Africa has a wealth of PR, media and communications talent, and no two companies are the same. In the case of Sheila Afari Public Relations, this proudly African PR entrepreneur is passionate about showcasing the best of African brands to the rest of the world, and is differentiating herself and her company in the marketplace as a result.
As part of our month-long focus on women in PR, Media and Communications in Africa, we are chatting to Sheila Afari to find out more about her own entrepreneurial journey into PR and her vision for the future.
What does your company do?
Sheila Afari Public Relations is a bespoke PR agency operating from Johannesburg, South Africa. We generate publicity across: Print (Newspapers & Magazines); Broadcast (Radio & TV); Online and Social Media. Our services include: Brand & Event Campaigns; Brand Strategies; Communication Strategies; Consultations; Crisis and Reputation Management; Event Publicity; Internal Communication Development; Market Research; Media & New Media Monitoring; Media Buying; Media Training; Newsletters; Personalised Gifting; PR Strategies; Press/Media Releases; Proactive and Reactive PR; Product & Brand Reviews; Radio & TV Sampling; Social Media Engagement; and Speech Writing.
"There are many great African brands not getting their due brand mileage. It’s time we started promoting our local brands and letting the rest of the continent and globe know about them."
What inspired you to start your company?
In 2012, the entrepreneur in me identified an opportunity to provide PR services to a fashion designer who was in need of some assistance in her business. I was confident that I could deliver on it so I ran with it and registered the company and had a logo designed and the works! From there I then approached a beauty brand I liked and offered them free services to show them what I could do for them and they eventually became a paying client. As time went by people started approaching me for my services and I started getting business through referrals. I didn’t have a formal PR background when I started the business so I ended up taking a PR course through the University of Cape Town. I believed it would be beneficial to know what the industry standards are in the PR industry, be able to advise my employees, give my business some credibility, improve my skills, and to see whether or not I was doing a good job or if I was completely off the mark!
Why should anyone use your service or product?
We pride ourselves in keeping abreast with the changing nature of public relations and tailoring the services we offer each client, as we believe no two brands are the same no matter how “alike” they may appear. We are particularly interested in African brands, or brands with an African message or story. There are many great African brands not getting their due brand mileage. It’s time we started promoting our local brands and letting the rest of the continent and globe know about them. AFRICA IS UNLIMITED! So, what makes us different? We have a continental focus and reach outside of South Africa; we work with traditional and non-traditional media platforms; we incorporate a social media drive to all campaigns and projects; we have a bespoke approach to each client; we have a strong brand development focus; and we operate under unconventional business hours. Our Core Values are based on Ethical business practices; Integrity; Honesty; Exceptional service and Team work.
"I would like my company to play a part in the shifting of mind sets that African brands are not inferior to international ones, and help grow African brands to become household names across the continent and globally."
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey.
My entrepreneurial journey started 8 years ago in 2008. I was walking on campus (University of Cape Town) one day and came across a flyer advertising an entrepreneurship week by a campus organisation called AISEC. Entrepreneurship was something that always interested me, however I was more inclined with the idea of being a business woman. Get a job, make money and use the money to buy a business or invest in another business to make more money. I never really thought of starting something. Nevertheless I found myself attending the entrepreneurship seminars and was absolutely blown away by the number of entrepreneur students that there were on campus. These students weren’t just making small pocket money, some were paying their own university fees, as well as their siblings’ university fees, and some even had physical thriving shops. At the seminar I learnt about the process of registering a business and other basic business tools. One of the speakers spoke about the economy at the time, and how it wasn’t wise to just open up a shop and expect that people would come and patronise your business. That if you can avoid it, start something that doesn’t require overheads or large capital. Start a business from a hobby. As much as I didn’t want to start an events company, that’s what came to mind as I had acquired the necessary skills over the years through school and university extramural activities. It was also something I could start without any capital. Just use my mind, hands and feet. The next day I was sitting in a lecture and the company name came to me, Lavish Industries. I believe everyone deserves to have a lavish lifestyle. I walked out of the lecture and headed straight to the computer lab to register the business name. I didn’t think I’d actually start running an events company immediately. I thought perhaps in a few years’ time the business name might come to use. The entrepreneurship week ended with a dinner on the Saturday evening with established, successful entrepreneurs. On my table was a man who asked me what it was I did. So I told him I had an events company. He then went on to say he was having an event in a few weeks’ time, would I be interested in organising it. I said yes without hesitation. I realised there was an opportunity and I took it. My very first client was a multi-millionaire who was kind enough to give me a chance even though I had very little experience. He’s someone I will never forget! Funny enough it was this same ability to identify opportunities that led to me starting my own PR agency 3 years ago.
Do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
My parents are both entrepreneurs. My father is a medical doctor and runs his own private practice. My mom is a pastor and lecturer and runs a catering and décor hiring company. Previously my mom owned her own hair salon and a book store. Growing up, having my parents as entrepreneur’s never really resonated with me. As a child I was always encouraged to go to school and study, so that I could go to university and get a job. To their dismay I went in the opposite direction, but they have been extremely supportive over the years encouraging me to make the most of what I am doing.
#EntrepreneurAdvice: "Failures are just building blocks to success. Mistakes are lessons you learn that can only help you improve and do better." @sheilaafari
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
I would like Sheila Afari Public Relations to expand across the continent and have a presence not only in Southern Africa but East and West Africa too. I believe we are not doing nearly as much for our home grown brands. I would like my company to play a part in the shifting of mind sets that African brands are not inferior to international ones, and help grow African brands to become household names across the continent and globally.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
The most satisfaction I get comes from knowing that I am empowering myself and have the ability to empower others through creating employment. I get to plan the future I want. There is no ceiling and there are no limitations to what I can do or what I can earn. The more I put into my business, the more I can get out of it and the more I can use it as an agent for change.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Just start. There will always be 100 reasons not to, but we can’t let “what ifs” or fear, or lack of funding keep us from getting started. Failures are just building blocks to success. Mistakes are lessons you learn that can only help you improve and do better. We need to be champions of our own dreams and surround ourselves with positive people and supportive people that keep us on track.
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Why LoA loves it….
At LoA, we love women entrepreneurs who are proud of their continent and the products and brands that are being created here. In the world of PR, media and communications, so much can be done to put them on the global map, and specialist companies such as Sheila Afari Public Relations are doing just that, with passion, commitment, dedication and creativity. Sheila is becoming a real change agent, not just in her industry sector, but through her support of Africa’s companies, products, brands and fellow entrepreneurs. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and editor-in-chief of Lionesses of Africa