It isn’t often that one comes in contact with a person whose soul burns bright as a beacon. Ronke Lawal is such a person. Full of life and positive energy, the Founder of Ariatu PR is an inspiration to all who meet her. She started her PR and marketing business in 2004 and has since then taken Ariatu PR from a fledgling startup firm to a leading Public Relations firm.
A fearless advocate for those she represents, she was Chief Executive of the Islington Chamber of Commerce in 2010 where she remained until 2010. We caught up with her recently and after 13 years of running Ariatu PR, Ronke Lawal has a wealth of experience and lessons to share with us. We hope you are as inspired by her as we are.
How would you describe yourself?
I am definitely one of a kind. I know everyone is but not enough of us celebrate our uniqueness, the fact that we are all originals, we spend too much time trying to fit in. Even I have been guilty of that and I can tell you for a fact that it never sits right in my spirit to just “be like everyone else”. I am not boring that’s for sure. I love to laugh, to eat to enjoy the pleasures that life has to offer, we have been so blessed to have so much to enjoy. Life is tough, nobody can deny that but I try my best to always seek grace and stay focused on good vibes!
What early childhood memory had such a striking effect on you that you still remember it today?
Being asked to write a song for my primary school and the entire school singing it and can I just say how uncomfortable I felt that I was being praised by the teacher and the head teacher and my school mates had to sing it! It was part of a music project and whilst I am not a song writer (I should probably check that I am not owed royalties from over 30 years ago!) I loved writing and saw it as a form of poetry. But being regarded as “the best” in the class and the music teacher being so proud just made me feel something that I have spent a LONG time unlearning. I honestly didn’t want all that attention because it made me stand out and also I don’t know if my school mates were all as proud as the adults! LOL!
So many lessons that I can grasp from that scenario now, firstly it is so important to celebrate your gifts, skills and blessings. Secondly there is nothing wrong with winning/being the best, in fact it encourages others to do better and finally be comfortable with discomfort. Life is full of times when people will make you feel uncomfortable but that should not stop you from aiming higher and being great.
Take us through the early days of Ariatu PR
I became self-employed in 2004, I whilst I was in a standard 9 to 5 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 23 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.
I hit the ground running and registered on lots of online forums, attended lots of networking events, just put myself out there – I had to teach myself how to sell my services. It was scary but I had to eat and I had to prove to myself that I could do anything.
Where do you draw strength from?
God is ultimately my source of strength. I have to give thanks on a daily basis for what I have been able to get through base on the ultimate source of love and protection which can only be explained as God’s Grace. With so many distractions and so much pressure in this world there are times when I feel weak and I just need to stop, take stock undertake self-care and be with God.
How important is family support to starting a business? Was it important for you when you started Ariatu PR?
I believe that is important to have a strong circle of people, be they family or friends to support and encourage anyone in starting in business because it can be such a scary undertaking. However we must be clear and realistic that not everyone will understand the journey and you will need to grow a thick skin and stay focused. You will know very quickly who will there for you to support and encourage you without any ulterior motives, if you have to force anyone or become resentful then redirect the relationship away from business.
I made a video that address this to some extent but I will do another one specifically on family support:
You are very vigorous in your representation of your clients, who are mostly Africans. Is there a reason for that?
This is such an interesting question which I have been asked on numerous occasions and I often wonder if my European colleagues get asked why they mainly represent other Europeans! LOL that is the key to why I represent mainly African diaspora clients, lack of representation in PR in the UK and also understanding the cultural nuance of the base gives me an advantage. But overall I really just want to push a new narrative for my clients. It can be tough at times particularly in the UK where the media and society which I try to publicise my clients to aren’t as inclusive as they should be. But things are changing…slowly but surely.
Have you ever worked with a client you thoroughly disliked or couldn’t stand? How did you make that work?
You want to get me into trouble on these Coral Lifestyle Magazine pages! I love and adore all my clients equally. Standard PR diplomatic response!
Is there a way a fledgling business with almost no budget can do it’s own PR? What would you recommend?
Yes, yes and yes.
Learn, attend seminars and use resources. I hose seminars now and also sell eguides – which are an affordable means of learning how to do your own PR. There is absolutely no reason or excuse for not learning and if you invest in your learning and still can’t do it then hire someone/an agency because life is too short not to just focus on what you can do well.
Are you married or have kids? How do you balance your work/life?
No kids yet!
I balance it quite easily by remembering that God has gifted us this life to look beyond worldly possessions. What good is it to build a business and lots of wealth if you have nobody to share it with. We only have this one life to live right now, work hard but play and love hard too. Enjoy the many blessings here on earth so that you can enrich the lives of others and leave a legacy of joy!
What is your vision or Ariatu PR in the next 5 to 10 years?
It will definitely be time to scale up. I need to work out the best way for my business to scale up in a way which still allows for authentic leadership and real client relationships. I want more international clients, preferably across Africa and I want the agency to be a recogised brand in the PR and marketing space particularly within the African and Caribbean Diaspora. There is potential to do more work in the USA too.
What is so exciting about the future is that there are endless opportunities, endless chances to start afresh. I am at a stage in my business career where I am excited about the future. I have some interesting choices ahead of me and may choose to change direction slightly which is fine because I know that whatever path I choose will be one filled with intentional purpose.
What would you say to an entrepreneur who is just starting and has very little resources?
I would say follow your passion and stay focused. Make sure you actively network in your business and professional life and engage with the right people, but be sure to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Invest where you can, it’s OK to spend money especially if you want to attract abundance back to yourself.
Take the time to learn, read books, attend seminar, network, listen to podcast, watch videos, use social media – there are so many resources freely available that starting a business is possibly even more easy than it ever was before. The key is not even the access to all these resources though, the key to success is your consistency, you have to be in it for the long haul and ready to take the rough with the smooth.
If you can get a mentor, or at least surround yourself with a positive and powerful circle of people who will champion you in your business journey. Seek continual business development through training and seminars; education is important but only if used actively. Use education wisely as part of your long term professional strategy.
Someone once shared this tagline with me “I go where there is courage” – I think this should be everyone’s tagline. Be brave in your business and don’t ponder on mistakes for too long, learn from them and move on. You can reach anywhere in your business if you so wish – don’t let anyone hold you back, least of yourself.
To get in touch with Ronke Lawal, visit her website.
If you enjoyed reading about Ronke Lawal of Ariatu PR, you should check out our interview with Raphael Dapaah of the Dapaah Group.