Njideka Akabogu is crossing borders to tell brand stories

The tale of discovering your artistic path after struggling with maths is classic. Njideka Akabogu had a hidden talent for writing just waiting to burst out, and her brother gave her that much-needed push. In our #WorkLife feature this week, we’re deeply diving into Njideka Akabogu’s career and life as the regional manager and lead PR and communications manager at ID Africa (BHM Holdings).

Njideka’s journey is a testament to the power of passion and determination, proving that your true talent and grit can lead you to great success even if you stumble along the way.

Tell me; Who is Njideka Akabogu?

Describing Njideka Akabogu is a bit of a challenge, but here goes. I’ve consciously tried not to define myself solely by my work, but if I were to sum it up, I’m a storyteller. I have dedicated almost a decade to crafting and sharing narratives, especially those centred around brands.

Beyond that, I’m a self-proclaimed fashion enthusiast; anyone who knows me can vouch for that. I embrace my roles as a daughter, a sister, a friend, and, most recently, a wife – still getting used to that one. But remember, I’m all of these facets and more.

Congratulations on your recent wedding! Speaking of new beginnings, could you share with us the job that kickstarted your journey towards becoming a communications expert?

My first official gig right after graduating was working as a reporter for a weekly magazine called The Source. It’s a bit of a quirky story – I was initially posted to NTA for my NYSC, but they threw a curveball and said they weren’t taking any youth corps members at that time, which caught me off guard. Fortunately, fate smiled upon me. As a student, I had completed my industrial training at The Source, and I guess I must have made a pretty good impression because they welcomed me back with open arms without hesitation.

Interesting. So what did you study in university?

I majored in information science, a course few people are familiar with. Luckily, we could choose a minor, and I decided to go with mass communication. That’s where I indeed discovered my passion. I was somewhat lost in my information science classes, but every time I stepped into a mass communication class, I felt I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

Given your journey from studying information science to discovering your passion for mass communication and writing, it’s fascinating to hear about your career today. However, what were your aspirations or dreams about your future profession growing up?

In my earlier years and throughout secondary school, I firmly believed I was destined to become a medical doctor. I was placed in the science class back then, and our choices were less diverse than they are today. During that time, if you were considered an above-average student, your main paths were either law or medicine. Medicine seemed more remarkable than law, so I chose that route wholeheartedly.

However, there was a pivotal moment in my journey when I wrote my first senior WAEC (West African Examination Council).  I faced a significant setback in maths. It was a monumental struggle that prompted a brutally honest conversation with my older brother, Ifechukwu. He didn’t mince words and told me I wasn’t cut out for the sciences. While it was a tough pill, it was one of my life’s harshest yet most crucial conversations.

Upon reflection, I realised that I excelled in virtually every other aspect of my education. My English teachers were enamoured with my writing, a sentiment that had been echoed since my primary school days. I actively participated in debates and was an enthusiastic member of the editorial club. In retrospect, the signs were all there, pointing to my passion for writing. I just needed to pay more attention.

One of the reasons I overlooked this path was the need for prominent role models excelling in the field I now cherish. It didn’t occur to me as a viable option.

Njideka at the launch of the first West African instalment of the Real Housewives franchise. (Image credit: Njideka Akabogu)

Please take us on a journey to achieving your current role, particularly the milestones and pivotal moments, which are fascinating.

I’ve been with BHM Holdings since 2016, and my journey here has been quite the ride. Initially, I started as a writer and community manager, managing our social media accounts and creating website content. I assumed the role of editor for our women and lifestyle media platform, 234Star, in less than a year. That was my home for the next two years.

After my stint as an editor, I transitioned to the realm of PR, taking on the role of a PR consultant. This career phase involved working collaboratively with a team, offering strategic guidance to brands like Betway, Viacom CBS, and MTV Shuga. I was also back in the familiar territory of content strategies and storytelling for some of our other clients.

Then, in 2020, I received a well-deserved promotion to PR and Communications Adviser, which later evolved into the Lead PR and Communications Adviser. My most recent milestone was being officially appointed Regional Manager, a role I’m still settling into. Interestingly, much of my new responsibilities don’t pertain to the West African market but extend into the East African market. In the coming months, I may temporarily relocate or spend a significant amount of time in East Africa to become intimately acquainted with the dynamics of that market. It’s an exciting new chapter in my journey.

Formulating the strategy, envisioning how the campaign will grow, and then seeing its actualisation is marvellous.

Congratulations on your appointment! It sounds like a fascinating position, especially with your involvement in the East African market. Could you paint us a vivid picture of your day-to-day life in this dynamic role?

My days are an exhilarating blend of strategy and communication in my current role. At the core, we’re a communications company with a global reach, serving clients across Africa, the UK, and, more recently, the US. BHM Holdings is our parent company, and within this expansive landscape, I wear several hats.

As the Regional Manager, my primary focus is to craft and execute innovative business strategies while keeping a keen eye on emerging opportunities and industry trends. I’m constantly searching for fresh prospects and offering valuable insights to steer our business toward growth. Leading a dynamic team of around 10 PR consultants adds another layer of excitement to my role, collaborating on various client accounts.

My calendar is a tapestry of meetings with my dedicated team or the top brass. These interactions serve as a conduit for sharing portfolio updates under my purview. Since a significant part of our work revolves around client services, maintaining constant communication with our clients is essential. This entails keeping them in the loop about ongoing campaigns and understanding and addressing pain points.

Stakeholder management is another cornerstone of my daily routine. It’s multifaceted, from liaising with media representatives to engaging with influencers to nurturing client relationships. Reviewing documents and meticulously planning budgets and content are also integral tasks, ensuring the quality and precision of everything that goes out from our end.

Though I’ve had to put my gym sessions on hold for a few months, there was a time (feels like a lifetime ago) when fitness was a regular part of my routine. I used to wrap up my day with a trip to the gym. I’ve made a mental note to get back into that groove next month—let’s see how that goes!

Njideka at the gym (Image credit: Njideka Akabogu)

Amidst all the hustle and bustle of your day-to-day responsibilities, it’s evident that your job is quite dynamic. What is your absolute favourite aspect of your role?

What I find most exhilarating about my job is the thrill of ideation and watching those ideas evolve into reality. When I conceive a campaign and witness it unfold precisely as planned, it’s incredibly satisfying.

Knowing that I played a pivotal role in bringing something that’s now the talk of the town to life is immensely gratifying.

It’s not just about the big campaign rollouts; even the little victories matter. When a piece of content exceeds my expectations in terms of performance or when I successfully land a pitch to journalists and witness it manifest, it fills me with immense joy.

Yet, there’s a paradox to this love affair with my job. My favourite aspect occasionally makes me question if I want to do this forever. The perpetual whirlwind of activity, the constant adrenaline rush, and the ever-present sense that something’s happening can be both exciting and daunting, leading to my love-hate relationship with my profession.

Many individuals share a similar love-hate dynamic with their work. Shifting gears a bit, given your leadership role as a woman, could you share some insights into how frequently you come across gender stereotypes in your field and how you navigate and address them?

Navigating gender dynamics in the workplace can indeed be a complex matter. I am fortunate to be part of an organisation that actively fosters a culture where women can participate and thrive. It’s not an exaggeration to say that women hold key positions throughout the hierarchy. There’s a strong female presence, from our UK General Manager to Regional Managers like myself and Lead Consultants overseeing significant accounts.

Having spent roughly seven years of my career in this supportive environment, I haven’t personally encountered many instances of gender stereotypes. My experience is limited, and it wouldn’t be entirely accurate to claim a deep understanding of this issue based on personal encounters. My experience may reflect a different reality, and I’m always open to learning more about the challenges that other women might face in various work settings.

I firmly believe in leading with empathy. Being firm and effectively conveying your expectations while maintaining a kind and compassionate approach is possible.

It’s reassuring to hear about a supportive culture. While it’s certainly a great environment, like any workplace, challenges can arise. Could you share a specific difficulty or obstacle you’ve faced during your career and walk us through how you navigated and ultimately overcame it?

One of the most formidable challenges I’ve encountered in my career is the art of managing people. As any manager will tell you, it’s no walk in the park. You’re dealing with diverse individuals, each with unique perspectives, temperaments, and outlooks on life. Yet, your responsibility to harmonise this dynamic mix falls squarely because that’s what you’re paid to do.

There have been moments when I’ve felt like I’m teetering on the brink of losing my sanity. What’s helped me navigate these challenges is recognising that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. People are inherently different, and embracing these differences is vital. It’s not a guaranteed formula because, as I mentioned earlier, everyone is unique. However, there are a few strategies that I consciously adopt in my role as a people manager.

First and foremost, I invest time in understanding the individuals I work with. I identify their strengths and encourage them to develop areas needing improvement.

Effective communication is another cornerstone of my management philosophy. Clearly and consistently articulating expectations is essential. Documentation and thorough explanations can be invaluable, ensuring that individuals understand precisely what is expected of them in their respective roles. This clarity fosters a sense of direction and purpose, which, in turn, enhances overall team cohesion and productivity.

Navigating a management role indeed comes with its unique set of challenges. Beyond that, could you elaborate on the most significant hurdle or difficulty you’ve encountered since stepping into your role?

Each new brief and campaign presents its own set of unique challenges, keeping me on my toes. However, if I had to pinpoint the most significant challenge in my current role, it would be that I’ve stepped into a new territory by all metrics.

My biggest challenge right now is acclimating to this fresh role, which demands a deep understanding of a region I’m not yet intimately familiar with – East Africa. Since my appointment, I’ve been dedicating substantial time to studying the nuances of the East African region. I’ve been making connections and building relationships in Kenya to establish a foothold and become well-versed in the local landscape and culture.

The next phase will likely involve more immersive experiences, temporary relocations, or frequent regional visits. Equally important is having the right people who can provide invaluable insights and guidance to make informed decisions and steer us in the right direction.

I was raised in the small town of Umuahia in Abia state, and my entire educational path unfolded there. When I took the leap to Lagos, I didn’t have influential connections to pave my way – and the blessings of providence.

Njideka at the Africa Public Relations Association Conference in Lusaka, Zambia (Image credit: Njideka Akabogu)

Indeed, tackling East Africa should be a breeze if you can handle Nigeria’s dynamic landscape. Shifting gears a bit, I’d love to hear about an accomplishment in your career that holds a special place in your heart.

Maybe it sounds a tad clichéd, but I genuinely take pride in reaching this point in my career, where I have the privilege to consult for some of Africa’s most prestigious brands. Let me clarify: It’s not some Cinderella story of going from rags to riches; it’s merely my journey.

Reflecting on my journey up to this moment, how far I’ve come astonishes me. I fully acknowledge that there’s still a long road ahead, but I can’t help but be deeply impressed by the substantial progress I’ve made thus far.

Now, if I were to be completely honest, there are times when I wonder, “Am I still doing this?” There are those Monday mornings when the thought of going to work doesn’t fill me with enthusiasm. It happens to the best of us. However, when you have a clear life plan, a goal you’re tirelessly pursuing, or a well-defined career trajectory that aligns with your aspirations, it becomes a powerful motivator. Before you contemplate throwing in the towel, you always remember your ultimate goal and keep pushing forward. Holding onto that sense of purpose is incredibly motivating.

From your perspective and experiences in your field, what are the most formidable challenges women encounter when striving to advance their careers?

Honestly, I don’t believe the challenges women face in my field fundamentally differ from those in other industries. Women often have to put in double the effort and invest twice as much time, yet they don’t receive the same recognition as their male counterparts. It’s a recurring theme where men apply for the same roles as women, and when it comes to salary negotiations, men consistently secure higher paychecks. I’ve witnessed this pattern in my field and among friends working in various industries. Some women excel in their work, while some men, objectively speaking, fall short, yet they get more recognition and compensation. It’s disheartening, to say the least.

Even more frustrating is that many women’s accomplishments are often overlooked simply because they’re women. I recently talked with someone who suggested I only received recognition because of my gender. There’s this misconception that women are given opportunities, even when they’ve worked tirelessly. I firmly believe in the value of hard work and know I’m competent. So, attributing my success to some man’s influence is absurd and deeply saddening.

For any ambitious and career-driven woman, choose a life partner who shares your ambition and is genuinely supportive. Find someone who aligns with your vision and isn’t threatened by your aspirations. When making decisions as critical as selecting a life partner and pursuing your career, it’s essential to prioritise your goals and dreams. Being “selfish” in this context is perfectly justified.

Njideka at the Africa Public Relations Association Conference in Lusaka, Zambia (Image credit: Njideka Akabogu)

Building on the discussion of gender equality, can you share any initiatives or efforts you’ve been involved in throughout your career that actively promote gender equality? Additionally, do you actively support and mentor women who display the potential to excel as PR executives?

I’m involved in several communities that strongly advocate for women’s empowerment. Supporting and uplifting women is a cause that resonates deeply with me, and I’m enthusiastic about providing women with platforms and opportunities to excel. This aligns with the vision of the communities I’m part of.

Moreover, I take mentoring seriously and have had the privilege of directly and indirectly mentoring several young individuals, some of whom are part of my team. In contrast, others have sought guidance through platforms like LinkedIn and Instagram. They reach out to me seeking advice on career-related matters, seeking solutions to challenges they encounter in their professional journeys, or exploring job opportunities. I maintain an open-door policy and am always eager to engage with women, especially young women, as I recognise the importance of mentorship and guidance in our careers. I understand that many of us didn’t have these resources when we were starting out, so it’s personally fulfilling for me to reach back and support those following a similar path.

Your profile showcases an impressive array of accolades, including being recognised as one of Brand Communicator’s 35 under 35 top Marketing professionals in Nigeria for 2022, making Y! Naija’s New Establishment List in 2019, and receiving a nomination for Rising PR Practitioner of The Year by NIPR in 2022. These are truly remarkable achievements. How have these accolades reinforced your decision to embark on a career in public relations?

Public relations often gets portrayed as all glitz, glamour, and extravagant events, but in reality, it involves a lot of behind-the-scenes labour that often goes unnoticed. Especially when you’re on the agency side of things, you’re typically not encouraged to boast about your achievements because the focus should always be on elevating the client you represent. It’s a lot of hard work that frequently flies under the radar. So, when esteemed publications and associations reach out to acknowledge your efforts, it’s a reassuring sign that you’re on the right track and that your dedication isn’t going unnoticed.

While these recognitions are validating, it’s crucial to remember that other individuals doing incredible work might not receive such recognition. Some awards even come with a price tag. So, I often remind people that awards should not be the sole basis for self-worth because many hardworking individuals go unnoticed. While they are a nice feather in your cap, they shouldn’t define your worth. Instead, seek out things that truly ignite your passion and purpose. The fact that I didn’t have to pursue these accolades actively meant that I had been consistently delivering quality work, and someone out there had taken notice.

Do you have any side careers or businesses you devote your time to?

As of now, I don’t entertain the idea of juggling a side career. I view people who manage multiple jobs with suspicion. I’m still striving to balance my workload, so the thought of adding more to the mix seems overwhelming.

When offering advice to younger individuals embarking on their careers, I often emphasise the importance of focusing on one thing at a time to excel. Side gigs can come later. Dedication of time and attention to a singular pursuit is critical to mastery; it’s challenging to achieve excellence if you’re spread too thin.

On a personal note, given the demands and complexity of my current job, I can’t take on additional side gigs. However, I strongly desire to establish my fashion brand soon—a dream I’ve harboured for quite some time.

Njideka in Rwanda (Image credit: Njideka Akabogu)

Can you give us a tip you swear by for successfully maintaining a work/life balance?

Okay, so the tip is intentionality. The work never ends. It never ends. You have to be very intentional about making time to do all the things that fit your soul.

You need to always take time for yourself. Even if it is just an hour out of your day, you must be very intentional about setting time to catch up with your friends. You have to make time to be a wife to your husband, a mum to your kids, a daughter to your parents, and whatever else you want to be.

You must be very present at work but leave when it is time. You can’t spend your entire life working. You’re going to burn out. You’re going to be better at the work you’re doing. You’re going to be cranky all the time, and you’re going to stop loving your job, so you can’t exactly give your best if you don’t care about what you do. You need time to function and exist outside your work to recharge and return to it.

My one tip will be intentionality. Be very intentional and selfish with your time.


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