calling. I may not be rich financially, but I am beyond blessed spiritually and the money is here. If it is part of my destiny to be a millionaire like young Ronke wanted to be, then I shall surely become one, if not then I know I shall never lack anything.

What was your first paid job? What was the biggest misconception you had about working before then?

My first proper paid role was undertaking administration in a government department during a summer holiday break from university. It was during the British foot and mouth crisis so there was plenty of work and great money, I was really lucky because there were great overtime opportunities and having just returned from my year in the States I really needed a cash boost before my final year in university. I don’t think I had any misconceptions; perhaps I hadn’t expected the amount of office politics before then. I don’t think I even knew what office politics was. I was nineteen/twenty so it was all new to me but I learnt very quickly how to work with people from a variety of backgrounds with completely different perspectives and outlooks on life. It was a really great working environment for someone of my age. 

What has been the most difficult burden you’ve had to overcome to get where you are today? How has that shaped you?

When I look back at my own professional and business career I would have to say that I have often been my own biggest career obstacle or, more accurately, my lack of self-belief has been a burden. I had to constantly coach myself to believe in myself and in all honesty I think that there have been stages in my business life that I have actually sabotaged my own success. I got in my own way because I felt like a fraud when I started to become successful in business. Perhaps other women can relate to that feeling of constant self-doubt and uncertainty. It can be the most detrimental of all obstacles, everything else can be overcome through practice but it takes a lot to silence that voice that tries to convince you that you’re a fraud with your own success and that you don’t deserve great things. It may not always be silent but I recognise it now and know what to say when it starts up again…”I am worthy.”

When was the moment you knew that your company was going to be successful? 

When I kept attracting clients and I was able to keep going even when things became quiet. As an entrepreneur you have to be resilient and persistent, you can’t give up when things are getting tough. Even if you have to give up, it’s not about losing hope it’s about finding a new way to achieve the goal that you’ve set your mind on.

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Describe a typical day for you.

8 a.m.: I eat breakfast and check social media. I respond to any messages and then crack on with work.

10 a.m.: I’ll be deep into checking up on client updates, including assessing PR coverage, responding to journalist emails, researching media opportunities, and sending out relevant press releases.

12 p.m.: Hopefully, I will have had lunch by this time.

3 p.m.: I go back to working, unless I have client calls/meetings.

5 p.m.: I start to wind down, chase any outstanding work, remind clients about media interviews.

7 p.m.: Supper time! Favourite time of day!

How have you seen the African media space evolve in the last ten years? How do you think it will continue to evolve over the next five? How does social media fit into this evolution?

The African media space is very exciting and I am so passionate about engaging with media outlets from across the continent. It is so refreshing to get a different perspective and outlook from these media outlets, stories told by Africans for the world to read. There is no excuse not to see Africa in a different way with the amount of vibrant media outlets on the scene. I have particularly seen a great improvement in fashion coverage and business/entrepreneurial coverage in the African media space, as well as blogging. There is still some work to be done, I don’t think enough African media outlets respect PR and media communications enough; very often new and dynamic stories are overlooked because publications sometimes copy each other and use stories that are trending as opposed to making stories using relationships built with quality PR agencies. Perhaps that is me being devil’s advocate but as I try to tell African diaspora stories to UK media outlets I expect those stories to also be embraced in the African media space, which is not always the case. But I know things are definitely changing and over time we’ll see African media outlets really getting the distribution/hits they deserve. Social media has changed the game in the African media space; it has made it possible for Africans to control the narrative and to use social media platforms to be creative.

What advice would you give someone who wants to go into public relations?

Work hard and play hard. Research and be prepared. Build relationships and respect everyone you come across throughout your journey.

PR may seem glamorous and in some ways it can be but for me it is not about the glamour it is about the results. If you do the research you can find avenues on engagement that are beyond the usual. I am a believer in impact: it’s great to get the mainstream and big press but sometimes those unique media outlets can really do great things for a client’s brand profile, too. It is also important to respect the value of relationships. I have really learnt to trust my instinct when it comes to relationships in business. They can make the difference between ultimate success and demise.

What’s your philosophy on life, work, and the balance between the two?

You really have to take the time to enjoy the richness and extraordinary gift that is called life. It is not always an easy process but it is amazing, it is amazing that no matter how things get we are each capable of starting over and reaching new heights, it is amazing that we are able to heal and love and laugh. I just believe that there is so much to be grateful for in life even when things get tough as they often do. Those challenges are a chance to change gears. I believe that wherever you find yourself it’s important to find a way to live a life that you love. With work I say give everything your best shot, you have to aim for excellence, but if you make a mistake show yourself compassion and be willing to learn. Also remember that if you find yourself in a place that is not using your gifts or part of your purpose then know when to move on.

I have always been very hard on myself when it comes to business and work, but I’ve learnt that work is part of life and if I am saying that I want to live a life I love then I must learn to love my work and do the things that ensure I achieve that.

List two things each that are on your personal and professional “bucket lists.”

To meet my future husband and start a family so that we can build an empire!

To create a brand that leaves a legacy and a business that makes a difference.

Of all you’ve achieved, what are you most proud of? Why?

The very fact that I am still recognized as a leader in my field after starting so many years ago! Well that is something to be proud of. I have been able to keep going and growing and thriving and most of all I have kept my integrity and that is definitely worth celebrating!