Olugbeminiyi Idowu is the founder and managing director of Talking Drum Communications, a public relations and communications consultancy that supports companies innovating in Africa to shape perceptions and get more effective publicity for the work they are doing. He is an African Tech PR specialist, with extensive experience in leading and delivering successful media campaigns for a wide range of companies – from established global players to Africa-focussed start-ups.
What drew you to tech PR specifically?
I’ve always been interested in seemingly complex things and the challenge of communicating the value of these things in a clear and meaningful way and this is a skillset that lends itself well to working in technology PR. My technology PR journey started with semiconductors, micro-components and data centres and it was only later that I started working on Software as a Service products and then startups.
How do PR strategies differ for global players versus Africa-focused start-ups?
PR at its core is basically the same everywhere. It is all about sharing and managing information to shape the perception of an entity. What differs is what the entity is trying to achieve and the context they are operating in. For example, a health tech startup in Europe will typically be trying to tell a very different story from one operating in Africa and success will most likely look different. Our job is to understand what success looks like and do what we can to support our clients in making it happen.
One major issue that impacts how PR is done in Africa is the depth of media platforms we currently have. For example, the African tech media landscape is still relatively young and everything falls under the “tech” umbrella. In other parts of the world, you get to work with specialist publications that focus entirely on Information Technology, security, fintech etc. This means you get to tell deeper stories and explore a wider range of narratives for campaigns.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?
I can be quite impatient so this means I am always in a hurry. Dealing with people who don’t have the same sense of urgency can be very frustrating.
How do you measure the success of a media campaign?
At Talking Drum, we are very particular about understanding what our clients are hoping to achieve with PR and being clear about whether or not PR is the most effective way to achieve that goal. For example, we get some clients talking about using a press release to reach a download target for their app. I’m always quick to say PR can support that goal but it may not be the most effective. We typically see the most impact and ROI from our work when it comes to attracting talent, securing investment, establishing a narrative, brand leadership and stuff like that. These are all results that you can effectively measure and directly link to public relations activities.
What’s a common misconception about tech PR?
The biggest misconception is that it is just about distributing press releases. I understand where this comes from as press releases are an essential tool in the PR tool kit but there is so much more. There are so many strategies and storytelling tactics that come with PR, as well as different services that a PR professional or business can offer to support businesses in achieving their goals.
How do you balance transparency and protecting a company’s interests?
From a PR perspective, information should be shared on a need-to-know basis. Our job is to shape a particular perception of our clients and that means we’ll have to be selective about what we share and how we share it. However, it is important to note that this does not mean being deceitful. Honesty and integrity are non-negotiable (certainly for us at Talking Drum). We also have clear standards on the sort of companies we work with so that we don’t compromise our morals and values.
What’s a technology trend you think will dominate PR in the next 5 years?
Artificial intelligence is the biggest thing for me. I believe tools like ChatGPT and Bard and things like Microsoft Co-Pilot will increasingly take care of a lot of the repetitive administrative tasks associated with PR and free up human hands and minds to make the most of the thinking faculties and deliver more value when it comes to shaping perceptions and supporting organisations and entities to achieve their goals.
I know there is a lot of scepticism around AI and the perceived threat to human jobs but history tells us that the impact of technology is always net-positive. I am old enough to remember the days when everything in PR was paper-based – coverage sheets, press clippings etc. Technology has changed all of that and enabled us to do so much more with collating and analysing information to show the value of our work and plan more effectively. In the same way, I believe strongly that artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will have a similar impact on our industry.
What tools or software are indispensable in your line of work?
There are a few tools but I don’t want to give away my secrets. However, two tools that I can definitely mention are WhatsApp and Slack 😉. These two can be so efficient for getting things done Especially in Africa where things can move very quickly (when people want to), WhatsApp and Slack make it significantly easier to keep up with the pace of how things are moving without the formality of emails and other channels.